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Haddam Selectman Melissa Schlag On Her Kneeling Controversy

Aug 1, 2018

Before the present day and age, kneeling, for the most part, meant one of two things: reverence—you kneel as you pray. Or subservience, for example, Daenerys Targaryen, the mother of dragons is always getting people to “bend the knee.”

Kneeling only recently became transgressive. However, in Haddam, there’s been convulsion over a selectman who has, two times, kneeled during the Pledge of Allegiance to protest the policies and behaviors of President Trump.

Here, in a conversation this week with Connecticut Public Radio’s Colin McEnroe, Melissa Schlag unpacks what her life has been like since she took a knee on July 16.

INTERVIEW HIGHLIGHTS

On what made her take a knee during the Pledge of Allegiance

I’ve always felt for a long time that there are many reasons why we should be on our knees. Whether it’s racial injustice, gender inequality, poverty -- but that day, what brought me to my knees was, I watched live the press conference between Putin and Donald Trump. And I was in utter shock. I found that that was the most un-American thing I ever watched. I had a Board of Selectmen meeting that night and it was within just a couple of hours that I decided that I would kneel.

On why her kneeling has caused a controversy

I’m always controversial in my town I guess you can say. I’ve been a troublemaker for peace for many years. I’ve never shied away from my beliefs. But I think what had happened is that it turned from a town issue to a political tool used by gubernatorial candidate Tim Herbst, and my state senator, Art Linares and they’re using that as a tool to reach out to their very red base.

It’s unfortunate because it really has hurt Haddam. Something that was a silent 10 seconds has blown up across the world. It doesn’t need to be this difficult to get your point across.

On resigning

No. I have no intention of resigning. I’ve been a public official for many years, and I love my town and I want to make it better.

The response in Haddam

I wish people had wanted to have a conversation with me. In fact, after that first meeting where I knelt, I only had one person come up to me and ask why I did it. And I think what Tim Herbst said is very disturbing. He is forcing people to do something with their body that they don’t want to do—forcing them to say something that they may not want to say at that time. That is a step towards fascism and we don’t need a governor in our state that is promoting forced patriotism.  

The reactions across social media

I’d say thousands of comments, private messages, emails, letters to my employers asking for me to be fired and it’s funny because more than half of them, they will have some very sexual explicit attack on me and end it with #MAGA. I’m sorry but I don’t know how to make American great again by attacking someone with sexual violence, violent words, on Facebook.

Until we, as a country, step back from that and call that out, we have to have a dialogue about this intolerance. We have to have a dialogue about racial injustice, we can’t just throw attacks at each other. Until we have that open dialogue nothing will ever change.

I just hope that the next generation can be as strong and we need good people in politics. We need people to call out the injustices, and I hope that the kids reading all of these Facebook posts and comments don’t take that to heart and shy away from even voting nonetheless running for office.

On the reaction from the meeting

I have heard everything from I’m urinating on the veterans’ graves—they booed during the pledge. And they booed and told a Vietnam veteran to leave because he was standing up for the First Amendment and my right to kneel.

I have a friend who has a young daughter and she had some pretty wise words. She said the words at the end of the Pledge of Allegiance “with liberty and justice for all” -- if they aren’t true why do we keep saying them?

Like I said at the meeting, we can’t wrap our sins in the American flag and make everything go away.  It’s easy to throw on that flag and call yourself a patriot. A forced pledge doesn’t make any sense unless you pledge your allegiance to your fellow citizen. And I think that’s the difference.

This is an edited and condensed conversation between Melissa Schlag and Colin McEnroe from The Colin McEnroe Show, which aired on August 1, 2018. You can listen to the full interview.