I’ve given a lot of thought to this subject. In fact I’ve been thinking about it since Megan Rapinoe first took a knee during the national anthem on September 4th. And let me tell you, the intersectionality of this is almost endless.
I tried to limit it though because lets face it, I’m one person and to delve into it all would take far more time than I have before events will force me to choose.
I started by deciding if I thought the cause was worthy and that was the easy part. I think the way our country (and that includes me) treats people of color is disgraceful. It’s institutional racism on steroids in many parts of the country and ingrained in almost everyone’s everyday life. In order for the U.S. to continue to be the kind of country I want it to be, this has to be addressed and the hard conversations have to be had. It’s my experience that people don’t like the hard conversations and usually wait until they absolutely have to have them to do it. Rapinoe and Kaepernick are basically not allowing people to ignore the issue by protesting in such a public way. So I’m in as far as that goes.
The next thing I had to decide was if I supported their mode of protest. And I have to say that was also easy for me. Their protest is peaceful and goes to the very heart of what I think the flag represents. I was raised in the era of saying the Pledge of Allegiance every day to start school. I come from a family with a proud military tradition, my grandfather, my father, and I all served in the Army. In the Army there are strict rules as to what your behavior is supposed to be when you’re in proximity of the flag or when you hear the national anthem. But even before I enlisted I was taught that you stand and put your hand over your heart when you say the pledge or hear the anthem. So those traditions* were easy to adjust to the military requirements. And after I left service I continue to stand for the anthem. When I was younger I stood because I was told to and that’s just what you did. As I got older I made a conscious decision to stand for the anthem, to show my respect for a country I served and has served me well. The flag and the anthem represent to me all the people who have served and toiled to make America the country I choose to live in. A country that above all values its freedom and the freedom of its citizens. My grandfather went to battle to preserve those freedoms, my father did too. I served in peacetime, but was prepared to serve in whatever capacity was required. My grandfather often talked of what it was like when the embattled, persecuted and interned were given their freedom. He said it was one of the things he was most proud of. He isn’t with us any longer, but I know he would approve of someone protesting in a peaceful manner to change the lives of our citizens for the better. He always revered the flag, not as a symbol to be bowed to, but as a promise to the people of what could be. He instilled that reverence in me and if someone doesn’t feel that the flag represents them I want to know why and how I can make them feel like it does.
As a gay American I can fully appreciate when Rapinoe said –
“Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all of your liberties,”
That’s a fact and I do what I can in my life to change that, including protesting against institutions that stand in the way of all my liberties being protected.
A few thoughts I had to process:
- What’s the difference between kids that walk players out and kneel in front of them during playing of the anthem and a player taking a knee in the sideline. If they were told to stand and one of them didn’t want to, would the outrage be the same?
- Do these people go around at sporting events and police people who don’t stand or remove their hats or cover their heart?
- What actual harm is this protest doing? Are people’s feelings so fragile that they can’t tolerate someone kneeling during a song.
- Does the freedom of expression extend to stopping someone else from expressing themselves?
- Who gets to decide which peaceful protests are OK?
- How many of the people who think Rapinoe and Kaepernick are disrespectful to the flag own an article of clothing made to look like it’s made from a flag? Do they know that’s against the guidelines for how a flag is to be treated?
- Do these people think the flag represents people of color in America the same way it represents white people? Do they think it means the same thing to them?
- Do veterans or people who have lost someone in combat think they have more right to define what the flag means?
Like I said, I put a lot of thought into this and I’ve come to a conclusion. I support kneeling during the anthem. My support extends to Rapinoe when she’s wearing the red, white & blue. I’ve come to see exercising freedom of expression in a peaceful manner as a tribute to all those who have given their lives to preserve our freedoms and all those who continue to work hard every day to keep those values alive. I also see her protest while representing the U.S.A. as the ultimate expression to the rest of the world of just how much our freedom means to us. I want people to feel uncomfortable so that they are forced to engage in hard conversations to make our country even better.
As for me, I will stand. I will stand having been influenced by the protest to start, and stop avoiding, the hard conversations.
I encourage everyone to observe the tradition however they are moved to, be it sitting, standing, or kneeling along with Rapinoe and Kaepernick. I also encourage everyone to take note of the protest’s purpose. It would be a disservice to all our fellow citizens if we only exercise outrage at the treatment of a song or a piece of fabric and not actual people who are being mistreated.
What will you do? I welcome your views when presented in a civil manner.
*Playing the anthem at sporting events was started as a fluke and caught on because the country was at war, it wasn’t even the anthem when the tradition started. And it is a tradition, like getting a hot dog at a ball game. There is no law that the anthem has to be played, in fact a few years after the tradition was started, one baseball team stopped because people had lost interest and didn’t feel as patriotic since the country wasn’t at war any longer and only restarted because the city wanted to promote a local military tourist attraction. I find many people who get exercised by the actions of Rapinoe and Kaepernick don’t even know that.