With the sea of American flags waving at the Washington Monument and in the streets of towns and cities across our country, immigrant rights marchers are reclaiming the flag as a symbol of liberty, democracy and humanity.

For too long, the American flag has been hijacked and stained by phony patriots — the ultra-right “summer soldiers” who send other people’s children off to die in imperial wars. It has been hijacked by racists and chauvinists who trample on our multicultural, multiracial history. It has been hijacked by corporate globalizers who squeeze and discard workers and farmers in the U.S. and around the world. These folks have turned the American flag into an ugly symbol.

But the Stars and Stripes were born in a revolution declaring, for the first time in world history, that all people are created equal, with inalienable rights to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In the American Revolution and later the Civil War, the Stars and Stripes were the banner of democracy and emancipation. The flag symbolized the struggle against empires, aristocracy and slavocracy.

In the 230 years since the Declaration of Independence, our nation has been built by the labor of Native Americans and workers who migrated from the four corners of the globe or were brought in chains from Africa.

Our culture, science and industry have all been enriched by their contributions. American as apple pie? Even the apple is not native to these shores. (It was brought here from Europe, and scientists trace its likely origins to Asia.)

When immigrant rights marchers wave the flags of their homelands alongside the U.S. flag, it is entirely appropriate and very American. The people of our country have always celebrated and drawn strength from their own heritages — through cultural, social and workers clubs, newspapers, aid societies and religious institutions — at the same time as they have contributed to American society.

Our concepts of democracy have been expanded by the varied struggles of all peoples for their own civil rights and for their collective rights as workers and human beings. That is the meaning of the American flag that today’s marchers have reclaimed for us all.

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