I've been thinking a lot lately about the protests started when Colin Kaepernick refused to stand for the anthem during a football game. Now, I am not going to get into what he was protesting about or whether he is justified in his opinion or not. That is not what this is about and, honestly (at least for this post), it doesn't matter what the protest is about. Simply put, he could be protesting what kind of hot dogs are being served at the stadium for all I care. He, and every American, has every right to peacefully protest. And unless his way of expressing his protest has done you actual harm ... and I am not talking just throwing your nose out of joint ... you have no say in the matter. Period. End of story.
But that wasn't the end of the story with Mr. Kaepernick. While many people supported his right to protest, even going to far as to realize he was making a point at least worth talking about, many others took serious offense, calling him a traitor, secret Muslim, terrorist, you name it. (Oh, and need I mention that BEING MUSLIM IS NOT A CRIME, PEOPLE!!!!)
Anyway, before I get off on a tangent covering any one of the many issues that his particular protest raised, I want to talk about the act of protest itself. I read today about a football team where the coach tried to "teach" his players why people stand for the anthem, using veterans and active duty military to prove his point. There was also a principle in a high school that threatened to remove students from an event unless they stood for the anthem. All these people may think they are being patriotic and trying to teach their charges how to be respectful, but they seem to forget that fundamental right called "freedom of speech".
Now, I am sure you have heard all the arguments from us "bleeding heart liberals" about the right to protest and such, so I am not going to waste your time on that. Instead, I am going to remind you of history.
As a child of the 80s, I grew up watching documentaries about WWII and the rise of Nazism. All the old news reels showed crowds of Germans along parade routes saluting the Fuhrer as he rolled by in his car. The perception I (and many who watched at the time) has was that all of these men and women along the route were loyal and patriotic Germans who loved their country and their leader. It wasn't until I was taking a semester of German in college (I was in my early 40s) when our professor, Frau Hassell, spoke of the truth behind those "enthusiastic" displays. What the films didn't show was the fear in the eyes of some citizens, or the threats that if they didn't behave like "patriots", they risked arrest or worse. We didn't know that for every armed guard facing the parade, there were two, equally well-armed, facing the crowd. These weren't a people proud of their country. Many of them hated what they saw happening to their country. But, because they feared being turned in as traitors if they even voiced a hint of doubt, they could not prevent the those leaders from destroying everything that made their country great.
I am not saying that we are like Nazi Germany, and may all the powers that be forbid that we ever see such a time again. But when you force people to show patriotism on your terms, when you require the appearance of pride even when the person wants to say "no, there is something here I object to", you begin a destructive slide down a very slipper slope. Protesting doesn't mean you don't love your country ... it just means you found a place that needs improvement.
Our right to protest is one of the most basic founding principles in this country. It is what makes this country great. The fact that we can stand up and tell our leaders "I don't like what you are doing" is a true American blessing. So whether you stand, sit, or take a knee, do so based on what is in your heart, knowing that you are being a true American. And if someone tries to shame or bully you into doing it their way, you can just ignore them. That person doesn't know what being an American truly means anyway.