HADDAM - The Haddam Board of Selectmen meeting on July 16 took on a different look. One that the town is now talking about.
"For the first time in my life, I knelt during the Pledge of Allegiance," said Melissa Schlag, a democratic Selectman. "But, I consider myself just as much a patriot as anyone else in that room, who recited the pledge."
Schlag took a knee in protest of President Donald J. Trump.
"My reasons for kneeling are varied, but simple: that day the President of the United States chose Russia over America," she said, referring to Trump's Monday meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, in Helsinki Finland.
But, Republicans point out, when President Barack Obama was in office, he and his administration had no problems fostering relationships with President Putin.
"It was just as bad under them as it is under President Trump," Schlag said.
Why, then, did she choose not to kneel in protest during Obama's term in the White House?
"Just something that I didn’t think about it at the time," Schlag conceded.
Haddam's Republican First Selectman, Lizz Milardo, who ousted Schlag from the First Selectman's office by 25 votes in the 2015 election, said her adversary "has been questioned by residents about why she will not put her hand over her heart when she says the Pledge of Allegiance."
Schlag's response, according to Milardo, was "No comment."
The following is a letter Schlag posted on social media last Friday, four days after taking a knee, Schlag explained why she chose this method and this venue:
Before I was old enough to walk, I attended Memorial Day parades and Veteran’s Day ceremonies with my parents and my little sister (my father is an Air Force veteran); a few years later I marched as a Girl Scout for nearly two decades; I wrote essays on what patriotism means to me; and I marched with my high school band and learned to play every patriotic song by heart on my clarinet.
I have devoted every day to my fellow citizen, whether it was helping someone less fortunate, donating my time and skills, or attending nearly every town meeting for over a decade and filming them to hold local government accountable and to keep fellow citizens informed. I proudly ran for state senator in the 33rd district, speaking to over 8,000 people in person across twelve towns. I proudly ran for first selectman in 2013 and was honored to serve the citizens of Haddam for two years with honesty and integrity. I’ve dedicated my time on other boards throughout the years and now serve as selectman. I consider myself a Haddam patriot as well as an American patriot.
I have the utmost respect for our service members, and I have also served my country in many ways; I believe serving your country and being a patriot does not automatically mean carrying a gun overseas. Patriotism comes in many forms.
On Monday, July 16, 2018, for the first time in my life, I knelt for the pledge of allegiance.
I knelt out of extreme sorrow for our country, because earlier that day, the president of the United States, Donald J. Trump, sat down with a murderous dictator, Vladimir Putin, our enemy and someone who is working hard to undermine the most patriotic of our rights, the right to our democracy.
I knelt out of extreme sorrow for our country, that the leader of our great nation, rejected the advice and findings of all American intelligence agencies and would rather support the lies of a murderous dictator.
I knelt out of extreme sorrow that immigrant children are being kept in cages, separated from their families for so long they don’t even recognize their parents when and if reunited.
I knelt out of extreme sorrow for the bullying, lies, and attack on human rights that comes from the leader of our great nation every single day.
I knelt because there are people who are cold, sick, and hungry in this country, while the present administration says humans are not worthy of things like universal health care and must chose every day between the medication needed to stay alive and paying their electric or grocery bill.
I knelt out of extreme sorrow that women’s rights are being stripped from us by the leader of our nation who thinks it is okay to grab women by the genitals.
I could go on.
I have reached a point in my life where I feel I need to send the message by kneeling, that none of this is okay and all of this is as unpatriotic as it can get and the antithesis of what America stands for.
Therefore, as long as Donald J. Trump is the president of the United States, I will kneel. I will kneel for all the people, regardless of party affiliation, and continue to fight for their rights. This is not the America I grew up in, or the country we should be, but I will work every day to get us back to that place.
If you wish to lecture about being unpatriotic, that is your right, but your attention should start with your president.
If people are not offended and worried by what the president of the United States did this week (multiple times), we have no hope. America should be alarmed by these disgusting displays of not only unpatriotic acts, but also treason. He continuously breaks all the rules and his actions have opened the door for us all to exercise our first amendment rights in protest.
My question to all those who take offense to my choice to kneel, who are you to decide what I should or should not do, and under what authority do you decided what is sacred and what is not?
Finally, if you are unfamiliar with the history of the pledge of allegiance and where it came from, I urge you to read about it.
It’s quite fascinating actually. In a nutshell, it wasn’t even written by a patriot, it was written by a socialist minister in 1892 in a marketing campaign to make money by selling flags to schools for a Catholic boys magazine. He and his business partner used the celebration of the 400th anniversary of the landing of Christopher Columbus in 1492 as their hook. Kind of symbolic and ironic that people stand to recite a sentence written entirely for capitalistic reasons to celebrate the 400th anniversary of a rapist and genocidal murderer who didn’t even set foot on American soil.
The original words of the pledge of allegiance:
I pledge allegiance to my Flag and the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.
See that word “liberty”? That’s a powerful word. I urge anyone to show me where in the United States Constitution it says we are obligated to stand for a “pledge.” In fact, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled, “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”
For America, I kneel.
Very truly yours,
United States of America
Schlag is not the only public figure in Haddam that has chosen to join the resist movement against Trump
Maura Wallin, a Republican member of the Haddam Board of Education, says she has been kneeling during the Pledge and National Anthem at every BOE meeting since last August. As a mother of two Hispanic daughters, she says she doesn't like "the way that people, who are not white, are treated in the justice system."
She says one of the reasons "absolutely did not" vote for Trump is he encourages racism.
"I know that a lot of people, who support him, are (racists)," she said.
Bob Kadrle, a military veteran, from Haddam, says he is all for "her (Schlag) being able to do something like that but, to me, it’s not the place to do it while you’re doing the Pledge of Allegiance, singing the national anthem."
He says there are other options.
"Go kneel in front of the store down on the main thorough fare with a couple of signs that say why you’re kneeling."
On gentleman said he absolutely believes in any form of civil protest.
"What the people have done, like Colin Kaepernick and people, I fully support what they stand for and are saying," said Bill Stumpf of Chester, who is no fan of Trump either.
"I think he’s doing much more to divide people than bring people together," said Stumpf.
Yet, Trump's approval rating, according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News Poll, has risen to 45%, which is the highest mark of his presidency.