Notes From Home: Broad Stripes, Bright Stars

Trudy Wischemann

The morning after last week’s attack on the Capitol, I started hearing strains of “The Star-Spangled Banner”—scraps of words first, then the melody. “Whose broad stripes and bright stars” arrived first, and it was visual as well as verbal. And for the first time in my life since Vietnam, the image was dear.

Even as a little girl, I struggled to parse the poetic phrases in that song. If you only hear it and can’t see the commas, it’s not easy to understand what the song is saying. “Oh, say, can you see…” We don’t arrive at what we’re asked to be looking for—the flag—for 15 more words, braced in four phrases, and then it’s just this simple description: broad stripes and bright stars. It’s 30 more words until we get to “flag” and the important part of the song, that it “was still there.”

There is, of course, a reason for that. These strung-out sentences create exactly the suspense that Frances Scott Key felt as he, a hostage, watched the blasting of Ft. McHenry by the British on Sept. 13, 1814. They’d burned Washington three weeks earlier, including the White House and multiple capitol buildings, and were delivering punishing blows to our spindly naval defense. We had declared war on them in June of 1812, and were being given a severe thrashing for it—and perhaps for defeating them in the Revolutionary War three decades earlier. But the terror of losing what we’d fought for and worked so hard to create was real, and that’s what makes the song so powerful today even when its origins are lost in most of our minds.

“Through the perilous fight.” That’s another phrase delivered to my mind Thursday morning. That’s what we had last week, too: a perilous fight. So much was at stake, but we didn’t know it until the mob broke through the doors. At the moment of this writing, six people have died from injuries sustained when Donald Trump’s troops smashed their way in, carrying all manner of flags—the stars and stripes, the Confederate (losers) flag, and the yellow one with the rattlesnake from the Revolutionary War, which may be the flag most truly representative of the hazy political beliefs of that crowd. Many commentators have said that at that moment they realized how fragile our democracy is. I don’t see it as fragile, but that moment certainly made me realize it’s precious.

That we have sustained four years of this so-called president, who has betrayed the real interests of the country with every breath, every sentence uttered, every executive order signed, and are still here willing and able to fight to take it back is a mark of our strength, not our weakness. In many ways the flag is of no importance, as anyone can see from the flag-carrying people in the mob. What matters is the country lying beneath it and the rules we’ve established for living in and on this land, the rules we continue to work to improve. But Thursday morning I was terribly relieved to learn that our flag was still there.

“What’s it gonna take to have our voices heard?” one of the attackers was quoted as saying. Having spent more time at Lindsay’s city hall than most people born in this town, and having spent most of my adult life observing the blatant non-observance of laws written to ensure that federally-developed water supplies go to resident family farmers and not absentee, corporate landowners, I think I have standing to respond.

It takes way more than a bunch of hooligans storming buildings, tearing down then raising flags, and overrunning the process, even under the banner of a hooligan holding the highest office of the land. It takes respect for the laws and participation in the process by which they are made. It takes seeing that those responsible for administering and enforcing the laws do so. It takes seeing that laws not representing the interests of the people are overturned. That’s how we keep this precious country worth fighting for even when our voices seem to fall on deaf ears.

Trudy Wischemann is a footsoldier in John Wesley Powell’s army. You can send her your thoughts on national defense c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit and leave a comment there.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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