Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Standing Up by Sitting Down

"Freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose"  - Kris Kristofferson

Unless you live off the grid, in which case you aren't reading this anyway, you have seen in the States (and maybe outside) that there has been a controversy about a football player who has chosen to take a stand by sitting down during the national anthem.  

I first heard this from people who actually know sports, stats and how good a player he is. They said he wasn't a great player, mediocre at best who had a good chance of not making it next year.  My cynical mind went to is this genuine or a ploy to get him some good ol' fashioned publicity?   You can't cut him now or you will look like you are against him personally.   That's the cynic in me and the one that is part of this world where judgement is swift in the ether - I mean let's look at the polar opposite.  Ryan Lochte, yes he did a stupid thing, yes he should get some sort of fine, yes he is not a team player but man was he crucified from all of us as if he hadn't kicked down a door but more as if he kicked down an old lady crossing a street.  He should be made aware that his behavior frankly was an embarrassment to his team, himself and to the flag and country he represented but let's put it in perspective people we have all done stupid things and if you say you haven't then you need some self-awareness.  

Let's get to the flag that Mr. Lochte should have thought about as he draped himself in it after wins. The football player, Mr. Colin Kaepernick, looked to that same flag and decided he understood what it stands for.   He understood that if you love your country you want it to be a place that is represented by ideals such as equality, opportunity, power that is amassed to mostly help, to be a place that learns from it's mistakes even when you know it will make new ones.   He looked at the flag and did something very American - he protested against the abuses that he has seen, that we have seen, by people who are supposed to protect all of us against people of color.  

The show Le Miserable ended this week on Broadway and it is fundamentally the story of the French Revolution - "Look down, look down you'll always be a slave" loses out to "this is the voices of a people who will not be slaves again" in the play, in life.  So why do we continue to let the few think they have the lead of the prison guard, who is wrong in the Le Mis about his deep held convictions, in life?

I grew up in a Communist country and there is a definition of patriotism there that is founded in fear.  You see it still in many parts of Russia, North Korea, China, Syria, Iran.  It was enforced on me as a child, and still is in those places I just mentioned through brute force.  You had to go and wave the flag and smile at parades for the rulers or there could be jail time.  You could not speak out against the government for you would be jailed, tortured, disappeared.  Lest you think this is spy novel nonsense it just got a cabinet minister executed in North Korea for appearing to disagree with their current "supreme ruler".  Dictators need this fear to get you to pretend you love them and whatever the government is doing because they are fundamentally narcissists.  

There is a difference between nationalism and patriotism that we seem to forget, that some of our people running for office encourage us to blend.  Nationalism is fanatical, it is Isis, it is the Nazis and it is a sense that one is better than another just because of the accident of birth, for that is all your nationality is.   Nationalism is running with blinders and wanting nothing to change for those who are in charge. Patriotism is an admiration for the country you are living in, no birth there required.  It is seeing it for the warts as well as the beauty.  It is a dedication to it's ideals and wanting it to constantly evolve and be better for all it's citizens, because you believe in it's citizens and what they can accomplish together.  

I listened to the strong feelings about Mr. Kaepernick and I think of how ironic and hypocritical it is to think that they have the right to speak out against him and yet he hasn't the same basic right to speak out for his beliefs.  Too many young men and women have died and been wounded to protect the right for people to have freedom of speech.  The founding fathers of the US started out with protest and a Declaration of Independence from what they saw correctly as an unjust government.  Mr. Kaepernick isn't disrespecting the flag he is actually embracing everything it stands for.  None of us have to agree with him, with this blog, with each other but we all have the right to our opinion and to discuss it in a peaceful manner that draws attention to those things we think are important.  

My parents left everything they had, their family, their 5 year old child to embark on a dangerous journey just to have freedom.  To have the freedom to live where they wanted and not be told by a government if they could or not have an opinion. The freedom to complain, support and vote for a government and the freedom from fear.  From a fear that anyone at a table could be a government informant that passes on their name and it leads to jail time (happened to my father's cousin, hard labor for telling a joke as a student in college). 

Everyone who disagrees with Kaepernick's stance is perfectly within their rights to do so, you can choose to not buy merchandise with his number, or products he endorses but for that right to exist it must be acknowledged that he has the right to sit down and protest what he sees as injustices.  I do not agree with his socks which seemed frankly childish and lacked the protest element, instead they went for being as stereotypical as his protest is asking police officers not to be. His message is not wrong, people of color and people who are poor have seen police officers time and again get away with crimes against them,  Ghandi, Dr. King, Nelson Mandela, Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Elizabeth Candy Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and many others started out with peaceful protests against what they saw as injustices that could no longer be tolerated.  They loved their countries and their people more than their own safety.  They asked for freedom by sitting in, starving, writing to declare that all have a right to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness".  

The flag will wave high and proud when we embrace those that expose our flaws and we work together to fix them.  "America is not just a countryit's an idea, and real Americans are getting busy" I heard this quote from Bono and not sure if it is his but it is perfect.  America is the idea that we have the right to love our country enough to know when we could do better for all of it's citizens.  I have go on long enough and I am thankful for being in a country where I can write this blog, get criticized for it, get agreement for it and can publish it without the fear that forced patriotism has in other places.  

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