Small town rallies in support of American flag mural after initial outcry

A local pizza shop in a small town in New York state came under fire for proposing an American flag mural on the side of its building, but it brought the community together in a special way.

When Maria Lisante, the owner of La Bella Pizza Bistro in New Paltz, proposed an American flag mural on a brick wall littered with graffiti, she didn’t expect any pushback. But some in the community were offended by the idea because the mural is across from a middle school and would force the kids to look at the American flag, which they call a symbol of hatred and oppression.

Lisante’s friend Joey Garcia, a New York state corrections officer and Army National Guard veteran, organized an "American flag appreciation walk" to rally the community together and show their support for the flag, military, law enforcement, and the country.

Maria Lisante, the owner of La Bella Pizza Bistro in New Paltz, New York, with her friend, Joey Garcia, a New York state corrections officers and veteran, who organized the "American flag appreciation walk" Sunday in support of the American flag mural at her business.

Maria Lisante, the owner of La Bella Pizza Bistro in New Paltz, New York, with her friend, Joey Garcia, a New York state corrections officers and veteran, who organized the "American flag appreciation walk" Sunday in support of the American flag mural at her business. (Joey Garcia)

“To me the flag represents many things: freedom, compassion, strength, and pride to name a few. In my opinion, we live in the greatest country on earth,” Garcia told Fox News. “But lately our Flag seems like it’s under attack. People today speak out against our flag and country so much and want to only point out what they feel is wrong with it. I understand and respect their right to their opinions, but I feel like those of us who do not feel that way have a voice too and deserve to be heard.”

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The patriotic demonstration grew out of an effort to raise money on GoFundMe to pay for the materials and an artist to paint a vintage-looking mural of the American flag on the brick side wall of the pizza shop. Lisante said she got approval from the mayor, who told her to do a GoFundMe page and make the mural a community event.

Close to 500 people showed up to the flag rally Sunday afternoon, while a handful of protestors, who identified as anti-fascists, held signs like “Yes, I’m anti-AmeriKKKan” and “Stop Pretending your Racism is Patriotism” and chanted: “No Trump! No KKK! No fascist USA!”

A group of 20 or so protesters gathered Sunday on the opposite sidewalk of the "American flag appreciation walk" in New Paltz, New York.

A group of 20 or so protesters gathered Sunday on the opposite sidewalk of the "American flag appreciation walk" in New Paltz, New York. (John Metz)

But for Garcia and Lisante, it was never about politics. In fact, the walk had one rule: no politics, which meant no campaign buttons or political slogans.

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“I asked anybody who can find any good with our flag and our country, even if we don’t agree on everything, to come together in a peaceful and positive way to express that,” Garcia said. “Everyone was welcome at this – Democrat, Republican, liberal – everyone.”

The current brick wall and the proposed American flag mural proposed for La Bella Pizza Bistro in New Paltz, NY.

The current brick wall and the proposed American flag mural proposed for La Bella Pizza Bistro in New Paltz, NY. (Tim Rogers/GoFundMe)

Garcia told the pro-flag crowd to ignore the protesters because they share the same right as their group, to voice their opinion and practice free speech. Their group countered with chants of “USA!”

The walk started with music, honoring veterans, a prayer, Rolling Thunder Patriot Brigade of motorcycles revving their vehicles in a procession down Main Street, and they ended with refreshments and food at La Bella’s to help raise money for the mural.

The front of La Bella Pizza Bistro in New Paltz, NY where hundreds in the community showed support for the proposed American flag mural.

The front of La Bella Pizza Bistro in New Paltz, NY where hundreds in the community showed support for the proposed American flag mural. (John Metz)

"Before we headed out on our walk I had a United States Marine come up and we had several veterans that were there come up, and in honor of all of the military heroes who have fallen, we had a military benediction read and then taps was played," Garcia said, adding that a low moment came when one of the protesters tried to spit on the U.S. Marine who was in uniform.

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“We’ve been called racist, hateful, unpatriotic and worse,” he added. “It’s very sad, because it really was an amazing and positive day in the community that so many are thankful for and say they will never forget.”

As of Tuesday, the community had raised more than half of its $8,000 goal.