FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Taking a Knee: Resisting Enforced Patriotism

When Colin Kaepernick of the San Francisco 49ers chose to remain seated during the national anthem on August 26 prior to the start of the team’s game against the Green Bay Packers, as the rest of the stadium stood, he was not the only one engaging in a political act. But Kaepernick was likely the only one doing so consciously. And though he was outnumbered by tens of thousands in the stadium, and millions who watched on their television sets, Kaepernick’s bold statement was infinitely more powerful and outsized in its impact.

Those who – either out of pride or mere indifference – choose to stand for the national anthem were being just as political as Kaepernick. They were actively reinforcing the legitimacy of the political system that the anthem and the flag stand for.

Those who rule and benefit from the political status quo want compliance to be subconscious. If the ruling class is able to achieve blind respect for its symbols, they are able to associate the state with benevolent abstractions like “freedom” and “democracy” and hide its inherently unjust manifestations – police brutality, military adventurism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the exacerbation of inequality, warrantless surveillance, mass incarceration, evisceration of social programs, natural resource extraction fueled by unrestrained profit seeking, etc.

With the atomization of society, the corporatization of political parties and the disappearance of unions in the neoliberal era, citizens have been largely relegated to the role of spectators in the political process, whose function is to support bipartisan American hegemony. Sports, where fans come together to watch passively, have become the most important venue to propagandize for militarism and American supremacy.

Chris Hedges calls sports stadiums “massive temples across the country where we celebrate our state religion.” Before the anthem is played, military personnel are brought on the field to celebrate their participation in illegal invasions and occupations, as if it were natural to lionize crimes against peace. The NFL has received millions of dollars over the last few years to carry out “patriotic displays” at football games. Militarism is cheered with thunderous applause and standing ovations.

This setting presents the perfect opportunity to maximize the impact of dissent. After his silent refusal to stand for the anthem in late August, Kaepernick’s protest overshadowed the game itself and became the most relevant topic in the sports world.

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick said. “To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

Kaepernick stated explicitly that he was refusing to symbolically validate the legitimacy of a political system that he sees around him being responsible for grave injustices. What was universally accepted a day before was now called into question. Other athletes, and even spectators, cannot just stand up, put their hand over their heart, and not recognize that they are exercising their agency for a political cause.

Sure enough, other athletes started following Kaepernick’s lead. A teammate. A player on another team. A soccer player. Entire high school teams. Elementary school children. Across the country, people are taking sides.

Rather than blindly propagating the liberal fantasy where everyone is fundamentally united, people are forced to choose: acceptance of the status quo, or rejection of it.

The side that succeeds will not do so by a majority vote. Dissidents like Kaepernick who seek political change don’t need half the stadium to sit down or kneel with them. All they need to do is demonstrate that people have the power to resist what is done in their name.

The more people realize this, the more they will start questioning on their own. They will no longer lend symbolic reinforcement to a political system that represents actions they oppose. Though they may be removed from decision making institutions like Congress, they will find they can participate in politics through one small, symbolic act that will make their voice suddenly matter.

Kaepernick is far from the first athlete to use his celebrity to confront the political system, of course. Most famously, Muhammad Ali defiantly refused to fight for the U.S. military in the Vietnam War and was convicted of draft dodging and sent to prison.

“I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die,” Ali said. “You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese.”

Ali’s principled stand played a major role in encouraging resistance and fomenting what grew into a massive anti-war movement that shocked the elite political class and eventually forced the withdrawal of American forces from South Vietnam.

50 years later, with state violence still wildly out of control in the United States, Kaepernick could similarly inspire the public to resist illegal and immoral atrocities sanctioned by the state. By taking a knee, dissenters become the center of attention. The symbolic rituals they refuse to take part in are exposed as vacuous propaganda exercises which serve to stifle critical thinking and induce passive acceptance of the status quo.

Judging by the vilification Kaepernick has received so far, the apologists for – and deniers of – injustice understand how serious a challenge Kaepernick presents if his example keeps spreading at its present rate.

This article was originally published at American Herald Tribune.

More articles by:

Matt Peppe writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. You can follow him on twitter.

Weekend Edition
July 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Atwood
Peace or Armageddon: Take Your Pick
Paul Street
No Liberal Rallies Yet for the Children of Yemen
Nick Pemberton
The Bipartisan War on Central and South American Women
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Are You Putin Me On?
Andrew Levine
Sovereignty: What Is It Good For? 
Brian Cloughley
The Trump/NATO Debacle and the Profit Motive
David Rosen
Trump’s Supreme Pick Escalates America’s War on Sex 
Melvin Goodman
Montenegro and the “Manchurian Candidate”
Salvador Rangel
“These Are Not Our Kids”: The Racial Capitalism of Caging Children at the Border
Matthew Stevenson
Going Home Again to Trump’s America
Louis Proyect
Jeremy Corbyn, Bernie Sanders and the Dilemmas of the Left
Patrick Cockburn
Iraqi Protests: “Bad Government, Bad Roads, Bad Weather, Bad People”
Robert Fantina
Has It Really Come to This?
Russell Mokhiber
Kristin Lawless on the Corporate Takeover of the American Kitchen
John W. Whitehead
It’s All Fake: Reality TV That Masquerades as American Politics
Patrick Bobilin
In Your Period Piece, I Would be the Help
Ramzy Baroud
The Massacre of Inn Din: How Rohingya Are Lynched and Held Responsible
Robert Fisk
How Weapons Made in Bosnia Fueled Syria’s Bleak Civil War
Gary Leupp
Trump’s Helsinki Press Conference and Public Disgrace
Josh Hoxie
Our Missing $10 Trillion
Martha Rosenberg
Pharma “Screening” Is a Ploy to Seize More Patients
Basav Sen
Brett Kavanaugh Would be a Disaster for the Climate
David Lau
The Origins of Local AFT 4400: a Profile of Julie Olsen Edwards
Rohullah Naderi
The Elusive Pursuit of Peace by Afghanistan
Binoy Kampmark
Shaking Establishments: The Ocasio-Cortez Effect
John Laforge
18 Protesters Cut Into German Air Base to Protest US Nuclear Weapons Deployment
Christopher Brauchli
Trump and the Swedish Question
Chia-Chia Wang
Local Police Shouldn’t Collaborate With ICE
Paul Lyons
YouTube’s Content ID – A Case Study
Jill Richardson
Soon You Won’t be Able to Use Food Stamps at Farmers’ Markets, But That’s Not the Half of It
Kevin MacKay
Climate Change is Proving Worse Than We Imagined, So Why Aren’t We Confronting its Root Cause?
Thomas Knapp
Elections: More than Half of Americans Believe Fairy Tales are Real
Ralph Nader
Warner Slack—Doctor for the People Forever
Lee Ballinger
Soccer, Baseball and Immigration
Louis Yako
Celebrating the Wounds of Exile with Poetry
Ron Jacobs
Working Class Fiction—Not Just Surplus Value
Perry Hoberman
You Can’t Vote Out Fascism… You Have to Drive It From Power!
Robert Koehler
Guns and Racism, on the Rocks
Nyla Ali Khan
Kashmir: Implementation with Integrity and Will to Resolve
Justin Anderson
Elon Musk vs. the Media
Graham Peebles
A Time of Hope for Ethiopia
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Homophobia in the Service of Anti-Trumpism is Still Homophobic (Even When it’s the New York Times)
Martin Billheimer
Childhood, Ferocious Sleep
David Yearsley
The Glories of the Grammophone
Tom Clark
Gameplanning the Patriotic Retributive Attack on Montenegro
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail