Flag vest diplomacy

Motivation

Why I take pictures wearing an American flag vest all over the world.

Key beliefs that I hold

  • Every American can be proud of our country
  • When it comes to what unites us as countrymen, we are Americans first, partisans and identity groups second
  • America's past and current failures are worth reflection and introspection but shouldn't be elevated over pressing debates about how to bring shared future prosperity
  • Americans should live by the golden rule: treat others the way you'd like to be treated
  • Humility and a listening mindset are fundamental to civil discourse
  • America is as strong as the human spirit and as fragile as the human body. We must do everything in our power to build it up, one interaction, one idea, at a time
  • We always live in dangerous and unpredictable times, but the levels of both tend to increase geometrically
 

Motivation

I am a son of America. I am proud of our country and what it stands for, even as I try to do my part to build an ever-more-perfect union.

I have been privileged to experience the greatness and diversity of our country. I grew up in the Midwest; went to college in the South and graduate school in the Northeast; have had paid jobs in four time zones; currently live on the West Coast; and as of this July, have taken a picture wearing the same American flag vest in all fifty states plus D.C.

The vest adventures began as a gag: some friends were gathering in West Texas in August 2012, to explore its parks, taste its food and sleep in its trailers.

After buying the my best "Americana" gear (the vest) on Amazon but before flying to Texas, I went on a bro-roadtrip with my three brothers, Tedward, Alex, and Andrew. The trip started in St Louis (though I joined in Chicago), and the plan was to go West.

While passing through Minnesota, we made a stop at a gas station called "Superamerica." It was a sunny, warm August afternoon, and the flag vest was near at hand. "Andrew, can you take a picture of me in the vest in front of that sign?" I asked my youngest brother, who reluctantly and with no small amount of judgment, complied. He had already done the same in Illinois.

By the time we had reached Mount Rushmore in western South Dakota, I had added a motorcycle cap to the ensemble, lost my shirt, and set my sights on collecting them all.

Less than five years later, on July 3, 2017, again with my three brothers, in North Dakota, the mission was complete: I had collected them all.

In those five years, in addition to vest visits to all 50 states and D.C., I took pictures wearing the vest in 33 countries. My travel in that time included nearly 400 flights on more than 30 airlines. More importantly, my itinerary lifestyle enabled conversations with (and many curious stares from) people from every imaginable background.

Over the course of the five years, American politics have devolved quite a bit. Just a few months after the first photos on the road trip, I found myself at a convention center in Boston at the official Republican election return watch party with Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan.

Four short years later, I was again in Boston on a Presidential Election Night, this time watching with friends with ties and a strong allegiance to Hillary Clinton. It had been an ugly campaign on both sides. I wasn't excited about either candidate, to be honest, and had cast my ballot accordingly.

Since President Trump's election, inter-party, inter-gender, inter-geographical, and other divisions have continued apace, much to my chagrin.

But what if everyone in America had an American flag vest? What if the vests were worn by marchers in Chicago and motorcyclists in Sturgis? By surfers in Malibu and pastors in North Carolina? By bankers in New York and ski-bums in Colorado?

What if the vest represented our shared interests, histories, future? Posting flag vest pictures has been my way of celebrating what's right with America. I hope it can help start to shift the discussion to what we agree on, what we share, what that flag represents to us all as a nation of individuals dependent on each other for to reach our own and our collective potential.