Three flags wave proudly on the flagpole in the center of the Arcata Plaza – the U.S flag sits on top, California’s grizzly bear hangs in the middle, and the dark blue Earth flag is below. Now, Old Glory might get bumped to the middle, after an initiative directing the City of Arcata to fly the Earth flag on the top of all city-owned flagpoles qualified for the November ballot. The initiative will come before the Arcata City Council for discussion during its Wednesday meeting.
“Flying the Earth flag at the top is only logical,” says a press release sent out last month about the initiative, which would direct the City to fly the Earth flag above the U.S. and California flags. “The Earth includes our nation, which includes our state.”
True words. But beyond simply placing flags in a more logical order of largest to smallest place representation, proponents of the initiative feel that flying the Earth flag at the top of the flagpole would make a statement about the City of Arcata’s priorities, showing that the community values the health and well-being of the Earth above all else, something they say is particularly important while we tackle issues such as climate change and the threat of nuclear war.
With the petition for the Earth flag initiative gaining 1,318 valid signatures (significantly more than the 1,137 minimum to qualify) it will now go before the Arcata City Council, which has two options: to either adopt the ordinance without alteration, or to place the item on the November ballot and let the Arcata voters decide.
If the council opts for the first option, the ordinance could be adopted during the meeting, or the council can hold a special meeting within the following 10 days to adopt the ordinance, and that will be that. With no specified window of time included in the initiative, the Earth flag would be flown at the top of all city-owned flagpoles forever, or until somebody gathers petitions for another initiative to change the flag order back.
It seems more likely, however, that the council will opt to submit the measure to the November ballot and let the Arcata voters decide if they want the Earth flag on top. If the council goes with this option, then the council members will need to decide if they want to submit an argument against the initiative and possible rebuttal argument for the ballot. If the council does choose to submit an argument, it will need to appoint two council members to a subcommittee to draft the argument and bring it to the council’s July 20 meeting for approval. If a rebuttal argument is necessary, the council would need to draft and approve it before August 2.
Now wait just a second, you might be thinking: Isn’t it federal law that the U.S. flag be flown at the top of all flagpoles? Well, as is pointed out in the text of the measure, the United States Flag Code does state “no other flag or pennant should be placed above or, if on the same level, to the right of the flag of the United States of America.” But the flag code is written as guidelines to proper flag etiquette and is not really enforceable. In case you were wondering, the one exception written in the flag code is that Naval ships may fly a church pennant above the U.S. flag during church services held at sea for personnel of the Navy. So there ya go.
While you might wonder if worrying about rearranging the flags is a waste of time and energy that could be better spent tackling more pressing issues, Dave Meserve, former Arcata City Council member and creator of the Earth flag initiative, feels that there is time for both.
“We can address these ‘down to Earth’ issues as we also focus more on preserving the health of the Earth itself,” Meserve wrote in an Op-ed published by the North Coast Journal. “We must act soon to address climate change and the threat of nuclear war, and to do so we must increase our everyday awareness of the primacy of the Earth.”
The council will discuss the Earth flag initiative and other important issues — including initiating amendments to the city’s Short Stay Vacation Rental Ordinance and updating the City’s master fee schedule for the year — during its regular hybrid online and in-person meeting on Wednesday, June 6 at 6 p.m.
You can view the full agenda and directions on how to participate here.