A social media movement has built up around the hashtag #takedowntheflag. Following the murder of nine black churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, people are pushing back across platforms against the old, tired “it’s about Southern heritage” argument. And as of today, even South Carolina politicians (who have previously defended the flag) are set to call for its removal.
Widespread anger that the Confederate flag still flew in South Carolina’s state capital, Columbia, reached a boiling point after US and South Carolina state flags were lowered to half-mast in the wake of the killings. But not the Confederate flag, which is padlocked into place.
While the growing movement began on social media, it was galvanized by a searing article in The Atlantic by Te-Nehisi Coates, “Take Down the Confederate Flag—Now,” that has since been shared more than 300,000 times on Facebook. Coates wrote:
The Confederate flag’s defenders often claim it represents “heritage not hate.” I agree—the heritage of White Supremacy was not so much birthed by hate as by the impulse toward plunder. Dylann Roof plundered nine different bodies last night, plundered nine different families of an original member, plundered nine different communities of a singular member. An entire people are poorer for his action. The flag that Roof embraced, which many South Carolinians embrace, does not stand in opposition to this act—it endorses it.
He cites the Vice President of the Confederacy Alexander Stephens’ 1861 “Corner Stone Speech” as evidence that the flag stands for racial inequality:
its foundations are laid, its corner-stone rests, upon the great truth that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery subordination to the superior race is his natural and normal condition.
On Twitter, Tumblr and Instagram as well, users have been using the hashtag #takedowntheflag to express their opinions. A MoveOn.org petition to remove the flag “from all government places” has received more than 500,000 signatures.
Here we sample some of the reactions to the Take Down the Flag movement:
No one is suggesting taking away individual Americans’ right to buy, wear or display the flag; the principle is that the Confederate flag and the history it represents has no place being displayed in modern American government spaces.
With these officials set to speak today, this appears to be an instance of social media’s power to make waves where otherwise issues have lain dormant. We’ll have to wait and see what action is taken. But #takedowntheflag proves that the internet does not simply have to be a negative echo chamber, and that it can be on the right side of history.