On kneeling for the anthem
Nothing in life is more liberating than to
fight for a cause larger than yourself.
Senator John McCain
I am an immigrant to our country. I came here from Canada with my parents in 1950 when I was three years old. One of my most vivid childhood memories is from 1957 on the day my parents became citizens. I avidly studied the material they were required to learn with them, attended the ceremony and still have the photo of that day. Since that time I have loved this country from the depths of my being. I love its values as expressed in the constitution. I love its people, it beauty, its processes, its flag and its solders.
These times seem truly dark and difficult. And frankly I am sick of them. I just want to relax, watch football and barbecue food for the game. But these times are what we are given and call us forward. These times are a grand opportunity to face ourselves and our national shadow.
The recent conflict over the national anthem is very reminiscent of protests over the Vietnam War when protesters were devalued by the power system much as NFL players are devalued now. So this is not new.
However now things feel more tense and conflicted. Mostly this is true because the president has joined the conflict and ratcheted it up dividing groups with great skill. This man who ranted and raved about demands that he be more politically correct in his campaign now explodes at others who speak in their own way. He and his supporters now try to enforce their own form of political correctness. It is no accident that most of these protesters are African Americans. When white nationalists and the KKK spread their hate filled drivel, the President responded that there are “good people on both sides.” When athletes speak openly and protest he demands punishment. He becomes the divider-n-chief.
This is racism. While Mr. Trump may have no conscious thoughts of prejudice and desire to demine individual minority people his actions speak far louder than his conscious thoughts and words.
If his intent was to resolve this conflict in a constructive way he would have said “We all have deep feelings about this which are often conflictual. Let us as Americans link arms, unite in our disagreement and discuss this as Americans who respect each other. Let us respect those who stand and those who kneel. And then let us find ways to heal the racial wounds.” But his intent was to use this to silence those with whom he disagrees by manipulating our most important symbols and laws. It is he who disrespects our solders, laws, customs and rituals.
Protest is difficult. It is often uncomfortable. Truthfully, I just want to watch football but protest speaks at times in difficult ways. It is supposed to disrupt our comfort. Freedom of speech is often in conflict with popular opinion. This is what separates us from dictatorships throughout the world. The power system never wants to face problems. The power system always wants it at other times in other ways. The players spoke up asking us what we believe in. Do we believe in the first amendment? Do we believe in it only when it is convenient and comfortable? Do we believe in it only when we like what is said? Do we believe in it for some and not for others? If we do, we do not believe in it. If we do then we do not believe in America. The first amendment means some of us can kneel and others can stand while they sing. If it does not mean that it means nothing.
America is not great because it has the most powerful military in the world. It is not great because it is so astonishingly beautiful. It is not great because I / we live here. It is great because it lives by values that are central. The president is attacking those values in very skillful ways. He seeks to divide us from one another. If this kind of tactic wins who is next? Will the employers of those protesting peacefully for LGBTQ rights be attacked? Will those who seek to protect DACA children be ostracized? America is quite capable of this sort of discrimination. In the 1950s film makers were black listed and condemned for their beliefs and totally unproven crimes. If this is permitted to continue we are on the slippery slope to becoming no better than Iran or Russia. America is great because the president is not permitted to be a dictator. America is great because people, all people, are permitted to speak their truth.
I don’t like the strategy of kneeling during the anthem. It stimulates intense emotions and generates more heat than light. It distracts from the issue of racial inequality in our country. But I support those who use it. It is their right. And that is what makes America such a great country.