This morning I’ve had an amusing exchange on Twitter with people whose feathers have been ruffled by the six-person vote to ban all national flags from the Associated Student office main lobby at UCIrvine. That might not be a bad idea since there are plenty of student organizations that aren’t politically compatible and should supposedly share that space. The proposal was passed on a 6-4 vote with 2 abstentions on 3 March 2015. By Saturday, the AS executive cabinet met and vetoed it. Will it go further? Who knows?

The six students have been called “terrorists” and without reading, rabid Twitter tweeters have been blaming everyone from the whole UCIrvine campus to UCDavis (and all of the 10 campuses). Yes, people who can’t tell the difference between Cal Aggies and Anteaters were weighing in on Twitter.

One of the more objectionable comments for me, is “Love it or Leave It.” If you don’t like the U.S., then you should leave it. Or, it might even be implied, you should go back to where you came from. I came from San Diego, so I don’t know how that will help anything at all. I wonder what exactly those students were thinking and their reasoning and arguments.

Is “Love it or Leave it” really the kind of argument that one wants to put forward in a democracy? In America, the slogan “Love it or Leave it” rose during protests against the Vietnam War, but surely it’s been around longer than that. Curiously enough, the slogan was being used elsewhere at about the very same time.

The nationalistic slogan of the Brazilian military dictatorship (31 March 1964 to 15 March 1985) was exactly that, but in Portuguese: Ame-o ou deixe-o. To that end, the government arrested, imprisoned, kidnapped, tortured, raped and castrated and killed its citizens. People also were forced into exile.

Is that what the founding fathers wanted for the United States of America? The Bill of Rights guarantees free speech. That supposedly protects and encourages dissenting opinions because popular opinion doesn’t really need that protection does it?

Wars have been fought over the love it or leave it. Indeed, the United States of America was created because we did not love the taxation without representation and were not in love with King George and so we did leave it–by it, meaning the English rule and the British empire. We became independent.

Even in our independence, the 13 states didn’t always agree and as we grew there was another love it or leave it moment that culminated in the American Civil War. The Union didn’t believe that the Confederate states had a right to secede. One of the things that led up to the departure of the Southern states was that men and women spoke out about things they did not love: slavery.

People such as John Brown who resorted to violence or William Lloyd Garrison who was dragged through the streets and almost lynched or Sojourner Truth who was born a slave but became the first black woman to win a legal case against a white man or Frederick Douglass who escaped slavery and became a social reformer were leading abolitionist. They spoke out. A war was fought. People died. Slavery was abolished by the 13th Amendment.

People died for the right to secede and for the right to hold slaves under a Confederate flag. That people die under a flag is an emotional argument for flying a flag but such arguments usually, particularly on Twitter, lacks rational and logical support.

Yet the Love it or Leave it slogan is far worse. Should the black men, born free or former slaves, left the United States when they were denied the right to vote? Would that had been more democratic? The 15th Amendment passed in 1869, four years after the end of the American Civil War.

Should the suffragettes have left the United States when they were first refused the vote? If they had, the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution would have never been passed in 1920. It was first introduced in 1878.

Should the people in the Deep South just moved away from the Jim Crow laws? Should the people of Selma, Alabama just accepted the unequal voting requirements?

Instead of leaving it–whether it be a city like Selma or a state like Mississippi or a region with Jim Crow laws or a country like the United States–for someone who supports the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, the response to not liking or loving it, is to attempt to change it through a democratic process, through speaking out and challenging laws, rules and accepted norms and attempting to change the culture and the laws. This is the democratic way of loving one’s country.

Notice I included changing culture and the laws. Speaking up by itself, particularly in an offensive, derisive manner with plenty of name-calling, is unlikely to sway votes and change people’s hearts. Threats of violence can be effective up to a point, but the suffragettes and the civil rights movement were still able to achieve change through non-violent protest. The words of Sojourner Truth or Martin Luther King Jr. still can move us by including everyone in the solution.

Our founding fathers, even though they denied white men without property and all women the vote and owned slaves, provided future citizens of the United States with a way to change the USA.  We can make amendments at a federal level and change laws at state and municipal levels. The slogan Love it or Leave it belongs to a Brazilian military dictatorship and it’s unfortunate that anyone anywhere would proudly make that kind of declaration in a democracy, even federal republic and representative democracy like the USA . If you love democracy, then change it legally so you can better love it. That’s what happened 50 years ago in Selma and that’s what happened and still happens in our country today.

UPDATE: Due to “a viable threat of violence” the issue was not debated in the AS Legislative Council meeting because the university administration canceled the meeting. This is not a victory for democracy or free speech.

In another case where American-flag shirts were considered a concern, the 9th US Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that administrators at Live Oak High School in San Jose were justified in placing the “concern of racial violence over freedom of expression rights.”

Not all Americans who believe “Love it or leave it” are violent, but the motto is one of intolerance and violence is one way of forcing people to conform.

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