Fall 2014 Early on the first day I talked a father and son into sharing their thoughts on the flag. Seizing upon an excellent bonding moment, Dad and son jumped upon the trailer and began scrawling large letters. Normally most folks simply go with their natural handwriting, but these guys were prepared to make a statement, “VOTE SOCIALIST”. After junior finished coloring in the letters I wondered if this was a genuine feeling or perhaps a satirical retort to my invitation. Father and son went on their way, but the mark they made was a focal point for the rest of the weekend. Pro-Socialism in Alabama? Who woulda thunk it?” In the three years I have been doing this project I am always impressed when I talk with Vietnam Veterans. Always respectful gentlemen, I see the deep wonder in their eyes as they read what has been written by their fellow Americans. These men fought in a war that no one wanted to be a part of and often this under appreciation of their sacrifice is still with them today. I am grateful that we as a nation have taken a more respectful admiration of our Militiary Veterans, but this national conciseness didn’t come without the underserving scorn heaped upon the young men drafted into a war far away from home. American Expressions is often easy for people to participate, but for those who fought for our flag there is not nearly enough room for them to express themselves. It is well known that Alabama is a football kinda state, but I was quite impressed with the lack of school slogans. There was a few tags of Roll Tide, but Bama was far out scored by God. Beliefs are a big part of life in Alabama, but how God, America, & Love were almost always intertwined provided a very positive feeling. I had the pleasure of meeting 4 Palestinian ladies who were studying at UAB and gladly participated. Their perspectives were geared more toward the international attention pertaining to the conflict in their home land. In talking with them I was impressed with their gratitude for being here studying in our country. They are halfway around the world with their family concerns back home. Seeing these ladies pursuer their dreams in the freedom of our land reminds me that we have many opportunities that others do not. They wrote a few items on the flag in Arabic, which is a beautiful visual language. Pictured below is the word for “Love” but in the midst of everything else one wouldn’t even notice. I can just imagine what our flag would like covered in Arabic. My visit was not without a bit of patron disgust. The VOTE SOCIALIST was widely scoffed at by passers-by and gave me an excellent opportunity to explain the crux of my project is to publicly practice expression & tolerance. Notwithstanding, by then end of the trip someone had crossed it out, finely exhibiting the difficult balance between freedom & tolerance. There were many folks who approved of seeing the gun silhouettes adorning the flag up until I explained that I was asking the question, “How many (guns) is too many?” This was not the response they wanted to hear…..
I have been fortunate to spend a good deal of time in Memphis and met its people. American Expressions did two events over a period of a couple months and I got to hear some wonderful feelings about America. I met a Hispanic family who had such gratitude for being in America and they proudly let their daughter sign the flag. I wonder if we as a country have lost that appreciation? Do we now all feel entitled to the good life that we have here? From my time in Memphis, I see that this entitled attitude has yielded an appreciation for love. There is a lot of love in Memphis, love for life, love of freedom, love of this country! It is an interesting sentiment that with all the eases we have in our country result in a genuine appreciation of life. Another observation is the wide array of demographics and their potential opinion. It can’t be helped that who you are in sociological terms defines much of your attitude about our nation. Case in point, there are often many people who stroll by the flag, watching others add their commentary, and when I engage these folks, they often decline to participate. I explain the project and then entice them by saying, “I know you have a lot of feelings about our country and you’re just whittling your statement down to one sentiment.” This usually opens a dialog that identifies they do have a lot of feelings about America, complicated feelings, feelings of pride and helplessness. Everyone has an opinion about what is going on, but getting people to take that step and express themselves, to move to action, to not be overcome with apathy at the enormity of it all, and recognize they do have the power to make a difference. It is gratifying to see people come alive when they realize that their opinion does matter, or at least I am willing to listen to it, and then they are empowered to take the marker and spell out their gripe on our flag.
Spring 2011 Atlanta is the first city that I am more or less “crashing”. No venue, no prepared destination, just showing up and finding people to share their feelings about America. I was hosted by my wonderful friends Joel & Stacey, who were more than willing to jump in and help out. I learned very quickly that location is going to be paramount to success in this project. Pulling the trailer and PARKING that beast requires some re-con to get the best spot. I spent two days in Little 5 Points. The first day we set up far down the street, kind of away from the action. The next day we got out early and got a good spot with lots of foot traffic. The experience of recruiting participants was intriguing. Some people were ready and clearly understood what the project was about. Others milled around curiously, while some simply crossed the street to avoid whatever they thought was ahead of them. I found the diversity of participants intriguing. I had suburban kids, homeless men, college girls, young professionals, mature artists, and a few thugs. I had a trio of young men walk by curious, but “ignoring” our presence. When they walked back by, I asked them again if they wanted to share their feelings about America. One fella stopped and quickly scrawled “WATCHED” on the flag. The diversity of attitudes reflects much the same diversity of people in our country. It is hard to hold myself in an a-political place and simply be a conduit for the greater publics’ free expression. I look, I listen, and I am amazed. Many people are thinking and feeling about America. There is a great deal of love in the heart of our country. I find that as people read other’s expressions and give their own, a bond is being built. Maybe it’s art, maybe it’s patriotism, maybe it’s pure humanity. My work is to simply bring people together and have them feel that their voice matters.