“And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.”
—from “The Star-Spangled Banner”, by Francis Scott Key.
On many occasions I have proclaimed my visceral disdain for the national anthem of my country. There are few songs that suck worse than “The Star-Spangled Banner”. When I attend events where I know the song will be sung, I do my best to skulk outside of the seating area so I do not have to endure the Gitmo-esque torture of standing at attention as my senses are assaulted.
I will linger about in a concourse, or run to the bathroom, or fake an injury if necessary to get out of hearing people sing a terrible song terribly. And the lyrics? A Donald Trump stump speech has more clarity and finely structured sentences.
Pop quiz: What does spangled mean?
Don’t pretend you know. I am a walking thesaurus and I had to look it up. And none of us have ever used that word in a sentence. It has never happened. You can spangle your ice cream with sprinkles…but you never say spangle. You use another word.
That brings us to the over-covered news story of the week. Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, made headlines when he refused to stand at attention for the national anthem before a preseason game. After the game, Kaepernick stated he refused to stand as a protest against the United States. “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 explained after the game.
Enter hyperbolic hysteria.
In the realm of social media, Kaepernick became both #worsethanhitler and #thenewMLK simultaneously.
Those who believe true American patriotism means never protesting American iconography whimpered like a hungry puppy. Kaepernick is, in their myopic view, disrespectful and unappreciative of the great things he has attained by being an American. This is true in the literal sense.
But Kaepernick was not thinking about himself. He was taking a stand against what he feels is an injustice in this country. Like many with the privilege of celebrity, he used the microphone that is often shoved in his face to speak to a subject that elicits passion.
Those that have rebuked Kaepernick forget that the country in which we are supposed to honor when we stand at attention during the “Star-Spangled Banner” was forged by acts of unpatriotic dissent.
The volatile rabble of Massachusetts and the plutocratic gentry of Virginia were both represented in Philadelphia during the summer of 1776. They affixed their signatures to a treasonist document declaring independence from the most powerful military entity on the planet at the time. Our Founding Fathers—and that term is a proper noun because of the reverence we hold for them—created this country built on a foundation of dissent.
Dissent is a uniquely American virtue. Dissent can be patriotic. Those who have criticized Colin Kaepernick due to his act of dissent should consider the entirety of American history. Enforcing ritual acts of patriotism, or excoriating those who wish to opt out of such displays, is un-American.
And those who are of a socially liberal cloth like myself are not immune to ridicule on this issue. Oh, no! In many ways, this story has been another pathetic reminder of the current dearth in liberal activism.
Like with many cause celebre, too many people with a leftist perspective have latched onto this story for a single, disingenuous reason. Too many liberals in 2016 believe that any story that divides us based on political ideology is ample enough of an excuse to take to social media to lob insults at those that are of an opposite opinion as themselves.
Kaepernick’s act of dissent was based on a desire to bring attention to what he perceives as racial injustice in America. But if it was an act to discuss climate change, a $15 minimum wage, recycling or to protest Governor Rick Perry’s selection for the upcoming season of ‘Dancing With the Stars”, it would all be the same to liberals.
All these liberals would rummage Twitter, Facebook, et al in the hopes of finding someone who disagrees with Kaepernick and use that opportunity to revile at the offending party. To the modern-day liberal, calling people that think contrary to them names on social media is activism.
Not even close.
When Dr. Martin Luther KIng, Jr, and John Lewis led marches across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama under the threat of police retaliation, that was activism in the name of racial injustice.
When the Freedom Riders defied Alabama’s segregation laws by purposely seating blacks and whites next to each other on buses, they were beaten by KKK members and threatened by local police. That was activism against racial injustice.
When James Earl Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Mickey Schwerner were executed on a dark Mississippi backroad in June of 1964 and buried in a makeshift grave of red clay, their only crime was registering black Americans to vote. That was liberal activism. That was martyrdom.
Posting invective on the Internet at those who take umbrage with Colin Kaepernick’s stance is not activism. It accomplishes no goals, petitions no disputes, initiates no positive outcomes. It is an act of selfish, irrelevant laziness.
It matters little if I agree with Kaepernick or not. As one American to another, I respect and support his right to dissent. I am, however, cynical enough to know that nothing of substance will most likely come from this. A while back, the cast of the Broadway musical “Hamilton” chose not to carry muskets on stage during a performance at the Tony Awards to protest gun violence. What happened next?
And that leads me to a rhetorical question I wish to ask Colin Kaepernick.
Colin, you have successfully used your fame to bring attention to your dissent against America. You laid out your case for why you find it hard to respect this country and stand at attention as its national anthem is played. You have brought forth the conversation.