In 2004, I joined the United States Coast Guard because I wanted to raise $5,000 for a down payment on a house, not because of some of sense of patriotism or patriotic duty.
During my time in the Coast Guard, I learned values that have formed the man I am today. When those values are violated–such as when my respect for the national anthem is challenged when someone decides to protest during it by taking a knee–I become emotionally compromised.
If standing during the national anthem is a sign of respect, then sitting or kneeling during the national anthem is a sign of disrespect.
In August 2016, Colin Kaepernick began his protest against police brutality toward African-Americans by sitting on the bench during national anthem during a preseason game for the San Francisco 49ers.
Twelve days later his protest gained attention, and in doing so, kicked of the national conversation about the protest of the national anthem.
By kneeling during the national anthem, it changed the focus from the purpose of the protest to the manner in which the individual is protesting. Consequently, the protest has led to division rather than unity. Kaepernick polarized the conversation into two main groups. Those who support his protest, and those who oppose it.
I respect a person’s right to protest. This is a right guaranteed to every citizen under the first amendment. I respect the purpose of the protest, which is to protest the use of police brutality on African-Americans.
As the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. wrote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
If it can happen to one American, it can happen to all Americans. But taking a knee during the solemn tradition of singing the national anthem may not be the best way to bring about change.
I’m not the only one who feels this way at CCSJ.
Bobby Tucker, a military veteran and member of CCSJ’s Facilities Staff, says football players should stand during the national anthem.
“I understand that fear is a motivating factor, but in general, they should find another way to protest.”
Harvey Shine Sr., a six year Army veteran and CCSJ Security guard, explained that he respects “their right to protest, but not on the job.”
He makes a valid point. Although the national anthem is not played in most places of work, a personal protest while on the clock is not generally accepted by employers in the private sector–much less while the person is wearing the uniform of the organization. A person who wears the uniform of an organization ceases to be an individual and instead represents the organization.
One element that has not been discussed so far is the effect that the President’s remarks have had on the national conversation. On Sept. 23, 2017, Mr. Trump tweeted that players should stand for the national anthem or be fired. If the protest was a dying ember, POTUS poured jet fuel onto the fire and exacerbated the division between perspectives. People who had previously been neutral joined Kaepernick’s side, not to protest police brutality, but to protest the remarks of the president.
Ana Andrade, a three year Army veteran and administrative assistant in CCSJ’s Education Department, disagrees with the President’s perspective completely. “No, NFL players should not be fired. The President should work with everyone for change and solutions to issues that affect our country.”
José Andrade, her husband and eleven year Army veteran, agrees with her remark and adds that, “The President should be helping to change policy to make sure we all get equal treatment no matter race, creed, or religion.” Mr. Andrade also goes on to provide an alternative to protesting the national anthem: “NFL players should get out and do something for example, run for office to bring about change. Or they should go out into the neighborhoods to provide one on one help to those areas.”
It is demoralizing to see how bad things have gotten in our country. On the one hand, no citizen should live in fear of law enforcement. On the other hand, the soldiers, sailors, and airmen in our armed forces have died to protect our constitutional rights.
It makes me lose confidence in our people when protesting the national anthem seems like a good idea to anybody. But that is how a growing number of people are choosing to exercise their rights.
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Amy McCormack, Ph.D.
Calumet College of St. Joseph
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