In the wild cathedral evening the rain unraveled tales
For the disrobed faceless forms of no position
Tolling for the tongues with no place to bring their thoughts
All down in taken-for-granted situations
Tolling for the deaf an’ blind, tolling for the mute
For the mistreated, mateless mother, the mistitled prostitute
For the misdemeanor outlaw, chained an’ cheated by pursuit
An’ we gazed upon the chimes of freedom flashing
(The Chimes of Freedom-Bob Dylan)
Americans were thrilled in 1989 by the image of a Chinese man in Tienanmen Square in Beijing, standing down a column of tanks sent by that government to suppress a protest by students for democracy as well as freedom of the press and freedom of speech. About a million people had assembled in the square for this protest. Many were killed that day. Yet this man bravely stood in front of a column of tanks exercising his power of expression in a country where such actions could be punishable by imprisonment or death. We as a nation cheered his actions and yet today too many of us have taken for granted the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity and decry our fellow citizens exercising the rights embedded in our own constitution.
Last year, while he still had a job in professional football, Colin Kaepernick decided not to stand for the national anthem right before a preseason game. He continued his protest through the entire season. To many this talented young athlete became a pariah. The sure fire and predictable objections went well beyond the bounds of reasonable disagreement. The primary reason for his actions were the often willful and brutal mistreatment of African Americans at the hands of the police. As such, it was likely no surprise to the quarterback that the institutional racism that motivated his actions was painfully mirrored in the larger society from whence these abhorrent behaviors gestated.
When his contract expired he was not offered either another one or even much of a “look” from any of the NFL teams searching for a first or second string quarterback to round out their rosters. In a league that routinely supplies multiple chances to athletes who have been involved in domestic abuse or drug and alcohol misadventures not one team had a place on their roster for a man who had had a better year than many of the other newly signed free agents with lesser skill sets.
In an effort to cloak his actions as a sign of disrespect for the people serving in our armed forces, some made allusions to his lack of service as a sign of cowardice, as if one must wear the uniform in order to legitimately protest injustice. I ask this of the tin horn Monday morning QB’s; do you really believe that someone who straps on a helmet and pads in preparation for being pounded by 300 pound well-conditioned linemen for your Sunday entertainment but elects to take a knee during the national anthem, is someone lacking in courage?
To be perfectly frank, not all citizens are cut out for our all-volunteer military. Yet most Americans serve this nation in a myriad of ways each day. Their patriotism should not be taken for granted. The showcasing of patriotic bravery does not always come in the propagandized manners we have been conditioned to respect. Colin Kaepernick took an unpopular but justified stance against those who bring indignity and disrespect to the very principals the flag and the anthem stand for and for which those same brave men and women stand prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for. He did so fully aware of the backlash of virulent and dangerous racism that would be laid at his feet. He had to be fully aware that it would diminish considerably, especially on the heels of a previous surgery, his future employment possibilities in a profession where the window of financial gain is very short. There is nothing cowardly about that.
Apparently after a year of consideration many athletes and other Americans have decided that there might be a point to all this kneeling after all. The players, a majority of whom are African American themselves see not only Mr. Kaepernick in this struggle but also their brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles and cousins, sons and daughters and themselves as potential as well as historical victims of this societal malady. And they have taken a stand by taking a knee as well. It has opened up a dialogue with owners also, some of whom have recognized the importance of this movement, even when they don’t entirely agree with the methods. There are some, like our president who think the solution is to bully the players into submission, by threatening their livelihoods. It won’t work, simply because the games can’t exist without them. And it shouldn’t work because the foundation of all of our liberty is in great danger if such threats succeed.
I do not question the commitment of the vast majority of men and women who go out every day into our communities for the expressed purpose of protecting us from domestic elements whose criminality would put us all in harm’s way and thus interfere with our collective pursuit of happiness. Yet there are very real and obvious biases embedded in many of our institutions. Americans should be able to embrace their freedoms without fear of being singled out for exception by virtue of the color of their skin, the religions they practice (or don’t practice), their sexuality or their gender.
Enough is enough! Laying the blame for the inadequacies of bureaucratic policies made by people insulated from the meat and potatoes of American life on citizens exercising their constitutional rights is toxic and contrary to the principals which are the cornerstone of our liberty. When our institutions are corrupt or unhealthy it is not only our right but because it was so outlined by the founders in such a specific manner, it is our duty to protest. It is not treasonous as some who have obviously never glanced at a pocket copy of the constitution might charge. If that is to be given serious consideration then where was this outrage when a member of the President’s own cabinet, while Governor of the state of Texas alluded to the possibility of his state’s secession from the union? Little was made of the former Governor of Alaska’s speech, in the the same year in which she ran for Vice President, to the Alaska Independence Party, a group whose fundamental reason for existing is inherent in their very name, secession from the union. It would be very easy to call this a form of treason. But it was merely speech, uttered at their dissatisfaction with government. As long as it did not come at the barrel of a gun in violent revolution, and as distasteful as I personally find it, it is protected by the same first amendment that allows Mr. Kaepernick and anyone else who perceives these injustices to take a un treasonous knee in protest.
Today, in 2017 the minority elected President of the United States, the person who vows in his oath of office to “preserve, protect and defend the constitution of the United States” hints at having a broadcasting license of a major network pulled because he doesn’t like what they report, even when what they report is what actually comes out of his mouth or flows from his thumbs. This is not what defenders of the constitution do. This is what tyrants do.
The first amendment, Mr. President, protects Colin Kaepernick’s right to free expression as well as yours to indulge in your insulting and meaningless tweets with no connection to facts or the everyday lives of Americans and which take not an iota of courage. Colin Kaepernick and that gentleman in Beijing in 1989 have a better understanding of the meaning of freedom and its cost than you ever will. Enough is enough! Americans are hurting, give your thumbs a rest and maybe you will discover your own conscience.