Photo of Waterville roofers standing during national anthem goes viral

Old Town resident Michelle Cossar was about to watch her nephew’s football team play at Waterville High School when she snapped the photo that has since caused a firestorm. Before the game, the Star Spangled Banner played, as it had played many times before. But this time, a team of Oakland based roofers working nearby—Dwayne Harrison, Danny Thyng, and James Scruggs— heard the anthem. Atop their roof, they paused work, turned towards the source of the song, and stood with their  hands over their hearts. Harrison later told Fox News they did it because it “was the right thing to do.”

Cossar caught the moment and shared it to her Facebook. She later stated that she captured and shared the moment because she “thought the world could use a little more of that right now.” Evidently, she was right— the photo has been shared over 4,000 times.

One reason for this popularity is that it tells a story full of Americanisms: a family attends a son’s football game, a group of hardworking men, sweat on their brow, stand in reverence.

Much of the buzz generated by the photo began after its first 600 Facebook shares when both Fox News and Breitbart picked up the story, sparking the interest of smaller right-wing blogs and sites.

Soon, the photo went viral nationally, representing  one side of the present national discourse regarding what it means to respect the flag and be patriotic.

Many commenters and publications shared the photo, praised the roofers, and denounced those who disrespect the flag, referring primarily to the NFL players who knelt during the national anthem two weeks ago. Even President Donald Trump voiced his opinion on the matter, calling the players, ‘sons of bitches’ that should be fired.

Old Town resident and Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems employee Christina Thurston told The Echo that she shared Cossar’s photo because, “I couldn’t be prouder of young adults that stand with hands over their hearts. Shows that they were brought up to respect the Flag [sic] and our National Anthem [sic]. It’s too [sic] bad everybody doesn’t remember what respect of our country is.”

Asked what she thought of Trump calling protesting NFL players ‘sons of bitches,’ Thurston stated, “I think Amen President Trump! One of the best presidents ever! It’s true! They are!”

Responses to the NFL protests and Trump’s reaction have been varied across the country. Louisiana Public Parkway High School implemented a policy on Sept.  29 banning all protest during the national anthem, a move which The Economist found to be a “clear violation of the First Amendment.”

But critics of Trump’s speech have claimed that the demonization of often black athletes’ protests was yet another dog whistle in an ongoing campaign based on an ethos of national symbolism defined by race and xenophobia. Trump’s appeal to the U.S. flag code was lambasted, as the code forbids several commonplace actions, such as wearing the flag or using it as a marketing tool.

Perhaps those critics would find coded, if unintentional, meanings in Cossar’s words as well: “thought the world could use a little more of that right now.” A little more of what?

Overall, while many have  appreciated Cossar’s shot, its opposition to kneeling protesters reveals division in modern American politics.

Some claim that, faced with legislative setbacks such as the rejection of all Obamacare repeal plans and travel bans, the Trump administration is continuing to use dog-whistle politics to retain its base.

Others find that protests during the anthem detract from a genuine campaign to restore America to a state of greater prosperity, safety, and patriotism.

Against this backdrop, The Echo talked to Colby students to get their opinion.

Boom Jiruppabha ’19 told The Echo that, “I think the ability to express one’s opinions freely, in this case, kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness of racial injustice, is what makes America a great country.” Nate Jester ’19 agreed, saying that, “It’s controversial but it’s a peaceful protest and we should encourage it.”

Jessy Grossman ’19 stated that, “I believe they have the right to kneel because they’re not protesting the flag, or America directly, they’re standing up for racial issues that are problematic and still pertinent today.”

Devon Smith ’20 said that the kneeling protest, “definitely shows a lot about how people are feeling towards Trump and how something as meaningful as the national anthem isn’t going to be spared in the debate.”  Smith ’20 admired that the kneeling protest “took a lot of courage,” but noted that “there is also another side where it can be offensive for people who fought for our country and lived the representation of the national anthem and aren’t or were never connected to Trump at all.”

The discussion surrounding Cossar’s photo sits at the heart of this nationwide debate, and more broadly, modern political division. It is yet more proof of the old saying: “as goes Maine, so goes the nation.”

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