There's been a lot of talk about the will of the people lately.
For example, those who are opposed to changing Mississippi's flag—the only state flag left bearing the stars and bars of the Confederacy—point to the 2001 referendum on changing it as evidence that the will of Mississippians is to keep the flag as is. A lot has changed since 2001 (back then, we didn't even have Facebook or Twitter, which clearly would be used as an organizing tool today), and it's likely that the mood of Mississippi is different.
Consider the 2011 referendum on the so-called Personhood amendment that pundits and politicians on the left and the right, including Gov. Phil Bryant—who co-chaired the Personhood campaign—believed was destined for passage. The thinking went that as an ostensibly conservative state, the people of Mississippi would probably support the amendment. Instead, the opposite happened: The people overwhelmingly defeated Personhood.
The Legislature and governor couldn't just let the will of the people stand. Subsequently, lawmakers passed and Gov. Bryant signed legislation to pile unnecessary regulations on the only abortion business in the state, Jackson Women's Health Organization. That law requires free-standing abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, which JWHO was unable to obtain. More recently, lawmakers added yet another restriction with a ban on abortions done more than 20 weeks after conception.
What's more, the state has fought, at taxpayer expense, at least one of those laws all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which declined to take up the issue this term. The court could return to it when it reconvenes in September, assuming Mississippi's lawyers don't drop their challenge.
Similarly, the state also fought to uphold its constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, passed through ballot referendum more than a decade ago in 2004. Mississippi's fight to uphold the prohibition came despite a rising tide favoring the right of same-sex couples to marry sweeping across the nation, as well as in Mississippi. At the same time, Supreme Court decisions such as United States v. Windsor, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, foreshadowed the ruling last month affirming same-sex marriage across the U.S.
In each instance—supporting a new flag, abortion rights and LGBT equality—a significant chorus of people, including this newspaper, called on state leaders to not only do the right thing, but not waste precious taxpayer resources holding on to the past.
Now, our elected leaders should get on the right side of history, listen to the will of the people and embrace progress. Change the flag.