Anthem, Trump, protest, patriotism

President Trump went way too far in his recent condemnation of Colin Kaepernick and other athletes who kneel during the national anthem. He is our president. He is not a dictator or who gets to pontificate on every subject under the sun. I feel compelled to write as an American, as a public high school teacher of US History, and as the daughter of someone who was expected as a teenager to recite the pledge of allegiance while the US government had put him and his parents and siblings behind barbed wire in the Manzanar (California) Concentration Camp for Japanese-Americans for 3-1/2 years during WWII.

My classroom at 7:10am during the Pledge of Allegiance mirrors the choices of professional athletes during the national anthem. Some of my students say every word of the pledge themselves. Some listen attentively to the voice leading them. Some have a hand over their hearts. Some do not. Some stand. Some sit. I do not get to fire them from my classroom for their choices. I do not fire them as a student, or as a citizen, nor should I have that power. I cannot even imagine thinking that way. The choice they make in how to participate also does not guarantee who is more patriotic or a better American.

An American teenager’s mind is an independent and beautiful thing. A teenage mind is often more honest than an adult mind at facing our historical mistakes and societal inconsistencies. As a teacher, my most basic goal every day is to simply make my students think, not to think like any specific leader, and certainly not to think like me.

Whether you like it or not, Colin Kaepernick was really thinking about our country and our anthem, possibly even more than the average athlete participating. He is also trying to make others think about what we stand for and whether we are living up to our ideals. The athletes who kneel are not ignoring the anthem, and they are not disrupting it.

Why are some people angry that someone asks you to consider something you might not on your own? If you are white and you never fear police brutality happening to you, then you might think kneeling during the anthem is unnecessary. Many Americans don’t want to ever be challenged to think outside their comfort zone.

Standing for the national anthem and singing it do not automatically make you a better American. Someone could sing the anthem and then discriminate against someone within the hour. Similarly, people can pray in any house of worship and then think or behave in ways that contradict Christianity, Judaism, Islam before they leave the parking lot. Insisting people all do the same thing during the anthem is a simplistic and shallow understanding of patriotism. It reflects our insecurity as a country, not strength.

The flag is not our country. It is only a piece of material. It is only a symbol. It is a beautiful symbol, and I like displaying it too. The flag is not even the best part of our country. The Core Democratic Values are what really distinguish us. I would wager my house that my 10th graders can name the CDVs better than President Trump.

Does he know the difference between fundamental beliefs and Constitutional principles? Fundamental beliefs: life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, public & common good, justice, equality, diversity, truth, popular sovereignty, and patriotism. Constitutional principles: rule of law, separation of powers, representative government, checks & balances, individual rights, freedom of religion, federalism, and civilian control of the military.

Does President Trump even know that the First Amendment includes “to petition the government for a redress of grievances?”  The original athletes who knelt during the anthem were living this clause of the First Amendment.

Kneeling for the national anthem is also not disrespectful to the military veterans who have served. It is a matter of interpretation. You do not have to take it that way, but you can choose to do so. The anthem does not belong to the military anyway. It belongs to every last one of us, and it represents every last one of us. The military did not give us our freedoms. The Founding Fathers did. The more we practice our freedoms, the more we protect them.

Before we call strangers crude names, before we dictate that someone in a business other than our own should be fired, before we doubt someone else’s patriotism, before we get more upset about body language during the anthem than we do about how well we live up to the ideals that we claim and yet often violate, we should just be quiet and look deep inside ourselves to reflect on how well we personally are living up to our precious American ideals.

The late Senator Daniel Inouye, Congressional Medal of Honor winner, said, “America is a work in progress. We are not there yet, but we are getting better every year, and we will get there as a country.” Dr. MLK said, “We as a people will get to the Promised Land.” Athletes kneeling during the anthem are not hurting us. Are we really that fragile?  They are challenging us and helping us to get there as a country.