September 3, 2016

To Mookie Betts (And Others): The Right To Protest Has Nothing To Do With The Military

Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts is wrong when he connects Colin Kaepernick's decision to not stand for his country's national anthem with the military. Betts spoke with WEEI's John Tomase about his own connection to "The Star-Spangled Banner", which has been the US's national anthem since 1931:
I'm always going to stand because I have that connection. For me, it's different. ... My dad fought [in Vietnam] for this country. We may be in a completely different spot if we don't have those people to go out and protect us. So I'll always make sure [to stand]. ... It's been more than my dad that has fought. It's been a lot of family members and whatnot that have gone and fought. I have to pay my respects to them and all the families with loved ones they have lost, for protecting our country. ... Two minutes, three minutes. Pay your respects for those three minutes and say thank you for your service.
As far as the United States of America being "in a completely different spot" if men like his father didn't fight in places like Vietnam, I would ask Betts when was the last time American values or the oft-stated American "way of life" was so seriously threatened with elimination by an outside enemy that the country's military was called upon to turn back that invading (and possibly conquering) force? ... The only example I can think of, mentioned below, happened more than 200 years ago.

As The Nation's Dave Zirin reminds us, the military has absolutely nothing to do with citizens possessing the right to protest.
And now we have arrived at a frightening point where an act of dissent which has nothing to do with the military is labeled disrespectful to men and women in uniform. The message is that Kaepernick only has this "freedom" to protect because of the protections accorded us by our military. This is such a disturbing - and a very post-9/11 - concept.

The military doesn't give us the right to protest. The Constitution does that. Two hundred years of struggle for civil liberties does that.

If we accept the notion that we are allowed to raise our voices, or take a knee in dissent, only by the good graces of the military, then we are also implicitly saying that the military has the right to take that ability away.

And that's the thing about the right to dissent: you use it or you lose it.

So again, for the cheap seats: Colin Kaepernick is trying to raise awareness about police violence. If you believe he only has the right to do that because of the US military, you are arguing that dissent is only possible if the people with the guns approve.
Also worth reading:

Colin Kaepernick Is Righter Than You Know: The National Anthem Is a Celebration of Slavery
Jon Schwarz, The Intercept, August 28, 2016
"The Star-Spangled Banner," Americans hazily remember, was written by Francis Scott Key about the Battle of Fort McHenry in Baltimore during the War of 1812. But we don't ever talk about how the War of 1812 was a war of aggression that began with an attempt by the U.S. to grab Canada from the British Empire.

However, we'd wildly overestimated the strength of the U.S. military. By the time of the Battle of Fort McHenry in 1814, the British had counterattacked and overrun Washington, D.C., setting fire to the White House.

And one of the key tactics behind the British military's success was its active recruitment of American slaves. ...

[W]hen Key penned "No refuge could save the hireling and slave / From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave," he was taking great satisfaction in the death of slaves who'd freed themselves. His perspective may have been affected by the fact he owned several slaves himself.
I Have Never Stood Up for the National Anthem—and Never Will
Sonali Kolhatkar, TruthDig, August 31, 2016
No country is worth pledging blind allegiance to. Patriotism, nationalism, anthems, flags and syrupy words about "love of country" or soldiers "fighting for freedom" are constructs aimed at fostering unquestioning obedience from people lucky enough to be deemed citizens. They are meant to quash debate and discussion and enable mobs to righteously proclaim treason by anyone who dares to dissent. ...

Perhaps bowing in deference to a flag or anthem fulfills some deep, primal need in humans to identify as a tribe that's bigger and better and stronger than other tribes. Perhaps it satisfies a compulsion much like organized religion does—to find one's place in a big, dangerous world that often makes no sense. Regardless, like religion, nationalism ought to be optional, a personal choice. ...

[M]any Americans don't understand that we live in a democracy where embracing the symbols of nationalism and accepting institutional abuses of power are not mandatory. ...

Nationalism and blind patriotism can bring out the worst in all of us. No country is above criticism, because no country has ever gotten everything right. Most are built on legacies of mass oppression, genocide, slavery, colonialism, corruption, misogyny and racism.
By Sitting Down Kaepernick Challenges Americans to Reflect on What They Really Stand For
Peter Bloom, Common Dreams, August 30, 2016
In belting out "O say can you see" Americans are allowed to unthinkingly celebrate the USA. They can forget for a moment the illegal invasions of foreign countries that have left millions dead. They can turn the mind away from the black citizens being killed by police with seemingly almost total legal immunity. They can close their eyes to the fact that they are now an oligarchy ruled by corporate elites and their bipartisan political supporters instead of a vibrant democracy governed for, by and of the people.

There is a also a deeper forgetting at play. It is to overlook the country's history of systematic racism starting with slavery. It is to be given a few minutes pause to close one's eyes to its tradition of classism at home and economic exploitation abroad. It is a stirring moment of collective amnesia to an America's past that from the beginning has continually betrayed its avowed commitment to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness for many of its citizens as well as those it has oppressed around the world.

Indeed, the national anthem now represents America at its most cultish. It is a living relic of a legacy that treats patriotism as if it were a religion. Thus in declining to stand for it, Kaepernick is publicly challenging the nation's blind faith. ...

Not surprisingly Kaepernick's protest continues to ignite a public firestorm. There are predictable charges of being "anti-American" that brim with fascist overtones even as it purports to be defending democracy and freedom.
America Needs to Listen to What Colin Kaepernick Is Actually Trying to Say
Dave Zirin, The Nation, August 30, 2016
It is inspiring to see an athlete who cares more about the world than their own ambitions. And it is stunning that so many people are saying that an NFL player this thoughtful and selfless is somehow a "bad" role model, in a league so rife with scandal from the owner's box to the locker room.

It is also pathetic that so many in the sports media, who a few months ago were praising the legacy of Muhammad Ali, are coming down so ferociously on Colin Kaepernick. As if sports and politics can mix only in the past tense, and racism is something that can only be discussed as a historical question. People can choose to agree or disagree with Kaepernick's analysis or arguments, but they should deal with the reality of the facts he's risking his career to bring into light.
Colin Kaepernick Pledges $1 Million to Social Justice Groups as More Players Sit
Nadia Prupis, Common Dreams, September 2, 2016
When Kaepernick kneeled during the national anthem ahead of the 49ers' Thursday night preseason finale against the San Diego Chargers, he was joined by his teammate Eric Reid—while further up the coast, Seattle Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane also sat down in solidarity as the anthem played ahead of a game against the Oakland Raiders. ...

Kaepernick on Thursday pledged to donate $1 million of his salary to community organizations focused on social justice causes.

"I've been very blessed to be in this position and make the kind of money I do, and I have to help these people. I have to help these communities," he said. "It's not right that they're not put in the position to succeed, or given the opportunities to succeed."


allan said...

And: #VeteransForKaepernick Trend Shows Freedom Means More than Flag to Many Who Serve

Mookie is right. Go Mookie! said...

Francis Scott Keys wrote our national anthem in the aftermath of the attack on Ft. Sumpter during the Civil War, not Ft. McHenry during the war of 1812. That was your first lie or gross ignorance. The rest of your piece is just blatant leftist vitriol.

allan said...

Francis Scott Keys

You spelled his last name wrong.

in the aftermath of the attack on Ft. Sumpter

Nope. Wrong again. Check your history books. ... Oh, and it's Fort Sumter. It would appear that ignorance, like fine ham, abounds.

blatant leftist vitriol

No vitriol, just facts. You can stop reading the blog at any time. Good-bye.

laura k said...

Awesome post! Thanks so much.

I wonder if MIRGM is a regular reader under a different name who is too cowardly to show himself.

laura k said...

Fine ham abounds!! LOL more awesomeness.

allan said...

Also, Key died in 1843. Do I need to explain to our fact-deprived friend that that particular year is well BEFORE the Civil War began? In other words, how could he have written a song 18 years after he died?

johngoldfine said...

I liked this especially:

"If we accept the notion that we are allowed to raise our voices, or take a knee in dissent, only by the good graces of the military, then we are also implicitly saying that the military has the right to take that ability away....

So again, for the cheap seats: Colin Kaepernick is trying to raise awareness about police violence. If you believe he only has the right to do that because of the US military, you are arguing that dissent is only possible if the people with the guns approve."

Unknown said...

Dear writer, have you stopped to think that the very title of your article is contradictory to the very basis of your article. If the right to protest has nothing to do with the military, then why is Colin Kaepernick taking a knee a military inspired anthem not a social justice inspired one? Kaepernick has chosen the wrong time to protest where on the other hand it is a time to show respect and Mookie Betts is absolutely right. Yes absolutely Kaepernick has the right to protest and no it has nothing to do with the military but it is the wrong place and time to do so. God Bless Mookie Betts, his family who served our country, our military and the USA!

machinehead1956 said...

As a vet this essay sums it up for me.

allan said...

Kaepernick has chosen the wrong time to protest ... it is the wrong place and time to do so

And when do you believe is the right time to protest? Perhaps he should be alone, out of the public eye, where he won't possibly offend you? And where his non-verbal statement would do no good, have no impact, and cause no one to think?

This is a common complaint voiced by people who actually don't want other people to protest stuff they agree with. Not at this time, not at this place, not because of this reason, not because of that reason, not with those people, etc.

At least be honest in your comment and say what you really mean: I do not believe Kaepernick has a right to express himself if his opinion is different than mine.

Clem said...

So we know most of these military-themed tributes/homecomings/sing-alongs at sporting events are essentially paid advertisements on government money. Hasn't that been amply reported on?

It should also be unseemly the way MasterCard gets everybody in the stadium at the ASG and World Series to write their ill or deceased loved ones' names over a MasterCard logo and hold it up for televised moments of silence (bookended by shout-outs to MasterCard)...but we must pretend this is an appropriate and solemn tribute to the fight against cancer, not an ad for a credit card.

And earlier this season, didn't the Red Sox do a corporate-"sponsored" pre-game ceremony for Boston bombing victims that also happened to double (or triple) as a movie shoot for a Hollywood film product about the bombing?

It's all part of a deal we have with the major sports leagues. We get to pay top dollar to be spectators for their events, and in exchange for that we have to look the other way when anybody calls out their phony-baloney plays at civic responsibility.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...

That is not what Im saying. Don't assume Allan. You know the old adage about assumers. Also it is very ignorant to put words in peoples mouths, but I digress..... Colin Kaepernick is a coward for using the national anthem to make a statement regarding something totally irrelevant to it. If he wants to protest then dont be a coward about it. Just come out and shout it over the rooftops dont do it in silence at a totally inappropriate time and manner. Got it Allan?

allan said...

Paul, I believe you are the one doing the assuming -- assuming that you know best how and when and where Kaepernick should protest. I believe that HE knows best.

As far as being irrelevant, you should read his entire statement, not just the news articles that have chopped it up.

Plus he has also put up $1 million of his own money to charity. Did he do that at the wrong time, too?

Unknown said...

No Allan, let's not get off topic here and I am not assuming I know the best time for him to protest. I am simply expressing my opinion that I dont find it an appropriate place to do so.

allan said...

I am not assuming I know the best time for him to protest

Yet you claim the time he has chosen to protest is not correct.

It's more than a little paternalistic. And, coming from a white man talking about how and when and where a black man should protest, a bit unseemly.

Unknown said...

Exactly Allan. Youre catching on now. The time is not correct in my opinion. Never said anything about the best time. He may think it was and thats fine and please do not imply that I am a racist. That was not my intention, just a simple opinion of mine that differs from yours, in which you clearly wish to defend strongly because this is your blog. Seeing how it is I will respectful let you get your last word and not respond despite how innaccurate or dishonest it may be. Good night Allan! :)

laura k said...

Exactly Allan. Youre catching on now. The time is not correct in my opinion. Never said anything about the best time.

Exactly. You seem to be catching on now, too. But not quite. You're almost there, but you're still missing a big part of the point.

If one says "this is not the right time to protest", one should have at least an idea, a suggestion, a clue, to offer of when is the right to protest. Yet you have none, you offer none, and you think someone saying "that's not what I meant, I never said that" and making snarky comments relieves you of the responsibility to engage with others about your statement. You posted a comment in a venue that is open to the public. Now people who have read your comment have follow up questions -- which you are refusing to answer.

You claim that the problem with Kaepernick's protest is the time and place. In your opinion, what would be an acceptable time and place?

laura k said...

People who are offended by protest often use this "it's the wrong time" excuse. Why is it the wrong time? Because everyone is watching. Because it offends my eyes. Please protest at a time and place when I won't have to look. And that's the point Paul Gianci and others who share his opinion are either missing or purposely pretending to miss.

Kaepernick is required to participate in a public display of nationalism. He takes that public display and he -- silently, quietly, bothering no one, asking nothing of anyone else around him -- asks people to think. And all the people watching are screaming "Don't make me think!!!"

Maxwell Horse said...

All this stuff about it being the "wrong time" for protest reminds me of when Bush was president. It was unpatriotic and traitorous to question anything he did or said, because he was a "war president." (Nevermind the fact that he was a war president based on his--or the puppetmasters behind him--conscious choice to become one.)

laura k said...

Colin Kaepernick is a coward for using the national anthem to make a statement regarding something totally irrelevant to it. If he wants to protest then dont be a coward about it.

Someone explain to me how Colin Kaepernick is a coward.

He makes a stand that is extremely controversial, in public, knowing that the majority of the fan base will excoriate him. How is that cowardly?

Paul, have you ever publicly made a statement that is unpopular and controversial? In a classroom, or a workplace, for example? If you had ever done so in your life, you would know that it is quite the opposite of cowardly.

Only a person who has never voiced an unpopular, dissenting opinion in some public setting could call Colin Kaepernick cowardly. Only a person who always goes along with the crowd, never speaks up about injustice, applies groupthink to every situation, could call Colin Kaepernick a coward.

You disagree with him. I get that. But he's a coward? Explain yourself.

Unknown said...

Youre missing the point Laura and no I do not have a responsibility to answer questions on a blog. After all... Its a blog! I never offered an alternative time for Colin to show an act of dissent because that was not my point. But if you insist maybe a better time would be on his social network, or on stage somewhere, not at a military inspired anthem that has nothing to do with his social justice inspired cause.

Maxwell Horse said...

Those are some good links Allan posted, particularly that first article by Sonali Kolhatkar. Because what he (?) is saying is so obviously correct, and something I've felt for a long time. Most people in our society (heck, our world) show a deference to authority with such unwavering blindness that the reasons for doing so surely go way beyond (and even contradict) logic and, ironically, the very American ideals they purport to love. Such dogmatic, parrot-like-despite-context "love it or leave it" deference clearly has nothing to do with right or wrong. Rather it's being motivated by base animalistic tendencies like tribalism, self-preservation and the innate human default setting to worship *anyone* in authoritative clothing. It doesn't matter if it's a priest's robe or security guard's outfit--if you want to hold such people accountable for their actions or criticize them when they do wrong, then you're a blasphemous traitor.

Laura's comments are also excellent. It's those who mindlessly go along with the crowd and shout down those who make them uncomfortable, those are the people not displaying courage. Ironically, the U.S. was founded by people who, if they were espousing their ideals today and showing a similar level of displeasure to the status quo, would also be called traitors and cowards by the self-proclaimed "patriots" of today. This contradiction, this double-think, demonstrates how so often those who shout down others in this country aren't being motivated by a love of American values or a love of freedom, but rather a desperate need to not fall out of line with the herd.

Unknown said...

Kinda like Allan here. Assuming. Assuming im offended. Not offended. I love people of all ethnicities.

laura k said...

not at a military inspired anthem that has nothing to do with his social justice inspired cause

You're right about one thing, Paul. The US's national anthem has nothing to do with justice. That's a symbolic version of the problem right there.

Unknown said...

Maybe coward is not the best word to describe Colin, but I certainly would not go so far as to say he courageous and valiant in his efforts, in this particular case, in dissenting to a social injustice. He did so in silence during our national anthem. That is totally inappropriate and a complete disgrace to the very brave and valiant men who have served our country proud.

Unknown said...

Colin absolutely has the right to protest in any way he feels suitable but likewise the American people also have a right to dissent to his protest which makes this entire conversation moot... There is no double standard.

laura k said...

Paul, you have no idea what courage it takes to do what Colin Kaepernick is doing. Literally, no idea.

Unknown said...

Also, all this talk about conforming to a status qou. Please dont be hypocritical in youre words. Even if people are doing that in this case which again is an assumption, arent the people who disagree with them conforming to their very own herd and status qou.

Unknown said...

Laura, I respect him and what hes doing. Just in that particular case I disagree with him. Shoot me.

Unknown said...

Key was inspired by the US flag not a black lives matter one. Police dont fight wars, they fight crime.

laura k said...

Key was inspired by the US flag not a black lives matter one. Police dont fight wars, they fight crime.

Your first point, true and completely irrelevant.

Your second point, debatable, also irrelevant.

laura k said...

Colin absolutely has the right to protest in any way he feels suitable but likewise the American people also have a right to dissent to his protest

You'll never hear anyone on this blog say otherwise.

However, the conversation is not moot -- it's quite important. It's important to examine the prevailing rhetoric around this and other symbolic protests. There's enough unthinking nationalism, military worship, and borderline (and not so borderline) fascism in the world. Reasoned and thoughtful discussions are at a premium.

Unknown said...

Not irrelevant Laura, totally on point here.

Unknown said...

Well I am not an unthinking nationalist, military worshipper or fascist. I hope you arent implicitly stating that, but with that said I agree there is room for discussion unfortunately discussions are too black and white nowadays. Both sides will argue back and forth until obstinately and unfortunately it proves futile because neither party is willing to concede. However please do not mistake me for a member of one of these parties. I simply was trying to make an innocuous opinion but I do understand the strong backlash towards due others strong feelings on the matter. God bless you.

allan said...

I love people of all ethnicities

Some of my best friends are ethnics.

allan said...

How about we shitcan the Pledge of Allegiance, too?

"The Pledge of Allegiance is not an expression of patriotism. It is a loyalty oath that one normally associates with totalitarian regimes. People who love freedom, should be appalled by the idea our children are being coerced to stand and declare their support for the state. ... The Pledge is an attempt to impose conformity on the masses and compel them to click their heels and proclaim their devotion to the Fatherland. That's not how it's supposed to work in a democracy."

Unknown said...

No Allan, leave the pledge alone. God there is so much hate and anger in this country. That truly is where this strong anti government, revolutionary culture stems from. Hate for this country and morals.

Unknown said...

I wasn't referring to your relationship with ethnics. I was comparing your assumption with Lauras.

Unknown said...

In closing I would just like to say God bless America and I am sorry if I offended anyone on here or caused confusion or misunderstanding. I hope I have explained myseld well enough. If you would like to contact me further my email is If not thats ok with me. Wishing you all a blessed Sunday and go Red Sox!

allan said...

God there is so much hate and anger in this country.

Which is odd, because everything is so great and wonderful and perfect...

Are you married, Paul? Do you agree with your wife 100% on everything you have ever discussed or everything she has ever done? No? Then why do you have such hate and anger towards her?

Just because you don't agree with someone or something 100% doesn't mean you hate it.

laura k said...

Paul, I wasn't implying that you were an unthinking nationalist or a fascist.

For precisely the reasons you state above, conversations like this are important. If any comment in Allan's post or in this thread has given you pause to think and reflect, it's worthwhile.

I'm even willing to say that after all your religious references (which make me sick, personally, but you probably mean well).

laura k said...

Dear White America, which form of protest do you prefer?

allan said...

I was just coming here to post that!

A big snip:

Shaun King, New York Daily News:

The most common, politically correct refrain I have heard from white critics of Colin Kaepernick's silent protest during the "Star-Spangled Banner" is that they kind of understand his motivations for protesting, but they just don't like his methods. ...

Well, I have a question.

Exactly which form of our protest do you actually prefer?

You hated when Cleveland Browns player Andrew Hawkins wore a "I Can't Breathe" T-shirt before a game.

You hated when Lebron James did the same thing.

You hated when several players from the St. Louis Rams simply put their hands up in the air before a game in solidarity with unarmed victims of police brutality.

When we march across the country, you mock us.

When we block intersections and hold up traffic, your blood boils.

When we simply express our concerns on Twitter and Facebook, we receive extreme opposition.

I think the point you are really making is that for you, to be patriotic and black, is to be silent in the face of injustice. We shouldn't march, we shouldn't sit down silently, we shouldn't wear T-shirts, we shouldn't put our hands up, we should just suffer and take the injustice with a wink and a nod. And, we should also sing and dance and hoop and score touchdowns for you with big huge smiles on our faces like the injustice doesn't even bother us. Hell, I think you want us to actually like it.

For I have yet to see a form of protest that you actually agree with. ...

If only our pain bothered you as much as our protests.


johngoldfine said...

...and then there's 'God Bless America'--that's the one that bothers me. I already don't believe in the first half of that formula and hearing it sung at a ballgame makes me doubt the sanity of the other half.

allan said...

Chris Hannah of the Canadian punk band Propagandhi:
"I despise the attempt of the NHL mirroring the NFL in the States to get a captive audience of part of the population to mindlessly nod their heads at military adventurism overseas. Especially to a whole nation of children watching on TV. I consider it a form of child abuse."