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The Meaning of Political Protest

Political protests are the foundation of what makes this country what it is and without the ability to protest and make ones voice heard, we continue down this dangerous path of conflating the true meaning of the word democracy while condemning its actual practice. People who only identify themselves as patriotic by standing up during the national anthem or saluting the American flag when it’s presented before them are falsely identifying what it means to be an American.

Patriotism can reveal itself in different ways and does not require the application of standing for a song that has racist historical roots, or standing for a flag of a country that was started under the contradictory promotion of freedom and slavery. Our country has a complicated history and to be a patriot in the most basic terms one is allowed to look at the country with questionable pride and demand that things can be better and you want that change for everyone. The idea of only connecting patriotism to the the military belittles the true flexibility and development of freedom and oversimplifies the identity of what makes America the country we all speak of.

For those who look to people like Kaepernick, with his political protest of sitting down for the national anthem – demanding action against the recent uproar of police brutality – as an insult to our military and soldiers who fought and died for our “freedoms” need to reflect on what that word means. And if you don’t see the irony of someone expressing their freedom on issues that concern them, but you don’t feel are important and you only recognize that action as disrespect to those in uniform, you should really reflect on what soldiers think about the situation.

More recently our military endeavors have become less about democracy and more about the subjugation and control of other states. Many can argue the true nature of our presences in the middle east or our growing proxy wars throughout Africa, or more than 750 military bases spread throughout the world. What does matter is that our country has not only progressed through the actions of our military alone, but also through the action of political protest.

Without considering the role that political protests have had in creating more safe work environments, environmental regulations, the health of the community, building a middle class, medical and financial care for the elderly, and the dismantling of child labor and slavery, they are ignoring the basic principles that were put in place through the constitution. And to belittle those actions and repress their significance is to insult our constitution, country, and the soldiers who fight in the name or defending those freedoms.

Those who see a flag more patriotic than political protest to the injustices in their country are subjecting themselves to a simplistic idea of what our military, soldiers, and our country represent. They are ignoring the long history of struggles that have been and continues to be fought for in order to make this country better. Their sense of pride and patriotic furor in the flag follows more in the footsteps of a nationalistic fascist regime than it does in standing up for the principles of freedom in democracy. They can use the words ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ to make it sound like those are part of their interest, but those words become meaningless when you attack someone’s freedom to stand, sit, and protest the injustices in their country.

Change and progress comes through action of the public protest. The labor movement forced itself into the conversation of the country during the late 19th and made huge gains for labor and helped create the middle class of the 20th century. The Civil War and the Reconstruction period, moments considered the second revolution in America, were moments protested by the abolitionist and blacks, to offer freedom and liberty to the newly freed slaves. The Civil Rights picked up the fight with the right to vote and continues that struggle for economic justice and a stop to police brutality with groups like Black Lives Matter. It was the political protest of the woman’s suffrage movement of the late 1800’s to the 1920’s that won women the right to vote and participate more freely in the democratic process.

Occupy Wall Street, the Climate protests, and the 15 Now Campaigns have all brought attention to serious issues. Their protests were political as people went into the streets blocking traffic, shopping, pipelines, and stood outside the white house, in order to bring the public’s attention. Income inequality is at a rate we haven’t seen since the 1920’s before the Great Depression. Aside from 97% of scientist in agreement that climate change is a real issue, and we can’t ignore every day of this year consistently broke records for being the hottest ever recorded. Average wages have stagnated since the 1970’s and are less than what they would have been accounting for inflation, this at the same time as we’re more productive than we were back then.

To speak out against these political protests is to besmirch the change that has occurred throughout this country, let alone to ignore the history of this country. And these issues carry concern in the public realm. Income inequality, climate change, and rebuilding the middle class were issues that were brought into the election with the surge voters pushing Sanders into the Democratic debate to speak publicly on theses issues.

It’s usually not without coincidence those who speak pridefully of our soldiers and military have little outrage or rarely do anything aside from a one-time social media post, about the 22 soldier suicides that occur daily, or the real concern of PTSD. They don’t condemn the torture report (that spoke of methods that our military used that broke international laws) or demand justice against those involved. Few, if any, ever protest the drone wars, which have helped recruit terrorist, or speak out against the high rate of sexual assault that takes place in the military.

In most of the political movements of the past, the military’s role has been one in defending the state. And while there is and should be constant support of the soldiers in our military, to speak against the actions of our military abroad is something Americans should feel free and comfortable to participate in. Without an open dialogue about our military adventures abroad, we only continue to perpetuate our emotional disconnection to war that most Americans feel. We will only continue to further disengage ourselves of the blunders that continue in our country’s name. This opens the door to more potential blowback, the continued militarization of our police, the continued over-surveillance of our society and the exploitation and abuse against our own soldiers

A country that finds it disrespectful to the soldiers in uniform when an individual decides to sit down during the national anthem for a political protest needs to take a step back and look at what role they want the military to play. Do they want the military to be a representation of the freedoms and liberty they presume to espouse and allow those same freedoms to be exercised by the citizens who demand better treatment for their community? Or do they want the military to tell people what they can and can’t do? Because the latter reveals a deeper issue of not just what kind of role for military they want, but also what our country means when we speak of ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ and for whom.

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Joey Gomez is an avid political junkie who listens to podcasts in the morning and hoards political magazines and far too many books in his spare time. When he isn’t working on short films or freelance writing, he is adding content to his blog site A Man of Few Words.

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