Maybe you have heard that the presumptive quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers has opted out of standing for the National Anthem. Maybe you have not heard this because you don’t pay attention to quasi-political sports news. It’s rapidly becoming quasi-sports political news but I have yet to see it on the front page of the paper so I think it still lives in that in between world. Mr. Kaepernick’s decision to not stand is a form of political expression and thus I respect his right to do this. It is a method for drawing attention to a social ill, it is non-violent and it is visible – this is how important messages are conveyed in a civil society. To suggest that he should not act in a way that offends anyone, stand-up, participate, and maybe just use his vast financial resources to contribute to others who share his opinion is at least as contrary to the principals of this country as the offense he is allegedly committing through his act of protest.
When I was an angry teenager and felt unheard and disenfranchised from the machine of government I too sat during the National Anthem. “This country acts with hypocrisy, it was built on hypocrisy, “f” the system,” I would say, somewhat ironically of course though I would not have understood why at the time. This particular form of protest feels meaningful, is both personal and public, and you hope allows for a discourse about how we might, together work to change something. Again this is how we hope a civil society functions, how it evolves and grows to be even better than it was, how it can become the best of what it stands for.
And that is why today I stand for the National Anthem, why I place my hand over my heart and proudly look at our flag waving in the breeze when I am given the opportunity to do so. I recite the Pledge of Allegiance proudly and with vigor, and indeed I find that form of protest – to reject the Pledge to be more offensive than failure to stand for the National Anthem. Indeed refusing to say, as a citizen, or an elected official (as happened in San Francisco not long ago) that you are in allegiance with the United States of America directly contravenes the oath taken in holding government office: that you would uphold the laws of the United States. Even more important as a government official because you are in the citizen and constitutionally given position to change those laws you don’t like. Rejecting that pledge seems completely counter intuitive to me once you have been elected. But I stand for these symbols, I will not say symbols of patriotism because sitting for these too is patriotic since you are engaged in the civil discourse, even if I don’t like it.
I stand because as I have grown, as I have matured I have come to respect the promise of this country with deep reverence. What brilliance to lay a foundation of liberty for all even if we have not understood how to deliver on that promise completely. What hopefulness to say we are endowed with certain rights, all of us, even as we learn how to recognize and respect our differences. To worship freely, to speak freely, to assemble with those whom we are pleased to share our space – these are incredible promises that we stumble through, but at least they are there as promises. That is so much more than so many in this world have. We as Americans have something to strive for, something profoundly powerful. America is great, America can be even greater as we move forward, as we learn, as we listen, as we work together to achieve the promise that is available. And one person sitting down got me to start talking about it, and also the newspapers and social media and that is what makes us so great, and it is what I will feel as I proudly stand to salute the flag at my son’s next football game.
And if you haven’t lately do yourself a favor, read the Declaration of Independence, read the Constitution, recite the Pledge of Allegiance (with or without the addition of God), and be proud of what these words say, be proud of the promise, commit to being a part of this is whatever way is right for you.