AMHERST, Mass. (WWLP) – Local residents upset with Hampshire College’s decision to remove the American flag from the campus’ main pole are expected to hold another protest this weekend. Micah Welintukonis, a Purple Heart recipient and keynote speaker for the rally, says it will be held at noon on Sunday at the college’s East Entrance, which is located on West Street in Amherst.
The week of the presidential election, some Hampshire students lowered the flag to half-staff. At some point during the early morning hours of Veterans Day, or late on the night before, the flag was burned. A new flag was raised on Veterans Day, but after that, Hampshire College President Jonathan Lash told 22News that they decided to remove the flag while a campus-wide dialogue was held on the meaning of the flag, and on other issues affecting our country.
“After the election campaign and the degree of racism, sexism, and Islamophobia that played out in that campaign, feelings were just exacerbated,” Lash said. It is not clear at this point whether the college’s temporary removal of the flag will become permanent.
This past Sunday, some 1,000 veterans and other supporters of the flag rallied outside the college to express their displeasure with Hampshire’s decision. Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno and State Representative John Velis (D-Westfield) were among those who showed their support for the protest. Welintukonis vows to continue peaceful protests until Hampshire College administration decides to fly the flag again.
State Senate President Stanley Rosenberg (D-Amherst), meanwhile, also plans to have a meeting with college leaders about the controversy. He told 22News that he wants to see the flag restored to its place on the pole. “It is very hurtful to a lot of people to center dissent around the flag, and just because you can, doesn’t mean you should,” Rosenberg said.
Welintukonis told 22News the veterans know that the first amendment protects freedom of speech, but not theft and arson. ” You do have a right to burn the flag, and I did fight for that right and I almost died twice for that right,” he said. “However, it was not your flag, you did not purchase it.”
He is encouraging “all patriots” to attend the upcoming protest on Sunday, adding that he has been promoting the gathering on social media and is expecting 1,000 or more people. If Hampshire College decides to fly the flag again between now and Sunday, the demonstration would likely switch to a celebration to thank the college for making that decision.