Once upon a time, you see, radicals protested against being told what to do. They wrote a document that picked a fight. The fight turned into a war, which they fought (even on Christmas). They won the war and years later, through years of toil and discussion and debate and pistols-at-dawn, they encoded much of it into the founding documents of the good ol’ U-S-of-A.
I’m talkin’ ’bout the Founders, mothertruckers. See, they were enlightened men, even though they still shat in ye old outhouses and owned slaves. Well, enlightened for their time, anyway.
Years and decades and a couple centuries went by, and their enlightened document – a compromise in itself of the varied views reflected in the time of its creation – stood the test of time, with certain amendments. How many are there? That’s the first question you need to ask yourself before proceeding.
We return to this document again and again, at least to use it as a reference point for our own argumentative purposes. Unfortunately, the spirit or letter of the law of our land gets lost on some people, sometimes. Which brings us to late 2016.
There we were, a few months short of the 2016 presidential election. It was a magical time when friend unfriended friend over the sharing of distasteful memes. It was a special time of deplorables and pussy-grabbing. Of emails and hackers, of mice and men.
And what exactly the right to protest meant. Thanks, Founders. And thanks, Colin Kaepernick, person previously unknown to billions.
For those who are unaware, Kaepernick is the quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers. At the time of his protest, he was only that. Beyond his protest, he became much more (in)famous.
See, Kaepernick decided that he could no longer stand during the National Anthem as played during his football games. One could have said that it was done in solidarity with the viewers at home, who were busy seated on comfortable couches or getting a plate of nachos. Or, you could go to the source and find out why he chose to sit, and then kneel.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.” – Colin Kaepernick, 2016
And, in saying such, he brought the topic of racial inequity into the mainstream. Unfortunately for Kaepernick, the mainstream watchers who were tuned in were not ready for that kind of topical sobriety from a sports figure.
“Political ideology? In my football? You gotta be f*ckin’ kiddin’ me!?” – Somebody, probably, 2016
This application of freedom of expression tested the population exposed to it at the same time that it was being bombarded with fake news, biased news, satire-dressed as breaking events, and campaign season. Overload was inevitable. The backlash wasn’t unprecedented. But, it was wrong.
Freedom of expression means exactly that. You cannot enforce freedom of expression by acting against it. Any act against freedom of expression is an act potentially meant to silence, either passively or actively. And detractors of Kaepernick were almost certainly being active about it. Many even called for his termination from private enterprise. We want Kaepernick to stick to doing what he’s good at: throwing the ball. We were collectively surprised when he switched his game publicly.
And I mean, come on. Sitting during the Star Spangled Banner? That’s communism, or something. And dammit, it was obviously an insult to our dear, brave troops who sacrificed so much to put that flag up on that pole and so forth…
Then, something happened that could have been entirely predicted: Veterans started to come out in favor of Kaepernick. One vet and fellow NFL player stated that Kaepernick might be better served if instead of sitting (and looking lazy), he could instead take a knee, thereby still protesting but doing so deferentially. Compromise, people, it’s what’s for dinner. That and broccoli.
But still, haters shouted him down and called for his firing. I’m still stuck on whether to believe it’s because he wanted to talk about racial injustice, or if it was because he strayed from the “sports-only” narrative. It’s probably a little of both. (Compromise isn’t just good for you, it’s good for me, too.)
And still, the steam continued. Thus, #VeteransForKaepernick was born, and man, did it learn to fly quick. The Intercept, an investigative outlet run and staffed by the likes of leftist (NTTAWWT) Glenn Greenwald and DoD-focused muckracker (NTTAWWT, either) Jeremy Scahill published a report by Robert Mackey that provided some context to why the movement had gained so much speed. Basically, it was because veterans weren’t as dumb or single-minded as common thought may make them out to be.
“As a veteran,
@Kaepernick7 ‘s protest is a beautiful part of what we fought for: free speech and perfecting our union #VeteransForKaepernick” – Josh Howell, @lesscrazyplease. [Note: Twitter quote was published with the story that can be found here: https://theintercept.com/2016/08/31/veteransforkaepernick-stand-right-sit/]
Notice the URL. “Stand,” “right,” “sit” – as in, the freedom to stand is the freedom to sit, or kneel. Conversely, you can’t force someone to salute the flag during the Star-Spangled Banner, or recite the Pledge of Allegiance, or compel them to take an Oath of Service. It only ever has value when it is voluntary. And when you do so voluntarily only to take a break from it to protest, then that protest must be worth something.
For Kaepernick, it was obvious that he felt he was doing the right thing. That was obvious as well to the many veterans who supported him. Granted, some veterans opposed him, too, because veterans are no more of a politically-homogeneous group than they are a racially or culturally-homogeneous one. If we were all the same, there wouldn’t be anything to protest over, would there be, Einstein?
Regardless, the whole thing brings up a few interesting points:
- Don’t make assumptions about large groups of diverse people
- You can’t protest if you don’t speak up
- If you do break from tradition to speak up, do it with integrity
“Supporters of the Troops” would have you believe that what Kaepernick did was sacrosanct, but these same people would seemingly follow-their-leaders anywhere, unquestioningly. And that’s not the mark of a free man, nor the mark of a patriot. It’s the mark of the blindly obedient and plainly against the founding values. But don’t take my word for it, go ask a veteran.
Or, at least go and read the full context of what Kaepernick had to say, if you dare.