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Thursday, September 16, 2021

ASUCD rules presence of American flag optional during Senate meetings

CAT TAYLOR / AGGIE

Senate Bill #76 creates controversy surrounding patriotism

In order to keep ASUCD practices consistent with bylaws, the Internal Affairs Commission (IAC) created Senate Bill #76 to amend Section 1410 of the ASUCD bylaws, no longer mandating that the American flag be in the Mee Room during meetings. Instead, ASUCD senators will have discretion over whether or not to fly the American flag. The flag is not currently in the room and has not been for several years. The vote passed majority seven to two at a Senate meeting on April 13.

Itamar Waksman, a third-year international relations major and vice chairperson of the Internal Affairs Commission (IAC), authored the bill, amending Senate bill Section 1410. National news and media outlets have painted this legislature with a political brush, accusing it of being “unpatriotic.” Although Waksman maintains that this was apolitical and procedural, many major news organizations, including Fox News and Breitbart, have charged his bill with harnessing a political narrative or conviction due to its language about differing patriotism.

“In accordance with the understanding that the concept of United States of America and patriotism is different for every individual, and it should not be compulsory that the flag is in view at all times during Senate meetings,” the bill states. “Considering that the flag is seldom present at senate meetings, it should not be mandated by the Bylaws as a codified practice.”

On April 16, Fox News’Fox & Friends” ran a segment titled “Trouble With Schools: Fight Against Old Glory,” which featured the ASUCD bill. The following day on Fox News’ “Tucker Carlson Tonight” live program, Carlson told viewers that “two UC Davis student senators,” referring to Waksman and ASUCD Senator Jose Meneses, who introduced the bill to the Senate, “backed out last minute and stopped returning any of our phone calls” about talking on-air. On the program, radio host Tammy Bruce talked about how Waksman “is also a naturalized citizen […] they’ve come here not to become part of America, but to punish it.”

Waksman stated that Tucker Carlson “used the segment to bash me and [Meneses]” and was repeatedly calling Waksman that night asking him to talk on-air.

Previously, Section 1410 made it mandatory for the Senate meetings to fly a U.S. flag, yet there is no flag displayed in the Mee room, where the ASUCD meetings are held. Waksman views this amendment as a non-partisan and apolitical decision that solely corrects existing bylaws, keeping the ASUCD practices consistent with the codes.

“We many times have had to change the bylaw itself so that our actions are consistent,” Waksman said. “And that’s really a question of the legitimacy of an association. With that in mind, we were going through all the chapters of the bylaws and different inconsistencies in them, and then section 1410 came up, the one that said the flag shall be up at every Senate meeting. There has never been a flag there since 2005 or 2006. With that fact, I said I’m just going to change the language of this portion on the bylaw so we weren’t constantly breaking it. I just reformed Section 1410 to say that it should not be compulsory that the flag is at every Senate meeting. In ASUCD, we have our bylaws, and our issue is that there are a lot of inconsistencies between our practices and the bylaws themselves. And there are many, many examples of this. So, what IAC has been doing, because we deal with the institutional makeup of the ASUCD, we’ve been kind of scrubbing the bylaws for the last year plus.”

Waksman said that news stations and ASUCD members have pushed a bill that was aiming toward procedural legitimacy into a political narrative.

“I want to say that most of the articles that have been written so far are huge misrepresentations of what I did, what the bill is and my intentions,” Waksman said. “It’s clear that mostly right leaning media sources have been covering this, and they’ve definitely been adding a spin to it. The right seems to really have taken this, and certain individuals in the ASUCD Senate have used this for their political gain, in my opinion, and so have the other right wing media elements. However, this originally was really not over this kind of political debate over the flag and what it represents. It became that after individuals starting using it for their own political gain.”

Waksman said he understands that this bill cannot be completely apolitical for every person, even if it is for him.

“Don’t get me wrong, everyone has their view of the flag,” Waksman said. “Personally, I applied to be an American and I went through the process — it wasn’t just given to me at birth. I love this country, and I have very positive feelings associated with the flag, which is why it’s been sort of strange that I’ve been framed as this sort of ‘flag-hater.’ However, I do acknowledge, and I acknowledge in the bill, that certain people because of their experience in the country, or there people’s experiences in this country,  have a different view of the flag and symbols of this country. I didn’t want to take a side in this debate, and I didn’t want to use legislation to force the victory of one side over another.”

Michael Gofman, an ASUCD senator and a first-year political science and economics major, believes that Itamar’s decision was charged by political motivations.

“In my opinion, and what the author himself stated in multiple TV interviews, is that this bill had to do with patriotism,” Gofman said. “That patriotism means such different things to different people, and that the American flag can be found offensive to certain kinds of people.I think it’s great that there’s been so much attention put to this at a local level, national level, state level. I think a lot of it is very one-sided, and in reading articles, there’s so much misinformation in what’s going on, but I think it’s good that this makes people upset, because this bill made me upset and it’s good to see that a lot of Americans feel the same way.”

While Waksman assured that the decision was solely procedural, Gofman views this as a copout.

“This bill was proposed within Senate as if it was a logistical issue like the whole purpose is correcting a bylaw, like there’s some kind of misunderstanding within bylaws, and that’s the not the case,” Gofman said. “As I mentioned earlier, when talking with outside news agencies, when talking about it in any other format, all parties involved agreed that this was a political bill  and that’s why I was against it. I was against it from a political perspective.”

Gofman said that once the bylaw has been officially edited, he will submit another resolution, effectively to supercede the resolution that that Itamar authored. Gofman’s re-resolution will maintain optionality of the flag and allow any student to put the flag up in the Mee room.

“Once the bylaws are edited so that I can then submit a new resolution about them, I’m going to submit a new resolution which will sort of be a compromise,” Gofman said. “It will maintain the optionality so that if no one wants it there, it won’t be there. However, any student can, of there own volition, go up there and put the flag up on their own. And I actually have a few groups that are interested in paying for a new flag for Senate, because we already have a flag pole, we just need to get the flag back.”

When asked about why he didn’t uphold Section 1410 to physically place a flag in Senate until hearing about Waksman’s amendment, Gofman explained the multitude of bylaws. Gofman also asserted that Waksman brought this issue up first, not him.

“I am a brand new senator; I’m brand new to the school,” Gofman said. “I’m a freshman. This is going to be my third week right now of Senate. We have two-and-a-half-ish thousand individual lines of bylaws that I’ve read through from start to finish before. I will actually cite the fact that I actually just had not known this rule existed. Had I known — had I had more time to read the bylaws more carefully —I would have brought this up and said  ‘Let’s get the flag up there’. If I had read it, maybe I would have started pushing to bring the flag there, but I hadn’t. The only people that were pushing for this were people who were trying to get rid of it, and that’s why I think there’s a political agenda tied to this because this is so insignificant and inconsequential to anything on campus. If you’re focusing on the flag, that means you have a reason to focus on the flag.”

Waksman said that his intention was never to incite political polarization and that it is  unfortunate that “certain individuals in ASUCD used this for their own political gain.” He sees this ASUCD infrastructure adjustment as something minor and non-partisan that has been spun and narrativized.

“This is also an example of this amazing machine that exists in this country of fake news,” Waksman said. “They took this, which really isn’t a news story — a very localized, isolated event. On a national scale, it really gained traction only from right wing media sources including Fox News, and that’s because their spin machine decided ‘Wow, this is another great way to rile up our viewers and use it for our gain, and to ferment more outrage and polarization. What me and my friend [Meneses] have gone through in last few days with this article, and with the interviews we’ve done, they basically took it and turned it into fake news. It’s been amazing on a personal level to experience this incredible, incredible fake news machine in this country.”

ASUCD President Josh Dalavai understands the flag controversy’s sensitive nature.

“It’s the Senate’s decision and I’ll support what they do,” Dalavai said. “I will comment on the misinformation that’s been going on and has spiraled into something much larger than it actually is. People hear the word ‘flag,’ and it’s a symbol. It represents something, it holds value and because of that is very sensitive — understandably so. The ASUCD did not vote to take down the American flag; all they did is say that it shall not be mandatory to fly the flag.”

At the April 20 Senate meeting, Dalavai vetoed Itamar’s bylaw, which required that the Senate pro temp approve of a request in advance to display the flag. Dalavai will introduce his amended resolution, which gives any senator the instantaneous right to fly the flag, at the April 27 Senate meeting. The flag was flown at the Senate meeting on April 20.

Outside of ASUCD members and nationwide news, community members have also expressed anger towards what they view as anti-American counter-patriotism, even using threats and xenophobia. In an email with the subject title “Itmar,” one person named “RP McMurphy” emailed the ASUCD Senate.

“Your behavior is despicable,” the email said. “What you don’t understand, is that without the Flag and everything it stands for, you would not be here. Someone will grant you the wish. Suggestion: m—– f—–, keep your head down and your mouth shut. You are in the wrong alley.”
Written by: Aaron Liss  — campus@theaggie.org

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