Everyone who lives in Richmond knows the city will be hosting the UCI Road World Championships in September. Yes, I had never heard of it either. But the rest of the world -- and cycling enthusiasts at home -- have. Richmond2015 organizers expect almost half a million visitors to pour into Richmond for the nine-day event, and have been touring the city to spread the word. (My local civic association has had TWO visits from the local organizing group over the past year or so, and the race isn't even coming through our neighborhood.)
So local institutions are joining the effort, The city is of course a major backer, as are other local governments; businesses are signing up to sponsor. And now non-profit groups are getting involved, or at least getting into the spirit.
Which brings us to the Bermuda Hundred chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. (The chapter is named for a historic town in Chester, VA, just south of Richmond.) They want to welcome the visitors to our city with a "Flags over Richmond" campaign. So this probably means they want us to showcase our different nationalities and ethnicities by flying different -- oh, wait, nope: just American flags. From their flyer:
We encourage individuals, families, schools, community groups, businesses, and localities to roll out the "Red, White and Blue," and fly their American flags to welcome over 1000 of the world's best cyclists to our patriotic nation and to the historic greater Richmond area.
In an e-mail that accompanies the flyer, one of the group's volunteers notes that the DAR is "promoting the flying of American flags as a way to foster patriotism."
This seems a little tone-deaf, if not outwardly antagonistic. Is this really the best time and means for "fostering patriotism"? We live in a world where anti-Americanism is still growing in countries from Egypt to Germany to Russia. (And even Canada!) And the DAR wants us to welcome visitors from other lands by... throwing our flag in their face?
Granted, it's not like they're asking Virginians to fly Confederate flags (we've had that problem before) or, like this Texas lawmaker, asking us to greet Muslims with Israeli flags (?!?). And I get that patriotism is what the DAR does: since we support our troops with American flags, and celebrate holidays with American flags, let's greet the UCI event with.... American flags! To the hammer, everything is a nail.
And to be fair, the flyer notes that, "We also encourage individuals from all nations to fly their flags as well." But even that seems a little backhanded: does it mean that people who are celebrating their heritage or family homeland are not Americans?
Like many Southern cities, Richmond is in the midst of a transformation from a traditional past to a more uncertain future. So you can drive past Confederate flags at the VMFA before heading to Carytown or the Fan and seeing why the city lands on random most-tattooed lists. This DAR initiative may be an example of how older institutions try to adapt to new circumstances, and how their efforts sometimes fail.
Flying your country's flag is a nice way to support your country. But flying your country's flag in response to an influx of foreign visitors suggests you are afraid of what those visitors represent. The DAR may want to re-think this particular initiative; I don't think it sends the "welcome" message that the UCI's Richmond2015 organizers want.