Close to Home: Here’s why the flags weren’t flying on MLK Day

Flags line Sebastopol's Main Street to commemorate Veterans Day (Press Democrat, 2003)



This is in response to Joyce Johnson’s letter to the editor titled “Flags on King Day” published on Tuesday. Troop 27 is proud to be the latest in a long line of Boy Scout troops to post the flags down Main Street in Sebastopol, a 50-year tradition started by the Sebastopol Lions Club and the Sebastopol City Council.

Johnson has every right to be upset that flags weren’t flying on Martin Luther King Day. King is a true American hero and deserves the same honor given to other holidays. And Johnson has every right to request the Sebastopol City Council revisit how the flags are handled.

Johnson has every right to her own opinion but not to her own facts. Prior to her letter, we exchanged at least five emails in as many days about MLK day flags. I patiently explained all of the challenges the boys face, yet Johnson chose to gloss over those facts.

I explained that the Boy Scouts of America is a youth-led organization at the troop level. The boys plan and run all troop meetings and outings while the adult leaders provide a safe space to learn.

The boys select which holidays to post flags, but while MLK Day is at the top of their list every year, the main challenge is manpower: Most Troop 27 parents work on MLK Day.

For safety anywhere, the Boy Scouts of America mandates adult troop leaders exercise “two-deep leadership” — one youth must be supervised by at least two adults certified in BSA youth protection training. For the days we post flags, the best practice is to book at least four BSA-certified adults to ensure youth safety.

Reduced adult availability leads to another challenge: flag transportation. Not all Troop 27 adults own a pickup truck. Those who do, work on MLK Day. We post 100 and 300 flags, so at least one truck is necessary.

The third challenge is weather. A rain forecast will cancel the flags on any holiday. The flags and poles must be dry when returned to storage or they risk irreparable damage. Of all the holidays we post, MLK Day is the most susceptible to rain.

Lastly, Johnson chose to publicly confront the Sebastopol City Council, calling into question the content of their character and challenged them to “walk the walk.” What she chose not to share, however, is that I invited Johnson and Sebastopol Mayor Patrick Slayter to meet with me to discuss her concerns and brainstorm solutions. I also invited both to join the troop at our next flag event, on Presidents Day. The mayor accepted both invitations immediately and offered a range of meeting options, which I emailed to Johnson.

Slayter and Councilman Michael Carnacchi have volunteered to post flags on Presidents Day and next year on MLK Day. The mayor is even bringing his pickup truck. Johnson knew he started walking the walk before she submitted her letter.

To paraphrase King’s contemporary and the first Boy Scout to become president, John F. Kennedy: Ask not what your community can do for you — ask what you can do for your community.

King, as a fellow Boy Scout, wasn’t content with casting stones from afar. He quite literally walked the walk — and made history. The invitation is still open for Johnson to do the same.

To be fair, I do thank Johnson for bringing this to our attention and emphasizing how the public can perceive the waiving of flags on Martin Luther King Day to be a slight at best.

Troop 27 will make every effort to post flags down Main Street Sebastopol on MLK Day. Until all employers offer that day off, however, we will face the same top two challenges as mentioned above. Rain will always be an issue as well.

We’ve been brainstorming solutions and plan to overcome these obstacles by growing troop membership and adult leader involvement, requesting help from local Scout packs and troops including the Girl Scouts and as always, by welcoming the generous support from community volunteers.

Ideas are still coming in. All are welcome to be a part of it

Damon Van Hoesen is scoutmaster for Troop 27 in Sebastopol.