Reflections: After the 2008 Presidential Election

It is just starting to sink in.

I called out to our youngest daughter, Gillian, as she set off down the road to meet the bus that she should be gracious. Don’t gloat I said. She said yeah right, after what they’ve put me through at school, this is going to be fun.

She was second in her class, academically, throughout seventh, eighth, ninth and tenth grades; her grades made her automatically eligible to apply for admission to the National Junior Honor Society.

However, she is not a member, and has never been; the handful of teachers sitting on the NJHS selections committee at Elk Lake School District in Dimock, PA voted down her application, twice, after which she never applied again.

The reason her membership was disallowed was this: after the U.S. invasion of Iraq she and her sisters decided, in protest, not to stand for the pledge to the flag.

Hilary was in eighth grade and Heather in tenth at the time, and both had been named members of the NJHS, in their turn, before the issue of the Iraq war and their protest to it came up.

To not stand for the pledge was a dramatic, traumatic decision which affected all of them significantly. Many teachers were outraged. Fellow students were often abusive.

Hilary and Heather were already up in the high school at the time, so there were two of them to face the music together. And, for a while, two or three of their classmates sat too, in solidarity, but one by one, under pressure from the faculty, the administration, their peers, and their parents, all but Hilary and Heather were forced back to their feet.

Gillian was twelve and in the sixth grade. She waged her protest all alone in the elementary school. She was sent to the hall. She was sent to the office. She was browbeaten and bullied, and still she stood (or sat) her ground.

It was in the fall of 2004, when she was in eighth grade, that Gillian received the letter stating that she was eligible for membership in the National Junior Honor Society. She completed the paperwork, obtained the necessary references, and submitted her application. In due course she learned that Elk Lake’s board of selections had voted to deny her application for membership.

Being of a curious nature, I spoke with a few of her teachers, most of whom did not sit on the board of selections. According to her French teacher, Kathleen Host, Gillian was “…an excellent student, helpful, with a good attitude”; her earth science teacher, James Eastman, said that she was “…among the best students in the school, period”; and Timothy Woolcock, her ecology teacher, said that she “…does well (and her) academics speak for themselves.” Even the school superintendent, Dr. William Bush, said, “She is an exemplary student. She works very hard.”

Her geometry teacher, George Delano, said that he knew it was because she wouldn’t stand for the pledge that she had not been admitted to the NJHS; her civics teacher, Fred Hein, said that although Gillian was exercising her constitutional rights by refusing to stand, that was the reason she was rejected; Mr. Eastman said that he did not approve of the NJHS, that “It has turned into a popularity contest for students among teachers.”

I also spoke with her geography teacher, Michael Cutri, who headed the selections board. From him I learned that Gillian had met all of the membership criteria–based on scholarship, leadership, service, character and citizenship–except citizenship. “Gillian is a superb student,” he said. “She fell short only in the area of citizenship. She doesn’t stand for the pledge of allegiance.”

“So Gillian was denied because she is a bad citizen,” I said. He replied, “Yes.” So much for sarcasm.

Now she is a senior. The 2008 election is over, Barack Obama has won, and I can’t blame the child for wanting to enjoy the moment.

I watched her reach the end of the dirt road, turn the corner, and start up the hill to Brooks Road. I looked down the valley at the scattered houses of my nearest neighbors. I heard the school bus reach the top of the hill and begin its descent.

I pondered the concept of good grace in victory, briefly. I let out an experimental yell. It felt really good. I yelled again; I think I whooped. With great difficulty I managed to lift my great-great-grandmother’s dinner bell high enough off the porch to set it ringing: that bell hasn’t been rung in over forty years; there must be some significance in that.

The noise woke Heather, who has volunteered tirelessly for many weeks for the Obama campaign, while simultaneously attending college classes and working almost full time. She yelled out her window for me to be quiet, so of course I rang the bell again. By then the bus had collected Gillian and was on its way across the flat.

Hilary emailed from her dorm at Mansfield University, “Even before Obama won but it was obvious that he was going to, people were outside my window screaming ‘Obama!! Go Obama!!’ I think pretty much the majority of the students wanted him to win. 🙂 It is really exciting!! Yay!”

Esther L. Clarke is from Northeast PA. Read other articles by Esther, or visit Esther's website.

16 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. mary said on November 10th, 2008 at 8:38am #

    I hope that the author’s brave daughters who withstood the pressures to protest against the war on Iraq don’t rue the day they went wild for Obama’s ‘victory’ and that the time they took off from their studies is not wasted!

  2. oscar said on November 10th, 2008 at 9:37am #

    Are you kidding? We may all disagree many times, but ignoring our pledge to our flag is why I so disagree with our current election results! People like you seem more interested in confrontation then unifying our country…

    I wish Obama the best of luck, our country needs it, but remember he only won by 800,000 votes…not much in the big scope! So tell the people yelling for change to pay attention to the rest of us, we are after all here, and won’t go away… This is not a done deal YET, After all this is still a democracy, I hope.

  3. walter brasch said on November 10th, 2008 at 10:09am #

    To Oscar: The Supreme Court ruled that refusal to pledge allegiance is protected by the First Amendment. If you have problems with that, you’ll also have problems with our constitution and why this country was founded.

    Next, Obama won by far more than 800,000 votes. Check it out. Any news site will give you the popular vote AND the huge electoral college difference.

  4. HR said on November 10th, 2008 at 10:48am #

    Stories like this always bring tears to my eyes. The pledge itself is nothing more than horrifying, sickening conditioning, as is the screeching, war-loving anthem … not to mention the brain-dead zealots who defend both while wrapping themselves in the flag and placing blinders around their eyes. The pledge contains the words, “… liberty and justice for all.” Yet when one exercises the liberty, guaranteed under law according to the U.S. Supreme Court, of not reciting nationalist drivel, one is penalized here in the, “… land of the free, home of the brave.” Sounds to me like the author has some exceptional and well-adjusted children of whom she is justifiably proud.

  5. Phil said on November 10th, 2008 at 11:38am #

    So this started as a protest against the war on Iraq…. and now these same girls are joyously celebrating the election of someone who’s promised not to end but to continue the war on Iraq.

    Is it me, or does something not add up here?

  6. Max Shields said on November 10th, 2008 at 12:02pm #

    It’s the new math.

  7. Ramsefall said on November 10th, 2008 at 2:07pm #


    not to beat a dead horse, but you’re missing a zero. And, ignoring the pledge IS our constitutional right as Walter points out, until they take that away, too. Nationalism is an effective control mechanism, nothing more, intending to make people feel a part of something that’s bigger than they are. Religion has the same effect. It’s also quite successful at turning people into sheeple in order to maintain the status quo….”we’re #1, we’re #1!” What a bunch of bs, except for being #1 at killing innocent people around the world, violating international law and treaties, and perpetually duping the public.

    Think about it.

    Best to you.

  8. Ramsefall said on November 10th, 2008 at 2:12pm #


    thanks for sharing your story with the readers, that’s enough to get the blood boiling I imagine.

    Sounds like a solid case of discrimination, not being patriotic enough? Another example of how a fascist shift is taking place in the US.

    Best to you.

  9. Barra said on November 10th, 2008 at 2:58pm #

    Making schoolchildren stand and recite a pledge of allegiance to any nationalistic symbol is brainwashing.

    Good on these kids for their dissent.

    That said, let’s see if other kids find themselves in the same situation during the administration of the new seat warmer in the WH. Clearly things are distinctly unpromising on that front.

  10. Stan said on November 10th, 2008 at 5:07pm #

    It is absolutely unclear to me why the mother and/or daughter see victory or vindication in Obama’s election. Obama never stopped saluting the flag over the war — he kept right on voting to fund it and now promises to expand U.S. military power. Obama rejected Bill Ayres and he rejected Jeremiah Wright. Do you really thing Obama is your friend? I suspect he would have also voted against National Junior Honor Society membership for the young lady.

  11. Erroll said on November 10th, 2008 at 7:20pm #

    I could understand if the daughters of this woman had refused to stand for the pledge because they were protesting that third party and independent and socialist candidates were not allowed to participate in the national debates. But I echo the comments of many here who note the cognitive dissonance of these girls who elected not to stand for this pledge to the State but yet decided to back a pro-war candidate like Obama. And one of the daughters is now in college! They seemed, like so many mindless Americans, to have fallen under the spell of Obamamania while discarding the lost art of critical thinking. They do not seem to realize or care that Obama has no desire to challenge the Establishment especially now that he is part of the Establishment, with a big boost having come from the financial/real estate/and insurance companies.

  12. Rene Marie Peoples said on November 10th, 2008 at 7:39pm #

    Tears… yes. This is the definition of family. I don’t care what color you are or if you’re straight or not- the idea that your girls chose to “stand UP” for what they believe, well… I’m brought to my knees with this story. Thank you for raising such conscious girls with big hearts & clearly a fabulous support system. My hat is off to you.

  13. E. Bills said on November 10th, 2008 at 10:05pm #

    Erroll, etc:

    Don’t question the intelligence of this woman’s daughter’s if you don’t think Obama doesn’t plan to make some serious changes. If he closes down Gitmo, that’s a challenge to the establishment. If he meets with Iran, that’s a challenge to the establishment. If he ends the war in Iraq (even in an extended drawdown), that’s a challenge to the establishment.

    We can’t all achieve the grand definitions of real change that you and your ilk envision. Some of us have to set our aims lower and more realistically. We don’t have the leisure of taking potshots from up high. But it seems to be working out for you, so stick with it. We’ll pick up your sanctimonious slack.

  14. Erroll said on November 11th, 2008 at 12:24am #

    E. Bills

    “We can’t all achieve the grand definitions of real change that you and your ilk envision.” Apparently the people of Iraq do not have to worry about “real change” happening in their country despite your fantasy that Obama is going to “end the war in Iraq” since Obama, that [alleged] agent of hope, wishes to keep 60,000 to 80,000 troops in that country along with 140,000 civilian contractors and that would include the infamous para military organization Blackwater. Certainly the people of Afghanistan do not have to think about “real change” coming to their country since the [alleged] antiwar president elect has promised to escalate the war in Afghanistan by sending MORE American soldiers to that war torn country which has already been decimated by 500 lb. American bombs. Or will you also accuse the Afghans and the Iraqis of being too “sanctimonious” because they are a tad concerned that the Americans will never stop occupying their countries and massacring its citizens?

    You state that “some of us have to set our aims lower…” If the Afghans and the Iraqis set their aims much lower, there will be no one left in their countries for the Americans, via Obama, to occupy. Since Obama wishes to emulate the policies of Bush in Pakistan and has stood mute while Bush sent U.S. missiles into Syria, it is doubtful if the citizens of those countries will be overjoyed when Obama give the orders that will result in the deaths of more innocent civilians and children.

    Agent of hope? More like, to the people of those countries, the agent of despair. Unfortunately, the daughters of this woman have fallen for the soaring oratory from a slick politician who will prove to be just as much of a warmonger as Bush and McCain.

  15. Brian Koontz said on November 11th, 2008 at 7:10am #

    In reply to E.Bills:

    “If he closes down Gitmo, that’s a challenge to the establishment. If he meets with Iran, that’s a challenge to the establishment. If he ends the war in Iraq (even in an extended drawdown), that’s a challenge to the establishment.”

    No, no, and no. That’s a challenge to the Neoconservative subset of the establishment. Regardless of any “challenges” to them, their power is waning. Obama represents the “liberal” side of the elite, the side that Bill Clinton stood on.

    Closing down Gitmo serves a public relations purpose and is supported by what is now perhaps the majority of the elite. Meeting with Iran likewise – Bill Clinton’s staff met with foreign leaders many times. Likewise, pulling *some* troops out of Iraq (what Obama has said he will do) is not challenging anything, since he will then move those troops into Afghanistan, already stating that he will expand the number of troops there.

  16. Michael Hureaux said on November 11th, 2008 at 2:08pm #

    If the flag means anything at all, it means these two young women have a right not to stand for the pledge of allegiance when the country’s policies are categorically criminal. Like others here, though, I hope their stance will not change just because the other party proposes a different strategy for the imperium, which is organized crime, no matter who stands in front of the charge.