The Freedom Pole
For three years, visitors, commuters, and residents in Stafford County have been driving past the I-95 Confederate Flag. The flag was erected on private property, but most people from out of the area do not know this. The message the flag sends to those coming through our county is one of divisiveness, racism, intolerance and bigotry. The property owner has a history of publicly posting racially charged comments and refuses to take down the flag.
The Stafford County Board of Supervisors has been offered numerous options to respond to the flag, none of which would have violated the property owner's property rights or First Amendment rights. They have hidden behind the county attorney's advice against taking action to remove the flag, but have made no efforts to otherwise counteract the flag's message.
On Wednesday, September 20th, I applied for a permit to construct a flagpole of identical construction on my own property. I was awarded the permit. Using the county's logic, my own flagpole cannot be touched for fear of violating my personal property rights. I live in an historic part of Stafford County, near George Washington's boyhood home, and across the river from downtown Fredericksburg. My flagpole will be easily visible by tourists to our region, as well as residents and commuters and will hopefully counteract the message of the flag on I-95 to some extent.
My intent is to fly a Black Lives Matter flag over my property if the board refuses to take any further action over the I-95 flag. I am the mother of a beloved African-American child who wants to know she is loved and safe within her community. We have dubbed the flagpole project The Freedom Pole.
To read more about the issue, please visit http://wtop.com/stafford-county/2017/09/opponents-confederate-flag-95-may-fly-huge-black-lives-matter-sign/
Please do not post about how there are better things to spend money on. The small microaggressions people of color face on a daily basis must be confronted head-on for them to truly enjoy equality. We hope that the Freedom Pole will help level the playing field. Please donate if you are so moved, and share to your networks.
Time for a long overdue update... A lot is happening and nothing is happening all at once...
1. The elections went on as scheduled in early November. Most of the members of the Board of Supervisors we've been working with have been re-elected. One is awaiting a recount to determine if he will go to Richmond or not, and one is awaiting a recount to determine if she will be able to retain her seat. The Board held a closed door session about the flag issue a couple of weeks ago, and we haven't heard the results of that meeting. We attended the last board meeting and will need to keep up with it. It is disheartening that we have lost a great deal of support since the initial press coverage and as we get further away from Charlottesville. We do need your voice. At the last board meeting there were only 2 of us speaking. Please consider attending and letting the BoS know that this is still important to you.
2. Our zoning complaint was rejected by the local zoning board. The attorneys working on the zoning complaint are preparing an appeal. If you live near the flag pole and feel impacted by that flag flying near your home, please reach out. Also, if you are a business owner and are concerned that it might affect your business or decided not to open a business in Stafford County due to the flag, we really want to hear from you. I have volunteered to be a complainant on the appeal, and we are looking for others.
3. We are looking into alternative locations for the Freedom Pole. My life circumstances are such that I hope to get out of my house by this spring and it would be very difficult to do so with an 80' flag pole in the backyard. We are hoping to put it in the general area, and are looking for property owners who might be interested in hosting the Freedom Pole on your property. We will help you apply for the application, etc.
4. I was forced to withdraw the money from the GoFundMe, despite not reaching our goal or having a firm goal in place. Our team met to discuss our next steps. We are committed to continuing to install a giant flag to counteract the Confederate Flag over I95, but we cannot do so without securing the needed funds. GoFundMe retains a percentage of the funds as their fee, so at present we are sitting on $7600 out of the $8400 we raised.
My intention for this campaign was never to enrich myself personally. If anyone is disappointed in the result, please let me know that you would like a refund. I will provide it. Obviously, I cannot provide the missing $600, but can provide the rest to anyone who would like to have their money back. Provide me your PayPal information and you will receive your money back providing it matches your donor information I've been provided via GoFundMe.
The appeal we are looking at will cost approximately $1000 to launch, and I would like to put some of the money into the zoning appeal provided there isn't major outrage over that plan. If there is, we will retain the money to put towards the flag pole, but do understand there is a possibility that might not happen.
6. We recently discovered that a shop with white supremacy symbolism has opened in downtown Fredericksburg. This is the result of lack of leadership and comment from local government. "The fish rots from the head" as the old saying goes, and our local government's refusal to take a stand against racism in our community leads racists emboldened. We plan to have a rally on Sunday, December 10th at 1:00PM at the Stafford County Gov't Center. We will unveil our anti-Confederate Flag banner, and wave to passing motorists during the Sunday afternoon post-church crush. Please join us.
Thank you for your support. This was quite a ride, to say the least. I hope I have done you proud. I am proud of myself, I have helped to start long overdue conversations here in Stafford County and even nationwide, made new friends, and learned a great deal about local politics.
Thank you very much,
Thank you so much for your help and donations! We are less than $1900 away from the cost of the flag pole itself.
Just a couple of updates...
I haven't been as active at this at the moment because we have suffered a family illness--my mother had a stroke this past week. It's my priority at the moment to work on getting her home (she was on vacation) and seeing what we need to have in place by the time she gets here. I do apologize for a lack of updates. I am still here, and you may still share and donate the link. Just know that this is occupying my mind at the moment.
Secondly, ELECTION DAY IS COMING... November 7. You have until October 16 to register if you live here in Virginia. If you need help, let me know, I can register you. If you need a ride to the polls, I can hook you up. You can also vote absentee now through November 4th, I do believe, so if you can't vote on Election Day itself, please do so. We do have 3 fine candidates running against Republican members of the Board of Supervisors--check out Greg Bundrick, Yolanda Roussell, and Tracey Bell. Laura Sellers, the lone Democrat on the board at the moment, is also up for re-election. Check her out.
On the flag pole front, as I know that is what you are really here for, we have 5 biggish updates...
1. We were denied the permit to march near the Cash property due to safety concerns from the Sheriff's department. Consequently, we have permission to rally at the government center. We are trying to come up with a workable date, and will post soon. We would like to have a nice presence at the rally, so hope you will join us! Attendance at the last Board of Supervisors meeting was down, but I was VERY proud that several supporters came from out of town to speak to the board and meet me and other members of VUPE. We need you at these meetings. Please mark your calendars for October 17th as the next meeting and come on out!
2. VUPE has formed a board of directors, we have an attorney, and are ready to form our non-profit! All your contributions will be tax deductable. I have not withdrawn any money from Go Fund Me thus far, so the full amount is there. It will remain at Go Fund Me until we have raised what we need to cover construction and associated costs. If we don't, we will decide next steps with all of you who have donated.
3. Local helpers have been stepping up in droves! We have someone who has offered to put in the security system, a lead on a construction crew to install the pole, and as I mentioned, a GREAT attorney to form the non-profit. Thank you to all!
4. My neighbor is VERY unhappy about the plans for the Freedom Pole. He came over to let me know he plans to file an injunction to stop me from building it. He has spoken to the board, the zoning office, and the permit office and has been told "There's nothing we can do"... I don't know how far he'll get, but I'll keep you posted. We may need to find another location, but we are dedicated to getting this flag raised.
5. The vandalism that took place on the Cash property was totally unacceptable. I understand everyone's frustrations with the length of the process with the system and all, but there is NO excuse for breaking the law. I will be meeting this week with the Cashes' neighbor, whose property was also vandalized as 'collateral damage'. We were warned in August by the sheriff's department not to go anywhere near the Cash property due to the potential for being injured or killed IF the Cashes are armed. Whoever vandalized the pole took a terrible chance on top of breaking the law. Do NOT under any circumstances go near the property, the pole, or the Cash family. They deserve their rights to their property and to feel safe in their home. We are working this thing from many angles. Please let the system work. Even people who have disagreed with me at the BoS meetings have recently publicly stated I am going about this the proper way. Actions like vandalism and trespass muddy our message and endanger lives. Don't do it.
Thanks for checking in! I'll be back again soon.
Anyone who donates $100 or more will have their name added to a brick at the base of the flagpole. You can create your own message as desired.
We have also retained an attorney to help us set up the non profit organization. We should have more information by the end of the week.
Thank you all!
Susan & The VUPE team...
We have raised almost enough money to purchase the flag pole. That is INCREDIBLE... We need just about another $3000 to do so. As our activities continue, we have no doubt we will make our goal.
Thank you so much to all who have donated and sent encouraging messages. Thank you to all who have sent disparaging comments and emails and messages. They also have their place.
We had a planning meeting this evening to discuss some concerns that have been raised. Of course, we had no idea this would all happen when we applied for the flag permit two weeks ago. Here are some answers to the most frequently asked questions:
1. How do we know you have a permit?
I picked up the official permit yesterday from the county. The permit has been approved. I submitted copies to the local paper after they were being threatened by people claiming fake news.
2. How do we know the funds will be used properly?
Good question. As a result of the publicity this has attracted and the amount of funds generated, we have decided to officially make Virginians United for Peace and Equality a non-profit. We have the name of an attorney who can help us set it up. All of the funds raised will go directly to VUPE and will thus be tax deductible. The money will then be used to purchase the flag pole. This will allow for full transparency to the public and not put anyone at risk for tax issues. We will keep you updated as to our progress.
3. Aren't there better uses for this money?
If you look at it as paying $25K for a flag, then yes, I suppose there are. But this all comes back to the other flag controversy. is it a flag or a larger symbol of something else? I think the answer is clearly that this is a symbol of something larger--the BLM flag will bring a sense of comfort and hope to people who have long felt marginalized, intimidated, and scared in the community. You can't put a price on that.
I don't intend to respond to personal attacks on me or any other members of VUPE. Media inquiries are continued to be welcomed. We look forward to continued to success as we move ahead with plans to confront our county administrators over their continued silence, as we move ahead with plans for the Freedom Pole, and as we move ahead with plans to bring people together in love and peace. Join us, there is room for all who want to be a part.
Susan & the VUPE team