Last night Assemblyman Patrick Flynn went and did it. He brought the highly divisive issues of alleged police brutality and social injustice right into our Muni Assembly chambers and lit the fire on a potentially explosive issue by kneeling during the Pledge of Allegiance.
I am actually writing this piece Tuesday night, but my guess is by Wednesday when it is posted conservative talk radio will already be on fire with all manner of right-wing outrage at Flynn and left-wing outrage will be getting all spun up at the conservative outrage. That outrage will bounce back and forth until it reaches an obnoxious fervour on both sides that will make most of us treat it like the rest of auditory junk-mail messaging we are bombarded with every day. We’ll just TUNE. IT. OUT.
Go ahead, turn on your radio, I guarantee it’s already started.
I have a couple simple questions for Assemblyman Flynn and his ideological wingman Mayor Ethan Berkowitz.
First of all, what exactly is the problem? What was the point of Mr. Flynn’s protest?
Mr. Flynn offered two conflicting points. First, in his blog he said “As an Assembly member I represent the two most diverse census tracts in the United States.” Then, in the Alaska Dispatch News article on this incident, he said “I do have a great degree of respect for the Anchorage Police Department, I think they do a great job with a very diverse community.” So, if Anchorage is super-diverse and our police department does a great job dealing with that, then what exactly is the problem for which we should all raise our awareness?
Mr. Flynn owes us all, not vague allusions to undefined societal ills, but rather a clear articulation of the problems he was giving a voice.
The next, and frankly larger question is what now?
The ADN story read:
“Flynn said he hoped to encourage “productive” community discussion. He said he wasn’t sure if he would take a knee again in a future meeting.”
Mr. Flynn and the Mayor have damn sure started something, so what is their plan for fostering and engaging a truly robust and diverse discussion on these issues in our society and ensuring they are “productive?”
And please spare me the kind of “we had no idea” rubbish Mr. Flynn was trying to sell on his Facebook page in the wake of incident when he wrote:
“I actually didn’t mean to cause all this excitement, if that’s the correct term. And, for those who weren’t present, I didn’t do anything to draw attention to my decision to kneel during the pledge of allegiance, hand over my heart, reciting it as written. Others, for whatever reason, decided to make it an issue — a slow Assembly meeting, I suppose.”
Flynn comes from one of Anchorage’s old school politically active liberal families. He grew up in politics. There is NO WAY he didn’t know not standing for the Pledge of Allegiance wouldn’t cause a row. There is even less chance he didn’t know that writing about the possibility of doing it on his blog Sunday night wouldn’t guarantee someone was looking for it. He was literally going out of his way to build anticipation and a will-he/won’t-he coverage by the media.
He wanted the gesture to be noticed and it was. Now Mr. Flynn owns it and has a responsibility to all of us in the community to make sure the discussion that follows truly is productive.
It’s unfortunate that a member of a sitting legislative body would participate in simple theatrics and social media posts without proposing any legislation, resolutions, or anything that could provide something of substance, something to define the scope of the problem or issue needing community discussion. Mr. Flynn missed a major opportunity by favoring optics over substance.
The Mayor shares Mr. Flynn’s responsibility. That is not only because of his elected position as the only public offical who represents us all in Anchorage, but because Mr. Flynn’s actions are undeniable an outgrowth of the progressive multiculturalism and minority empowerment that has so far defined Berkowitz’ administration. If Berkowitz wants to be seen as a leader, then now is the time. If the mayor doesn’t step up now, he might as well save his breath on any such issues going forward. I won’t be interested and I’d imagine many others won’t either.
So, once again, I ask what now? What is the plan of Mr. Flynn and Mayor Berkowitz? They’ve kicked one of our society’s hornet’s nest, they owe us an answer as to what you are going to do about it.
Will they be making the rounds on Anchorage’s ample conservative talk radio circuit to guide an adult conversation on these issues? No? I can’t blame them, that circuit isn’t known for intelligent or adult conversation these days.
Will they take to public broadcasting? Let’s be honest, that is just one ideological left-winger talking to another and being heard by a third. There isn’t going to be any diversity of thought anywhere in that exercise.
There isn’t any television platform for such discussions in Anchorage.
Perhaps they are going to pen a series of fantastic op-eds in the ADN. The problem there is that isn’t a dialog, it’s at best a series of monologues.
Now we have arrived at the real problem.
All those kneeling to raise awareness for racial inequity, from sports stars to an Anchorage Assemblyman, claim that they mean not to offend anyone but really just want to create a public conversation on the subject. They then immediately and irresponsibility depart the public stage when the heavy lifting begins of creating public spaces for such “productive” and inevitably uncomfortable discussions.
The result is that public debate devolves to the lowest common denominator of stereotyping, generalization, demonisation, and grandstanding on radio and social media or a series of closed, ideologically homogeneous bitching sessions among interest groups at universities, community centers, or political meetings.
So will Mr. Flynn and Mayor Berkowitz really lead any sort of adult discussion on this topic? Will they engage not only their own bases of minority communities but also truly reach out to white and conservative communities to ensure they are in the discussion? Will they try just as hard to ensure the community hears from those they are ideologically separated from as much as those they agree with?
Mr. Flynn has kneeled, but can he and Berkowitz now rise and take the next step?