Why I’m Sitting for the Pledge of Allegiance Today: With Liberty And Justice For All?

Why I’m Sitting for the Pledge of Allegiance Today: With Liberty And Justice For All?

For every New York City Council meeting over the past seven years, I’ve stood, placed my right hand over my heart, and said the Pledge of Allegiance.  

Today, I’ll remain seated, in an act of solidarity and patriotism.

Standing during the Pledge reflects my deep allegiance to the ideals of this country. At each Council meeting, it reminds me of the oath I took to uphold the Charter of New York City, and the Constitution of the United States. I take that oath very seriously and work hard every day to serve my constituents, and to uphold our country’s ideals, values, and laws.   

Today, my allegiance to the flag, and to the republic for which it stands, compels me to remain seated.

In part, this is an act of solidarity.

At this moment in American history – as we see unarmed people of color, citizens of our republic, killed by police officers far too frequently, as we see the consequences of systemic racism in housing, education, and criminal justice – I believe it is important for white people to see, name, and take responsibility for our privilege, and to find ways to act in solidarity with people of color working for justice.

For me, there is no better ally in that work than Council Member Jumaane Williams. I am proud of the work we have done together to fight racial profiling through the Community Safety Act, to combat housing discrimination and strengthen NYC’s human rights law, and to give people a fair shot at jobs by banning-the-box and ending employment credit checks. Just two weeks ago, we co-sponsored a town hall in my district, at which over 200 people met to discuss privilege, systemic racism, and what it means to be an ally.

When he sat during the Pledge at our last Council meeting, I respected Jumaane’s protest, but did not feel compelled to join him. After reading the racist hate mail he received, however, it became clear to me that being an ally in the struggle for justice requires joining him today. It may be a little uncomfortable – and I am sorry if any of my constituents consider it any way offensive – but surely it is far less offensive than receiving vile hate mail, or being worried about your teenage son’s interactions with police officers, or doubting whether your kids’ public school will be good enough.

This is not only an act of solidarity for me. It is also an act of patriotism.

My allegiance to this country is not one of race, ethnicity, or skin color. It is not blood, or DNA, or common ancestry that we share. Instead, when I pledge allegiance, it is to a shared commitment to a profound set of democratic goals and practices. To the idea that we are all created equal, and endowed with unalienable rights. That we all deserve equal justice under law. It is the pursuit of those ideals that makes me proud to be an American.

My job as a legislator, and our job as citizens, is to hold this country to its highest ideals – to help us form that more perfect union. And my action today is the highly patriotic step of asking questions about how well we are fulfilling those ideals.

Were Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile  created equal, and endowed with unalienable rights?

Are our kids receiving equal justice under law, in schools that are still highly segregated and unequal?

Are we, to the best of our ability, a country with liberty and justice for all?

It seems clear to me, today, that the answer is: not yet.

It is in that spirit, of forming a more perfect union, or what Martin Luther King Jr. called the “fierce urgency of now,” that I remain seated today.

I am not withdrawing from my Pledge of Allegiance. I am taking it as seriously as I know how.

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