Have We Forgotten? There Is Nothing As Patriotic As Protest, Folks

by Mary Katherine
Originally Published: 
Brett Carlsen / Stringer

Why I do it, I don’t know.

Perhaps I like to stay informed, or maybe I’m just a glutton for punishment. Whatever the reason, every morning I grab some coffee, hop online, and attempt to catch up on current events. Boy, if that isn’t a dang job these days.

This morning, I found myself down a rabbit hole in which Donald Trump publicly called Colin Kaepernick, a peacefully protesting American citizen, a “Son of a Bitch.” I blinked twice because surely my eyes were failing me. A standing American president would never stoop so low as to— oh, right. Never mind. Hashtag MAGA!

For those who have been under a rock lately, the Take a Knee movement began when Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem at a 2016 49ers football game. His reasons were clear to anyone who asked:

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said, via “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.”

In summary, this football player used his constitutionally protected right to protest police brutality and the inequity of justice affecting the Black community. This was intended to start conversations, and it did. On and off during the 2016 season, players joined Kaepernick in protest, and the media foamed at the mouth because, obviously, there is nothing quite as controversial as successful Black men peacefully demanding social justice.

A year later, Kaepernick was released from his team.

And in another truly “WTF America?” moment, Trump decided to publicly drag Kaepernick, call for NFL firings, and disinvite the Golden State Warriors to the White House.

So, here we are.

I took a swig of coffee and scrolled through a comments section that was riddled with outrage. Because, apparently, this peaceful demand for justice is now being received as an outright attack on patriotism.

Hold up..what?

I have to be honest: It’s baffling that something as American as protest is being spun as unpatriotic. Does anybody remember the Tea Party? The Revolutionary War? The Civil Rights Movement? Peak American patriotism, right there. Oh, how far we have drifted…

As I continued reading, an emerging narrative became clear: Take a Knee is an unacceptable protest because it “disrespects the very people who have fought and died for our freedom.” According to the commenters, anyways.

Okay. Give me a moment, please.

Because whether or not you Take a Knee, Take a Stand, or change the freaking channel, there are a few dialogues happening in regards to this movement that need to be nipped in the bud, right now.

“This is offensive to all who have served in the military!”

Our military is not a homogenous herd of robots. Thousands of people swear that oath to protect your freedom, and none of them look or think exactly the same. Despite what those red hats in the back might be telling you, this country is made great by diversity. This means the people who fight and die for us, our rights, and our constitution, are all — gasp! — different. Some service members are democrats. Some are gay. Some are Christians. Some don’t believe in anything. There are military members who are infuriated by this protest, and there are some who are inspired by it.

The bottom line is this: Our military isn’t a political party. It isn’t your political party; it isn’t mine. And nobody, veteran or not, can speak for the sentiment of an entire group. It is time to stop co-opting military service people to prop up your political arguments. For heaven’s sake, it’s gross. And also, it doesn’t hold water.

“Show some respect! Whatever happened to patriotism?”

Oh, kind fellow with the bald eagle profile picture: Patriotism doesn’t belong to you. Anthem etiquette aside, the only threshold for being a “patriot” is love of one’s country. That looks different on you as it does on me, as it does on Sarah Palin, as it does on Colin Kaepernick. Unless you have some godlike ability to check the heart of the football players kneeling on your TV screen, TAKE A SEAT. Chances are, they love this country as much as you do. You can love something and want it to be better.

“The NFL shouldn’t allow their employees to disrespect the flag!”

First of all, it should be noted that NFL players are not paid to participate in the national anthem. That is optional, and thank goodness, because the only countries I’m aware of that require submissive fealty aren’t democracies. Maybe I’m reaching here, but I believe our founding fathers cared more about actual civil liberties than the symbols which represent them. If an entire subset of people feel unsafe in their own country, is forced submission truly what we want? That doesn’t sound very, erm, American to me.

The thing about the flag is this: It’s a beautiful representation of the ideals of our country. But that’s just it: It’s a representation. Some people in this country are not able to equally pursue life, liberty, and happiness. So they have found a peaceful way to let us know that. The fact that they feel that is necessary should break all of our hearts.

Listen, I understand this whole thing is hard to stomach (which, you should realize, is exactly what makes it so effective).

It is valid to be uncomfortable that Americans are kneeling during the national anthem. But that speaks exactly to the point of this protest: Until the United States is a place where everyone feels equally free, equally protected, and equally able to pursue liberty and happiness, I won’t discount anyone who exercises their right to protest.

I have lived in countries where similar actions would result in lifelong imprisonment. And although I fear we might, I don’t want us to head in that direction. Let Take a Knee be our reminder: Freedom is always beautiful, even when its manifestations make you squirm. Maybe even especially when they make you squirm. The squirming means something needs to change. And it does.

There is nothing as quintessentially American as our right to protest. Like Jason Kander, president of Let America Vote, reminds us: Patriotism isn’t about making everyone stand and salute the flag. Patriotism is about making this a country where everyone wants to.


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