Friday night the San Franisco 49ers played the Green Bay Packers in a preseason football game. No big deal. Hopefuls play, hopefuls get cut, fading used-to-be-stars get cut, top players suffer season ending injuries, fans pay good money for little more than a Pop Warner game with larger players.
It appears few people noticed 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick during the playing of the national anthem. He wasn’t standing with the team. He was sitting by the water cooler. Alone.
In fact, until the NFL Network made mention, no one seemed to have paid attention. When asked, Kaepernick revealed he wasn’t hurt. He wasn’t sick. He was protesting.
“This is not something that I am going to run by anybody,” he said. “I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.”
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”
From the locker room Kaepernick addressed what he sees as a shortcoming in police training:
“You have people that practice law and are lawyers that go to school for eight years, but you can become a cop in six months and don’t have to have the same amount of training as a cosmetologist. That’s insane. I mean, someone that’s holding a curling iron has more education and more training than people that have a gun that are going out on the street to protect us.”
(In case you are wondering he didn’t make that up. A 2015 report found policemen in Louisiana require less training (360 hours) than certified barbers (1,500). Arkansas requires no formal training to be hired, and new hires can serve for 9 months before being trained. Cosmetology license? 1,500 hours.)
Of ducks and ranchers
In January 2016 a group of armed men took control of the Malheurs National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon. Ammon Bundy, son of Nevada rancher and long time federal government antagonist, Cliven Bundy was widely recognized as the leader. After a few weeks of cold, not enough food, and bathroom inconvenience, the group abandoned their protest.
The incident began on January 2, when the headquarters of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon was seized and occupied by an armed group loosely affiliated with various independent non-governmental U.S. militias, and with the sovereign citizen movement, and led by Ammon Bundy, son of Cliven D. Bundy. The standoff was initially justified by the militants as a response to the imprisonment of Oregon cattle ranchers Dwight and Steven Hammond for their having been convicted of arson of federal land. The underlying rationale underpinning the group’s protest of the Hammond’s incarceration was the group’s belief that the federal government of the United States, as it currently operates, is essentially illegitimate.
The standoff initially attracted the members of various regional militia groups and the number of militants continued to grow until on January 17, approximately 40 militants were reported to have been engaged in the standoff. Soon after the leadership of the standoff was apprehended by the Oregon State Police(OSP) and Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on January 26, the majority of the occupying militants began to withdraw themselves from the standoff, peacefully returning to their homes.
By January 28, only four militants remained to continue the standoff. Finally on February 11, government and volunteer negotiators were able to persuade the last four remaining militants to surrender their arms and surrender peacefully. [Footnotes in original]
According to Oregon Live, Bundy
led the occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge intending to force a civil court to take up the constitutionality of federal land management policy, his lawyers contend in new court papers filed Monday.
He had expected the government to issue an eviction or ejection claim instead of arresting and indicting the occupiers on federal charges in criminal court.
But as he now sits in a Multnomah County jail facing conspiracy and weapons allegations, he’s asking the court to dismiss the indictments, arguing that the federal government lacks jurisdiction over the land that includes the wildlife sanctuary in eastern Oregon’s Harney County.
On the one hand we have a football player who refuses to stand for the national anthem, instead lodging a protest about what he deems a group of people who are being oppressed by the government. On the other hand we have a group of ranchers who take unauthorized control of property owned by we the people and illegally occupy it for six weeks in protest to what they deem a group of people being oppressed by the government.
Unsurprisingly, a large swath of those who think Kaepernick is out of his gourd, unpatriotic, offensive, and unAmerican were supportive of or sympathetic to Bundy. And, a large swath of those who might have considered cluster bombing the Band of Bundy Brothers think Kaepernick is making an honorable protest.
A country steeped in protest
I sometimes wonder who remembers we are a country founded in protest. We didn’t like restrictions on religion. We didn’t like unrepresented taxation. It’s hard to read the Declaration of Independence and get the idea all was smooth sailing. Heck, some Puritans thought King George was the Anti-Christ.
More than 100 years before we declared independence Captain John Endicott, the commander of a military company in Massachusetts Bay Colony, defaced part of the red cross of the King’s colors in protest of its alleged connection with the papacy.
In their book Riots and Revelry in Early America, William Pencak, Matthew Dennis and Simon P. Newman remind us:
Between November 17 and 20, 1747, during a war with France, hundreds if not thousands of people in Boston seized some officers of a visiting British fleet and held them hostage. They were protesting what they considered illegal impressment of sailors from ships in the harbor for service in the Royal Navy, and they hoped to trade officers for the release of the unfortunates who had been taken. (p. 3)
Has everyone forgotten the Boston Tea Party? The Civil Rights Movement? Women’s Suffrage?
Protests against the Vietnam War included veterans who had served in it. One slogan used by the Vietnam Veterans Against the War is “Honor The Warrior, Not The War.” At one huge protest in 1971 nearly 1,000 veterans threw “their combat ribbons, helmets, and uniforms on the Capitol steps.”
Are we going to pretend like this didn’t happen?
The best part about this Colin Kaepernick stuff is he did that locker room interview with a Frederick Douglass afro! pic.twitter.com/UK2umNGWMJ
— Mr. Brothers (@LBrothersMedia) August 29, 2016
A country of perpetual protest
Every two years we protest against people in Washington who we think would serve the country better back home as insurance agents, real estate agents, dog catchers, or bug tasters. Every four years we decide who we’ll spend the next four years protesting against.
To be honest I find it more odd that those who support Bundy are critical of Kaepernick, and have to wonder whether the object of the protest isn’t the actual objection. Even then, the two have something in common: rightly or wrongly perceived objections to actions of the government. One against predominantly white land owners in the midwest and west. One against predominantly black victims killed at the hands of law enforcement. There is a clear political dividing line.
Is the peaceful protest “against” the national anthem as offensive as mounting an armed offensive against a publicly held refuge? A protest that broke no laws is more problematic as one that broke numerous laws?
Protest, by definition, calls attention to a situation, issue, or condition. Protest with no object of concern is a parade. As such, protest is always controversial whether it’s Operation Rescue, Black Lives Matter, or a bunch of guys in knickers and powdered wigs thumbing their nose at the king.
And, while protesting those who protest the flag, remember these two who apparently saw no problem with using Old Glory as a tablecloth.