I was struck by this post in my news feed this morning. In it, the author tries to compare players kneeling at an NFL football game with such things as peeing on Ted Kennedy’s grave, or (nonsensically) to the illegal immigrant who killed Kate Steinle in San Francisco a couple of years ago. (Go ahead and read it. It’s going to take a couple of tries to wade through the illogical thinking behind it).
This–and other actions, articles, and statements from the right–shows clearly that conservatives have no idea how protest works, how it attracts the most attention, and, moreover, how effective a well constructed protest can be, shown especially by the fact that we’re still talking about this protest.
The author gets one thing right, and fortunately, it’s early in the article:
[Colin Kaepernick] chose protesting the flag because he knew that doing something so incendiary would be extremely polarizing and would get a lot of attention, good and bad.
But his logic goes out of the window pretty rapidly. Because it quickly becomes clear that this man does not understand either protests or the civil rights movement (which, I’ll note, most conservatives think ended in the late ’60s or early ’70s with some of the legislation that was enacted–as demonstrated by their inexplicable belief that racism and sexism aren’t things anymore).
Let’s turn our attention to the exact moment when this argument went completely off the rails: in the sentence immediately following the one I quoted above, he asserts this:
Other NFL players saw what he was doing and copied him, not because they really care about the issue, but because they wanted attention for themselves.
Um….What? Since it’s an opinion piece, there is, of course, no data to support this view, so we’re left to do a little reckoning. If we assume he’s right, then the players in the NFL don’t care about any social or economic causes: they’re simply in it for fame and money. If we assume he’s right, all of the charitable giving and volunteer work done by the thousands of players in the league are just a ruse. If we assume he’s right, then all NFL players who protested–almost all of them black–don’t actually care about race relations in this country. Keeping in mind that in 2014 at least, about 70% of all NFL players were African-American, that’s a pretty appalling and sweeping statement about an entire group of people. On the other hand, if he’s wrong, then we know that they’re invested in their communities, the socio-economic groups they grew up in and came from–through some pretty hard physical labor, mind you–and, at least in Colin Kaepernick’s case, was willing to virtually destroy his career to send a message to the nation.
So clearly, we can accept the fact that this guy gives no other human being in this nation any respect unless he agrees with them. That being understood, we’ll move on.
Clearly, the author–and most conservatives–fundamentally do not understand the MO of a protest: it is to get attention in the most effective way possible (usually the loudest and most disruptive ways) and get people talking about the cause a lot. Gandhi did it. Martin Luther King did it. Hell, in his day, Jesus did it, although it wasn’t portrayed as protest because, well, for some reason, Christianity doesn’t seem to want to portray him as a rebel.
You can look further and see that this lack of understanding is true because instead of arguing the point or even participating in the conversation beyond a dismissive “you aren’t targeted by police,” the run is made directly to HOW the protest is being made. The message is “don’t disrespect the flag, don’t block traffic during your protests, don’t draw attention to your cause by doing something that inconveniences/annoys my delicate sensibilities.” There’s also an implication here that patriotism is only defined one way, and that somehow working to make a better country where all people are respected and treated fairly is somehow unpatriotic, probably only because the protest is happening at a time that we’re supposed to show reverence to a flag at a sporting match.
From there, it goes downhill to the usual right-wing dog whistles on the topic, including this classic: players are employees of the NFL and should not be allowed to voice any opinion on company time, and that the NFL should crack down on their employees going rogue. (Key point: Technically, players in any professional sports league are not employees, they’re independent contractors. So some of those rules may not apply if they aren’t spelled out in the contracts.) Oh, and don’t forget that because they live in a country that has enabled them to make obscene amounts of money by simply playing sports, they shouldn’t blaspheme that nation. That’s a pretty weird argument, if you ask me: if you’re successful in America, you can’t have political views because of that success? Then please explain the Koch brothers?
There’s a fascinating basic sentiment on the right when it comes to important societal opinion: that there is a time and place for politics. Any political statement or protest should only be conducted at times that…um..well, I think it’s only when a protester is not on a television show or sport that is watched by conservatives; is away from any highways or freeways that conservatives may use; or basically any time or place when they may be seen by anyone who disagrees with them. Entertainment featuring a strong opinion (whether it be sports or sitcoms or dramas) on TV in particular seems to frustrate them the most: M*A*S*H, Laugh-In, Ellen DeGeneres coming out on her TV show, Murphy Brown’s pregnancy out of wedlock, and the reactions those received, especially from the right, just as a start.
So, using the logic we’ve framed here from the article and conservative statements on protest, the Boston Tea Party should not have happened, and anti-British sentiment should never have been voiced in public prior to the start of the Revolutionary War. Instead, those prominent colonists should have instead channeled those energies into some sort of bridge-building and negotiation with the British. Of course, that would have likely ended with us becoming a part of the Commonwealth, and not an independent nation with strange notions of patriotism.
Using that logic, we can go further to assert that the Women’s Suffrage movement would have never given women the right to vote. And who knows where this nation’s race relations would be without the countless illegal protests of the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
What this writer seems to ignore, thanks to being blinded with his rage over the flag being disrespected, is that there has been virtually no societal change for centuries in this world without some sort of protest conducted by some group of people that deliberately went out of their way to draw attention to themselves and their message or change. What he’s casually forgotten to mention in his flimsy op-ed piece is that as long as we are all talking about this, the protesters still have the nation’s attention, and the cause is still in people’s minds, whether he and his fellow right-wingers may wish that to be the case.
But, undeterred, and just as icing on the case, the white guy who put keyboard to screen pulls out this gem:
If you start a conversation by being deliberately unpatriotic to get attention for your cause, a lot of Americans will respond by telling you and your cause to drop dead.
Oddly enough, Mr. Hawkins, that was what the protest was ultimately all about–one group causing members of another group of people to die. Either you’re stupid or you’re being deliberately obtuse. At least I hope it’s one of those two. If, on the other hand, you’re deliberately ignoring the argument because of your feigned outrage over the treatment of a flag (which I wager you probably have on a piece of clothing or two–we can discuss that disrespect later), then you’re putting patriotism over the lives of citizens of this country in terms of importance. Once patriotism is demanded over the welfare of its people, you have a police state that only cares only about the nation and nothing more.