Why I sat for the National Anthem

So I sat for the anthem yesterday in Oakland.

It’s something that has been on my mind for quite a while. I’ve long been uncomfortable with overt political acts at sporting events, but didn’t want to appear to be weird or extreme by declining to stand. When Colin Kaepernick began kneeling last year, I understood why he was doing it. Using his platform to speak out against persisting institutional racism in American law enforcement and the criminal justice system was to be respected. That his convictions caused him to kneel in order to bring further attention to a problem that prevents many Americans from enjoying the blessings of liberty protected by our Constitution, was also laudable. What he did was hard, and he has paid a significant price for his convictions. Yet, I still didn’t feel it was my place to participate, so I begrudgingly stood.

All of that changed this weekend when President Trump went out of his way to curse Kaepernick and threaten those who would use their voices (or knees) to peacefully protest repeated violations of individual rights. In other words, our top government official sought to use the weight of his office to threaten and urge that the livelihoods be taken away from those who peacefully said things he didn’t like. In the face of that, I didn’t see any way I would stand for the anthem this weekend, or any time soon.

Some of you feel that these actions are “disrespectful.” I sincerely disagree. What could be more respectful of the values our flag stands for than seeking to have all Americans be able to fully take part in what that means? Those values are realized through our rights to free speech and assembly, of course, but importantly, they also mean equal protection under the law, a presumption of innocence, and freedom from warrantless searches and seizures. It is those rights, among others, that our military serves to protect. Not a piece of cloth we wave. Unfortunately, many of us do not enjoy the regular protection of those latter rights. And that advocates for these freedoms that many of us take for granted are being targeted for ridicule by the president and boisterously boycotted by others, is to put it mildly, alarming.

But some of you say there must be a better way of recording these protests. Even if true, so what? That someone’s nondisruptive silent protest makes you uncomfortable, is frankly, too bad. That is the price we pay for our freedom to speak. The “marketplace of ideas” is messy. It must be. More to the point, though, it SHOULD be uncomfortable for us when we are confronted with the persistence of racism. Asking that we be reminded of this inconvenient truth in a manner some may find more palatable, ignores the point entirely.

Unfortunately, I believe that many who respond in knee-jerk opposition to the anthem protests have failed to consider that many do not experience feelings of pride, respect, or patriotism when the anthem plays. Instead, many are still fighting for their liberty to materialize in the first place. Instead of temper tantrums, we would all be better off if we practiced more empathy, and in turn, converted that empathy into demands of our police officers and government officials to give ALL Americans the respect that so many of you demand be given the flag.

Much love. #takeaknee

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