Protest has often stirred 'nation adrift back onto its true course'
In the wake of continued "kneeling" protests by NFL players, the recent "stunt" by Vice President Mike Pence in Indianapolis at a Colts game and a recent letter to this newspaper, I feel compelled to speak out.
In the voices of those who rant, I hear the rattle of those who shout, "America, love it or leave it" or "Shut up and play ball." The first question I would ask of those who criticize "overpaid, oversized adults" who play a kids game for millions of bucks in front of tens of millions of armchair quarterbacks is simply this: "If Tom Brady or Peyton Manning had been the first to kneel, would you still be shouting 'traitor'?"
Let us first recognize and honor the legitimacy to protest in our democracy. Our nation was born out of protest — starting with the Boston Tea Party and an eloquent, yet nasty little letter to King George III of England known as the Declaration of Independence. "When in the course of human events it becomes necessary ..." it begins. When all else has failed, then action is required said those 56 patriots who signed that Declaration. When all else fails ...
When a nation fails to recognize the disproportionate number of high-profile killings of (mostly young) men of color by white police officers with zero convictions for any crime whatsoever, then yes, something seems askew and it becomes necessary.
It becomes necessary to stand up (or kneel down) and bring attention to that fact. It becomes necessary to say, "I love this country for the ideals of justice and equality it represents, which are embedded in our Constitution. And when it no longer stands for those lofty ideals, I will remind you we have lost our compass. Don't shout at me, 'America, love it or leave it.' I love America, as much as you, perhaps more. But the America I love is not a flag flying high over some end zone. It is not some song that honors war and glory and bravery. The America I love stands lofty on a hill, on the ideal of justice and equality for all. And when it fails that ideal, I will remind you of our collective failings."
America is a unique place, in oh so many ways. One of those ways is in playing the national anthem so routinely in high school gyms, ice rinks, college stadiums and professional sports arenas that it's lost its specialness. But we are also unique in the way that protest — mostly peaceful — has often stirred a nation adrift back onto its true course. We are a better people, a better nation for the likes of Rosa Parks and MLK and Caesar Chavez, who stood up (or sat down) in the interest of turning America's keel back towards waters of justice and equality. History, I dare say, has proven their causes just and right.
The specialness of America is, too, the proposition that we as free people have the inalienable right to speak out for her highest ideals, however "inconvenient" it may seem. In the context of "entertainment" we don't like to be bothered. It shouldn't challenge our belief system. And yet, there is Colin Kaepernick, taking a knee. When it becomes necessary, we should necessarily not turn a blind eye, but listen.
Timothy Rake is a former Peace Corps volunteer, a retired educator and a professional translator. He lives in Forest Grove.