September 21, 2016

My Middle-aged White Lady Perspective: Who Should Leave?

I think I've seen the Tomi Lahren video telling Colin Kaepernick he should leave America if he doesn't like it here, and oh by the way, that he sucks, come across my Facebook feed over 100 times. And tons of memes, and other angry posts echoing that sentiment. And every time I see the video, and the memes and the other angry posts I want to tell them the same thing: why don't YOU leave, if you don't like it here?

Here in America, where corporations deserve protected freedom of speech rights, athletes don't have the right to stay if they want to complain about their perceptions and beliefs about the treatment their fellow Americans receive?  And where a person who hasn't 'directly experienced' what they're protesting, or who 'has money' doesn't deserve to live here if they choose to protest?

People who are angry with the anthem protesters are quick to point out that America's soldiers fought for the flag, and for our country, and that it denigrates and belittles and makes a mockery of their sacrifice to protest the flag or the anthem. And while it is undeniable that nearly three million Americans have been killed or wounded, counted as military casualties of war, were those sacrifices made so that people who dare protest on a very visible and national stage should be told to get out of the country? Is that really the American ideal our soldiers took to battle?

Some will say the sacrifices were made by order not by choice, because many of those injured and lost were drafted; that they fought for their own lives as much as they did for our country. Others maintain that the majority of the battles we've fought since our founding were not so much defending our freedoms but instead, trying to give our freedoms to others around the world. And whether or not you believe either of those theories, can you deny that the people who fought the hardest for our freedoms were those who outlined them in our Bill of Rights and the Constitution?

Even many veterans say that, while they may disagree with the nature of the protest, the right to do it belongs to all Americans, including those who are dissatisfied with the government, or aspects of our culture, or with the police, or with institutionalized racism, or any of the many things about which we protest.

Further, I maintain that if we were to ask them, our veterans would more likely say they fought for the rights of Colin Kaepernick than those of Hobby Lobby and other corporations, would you agree?

The people who want anthem protesters to leave America, or who feel this is just one more insult and abomination of the Obama Administration might want to look at our history, and a couple of Supreme Court decisions  that contained language relevant to what we're looking at today. The cases were highlighted in this article on The New Yorker's web page last week.

The cases both involved children of Jehovah's Witness families who refused to salute the flag or pledge allegiance to it, those activities being incongruous with their faith. In both cases, the children were kicked out of school for their actions.

In the first case, 1940's Minersville vs. Board of Education,the family sued because they had to pay to educate their children at private schools, after they were expelled and because their First Amendment rights were infringed.The court ruled 8-1 that kicking the kids out of school for not pledging and saluting did not violate their freedoms of religion and speech. Writing the opinion, Justice Felix Frankfurter noted, among other things,
Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion of restriction of religious beliefs... National unity is the basis of national security... The influences which help toward a common feeling for the common country are manifold. Some may seem harsh, and others no doubt are foolish. Surely, however, the end is legitimate.
Bottom line: your deeply held beliefs notwithstanding, all children must pledge their allegiance, or else. Sort of sounds like Tomi and The Memes, doesn't it?

The second case, West Virginia Board of Education vs. Barnette, was decided only three years later, in the build up to World War II. The decision this time? Six to three in support of the Barnette sisters that their expulsion was wrong. From the majority opinion, written by Justice Robert Jackson, we learn this (emphasis added):
To believe that patriotism will not flourish if patriotic ceremonies are voluntary and spontaneous, instead of a compulsory routine, is to make an unflattering estimate of the appeal of our institutions to free minds.
What (slaps head as if in a V8 commercial)? How simple is that concept, that patriotism will not come to an end simply because Colin Kaepernick doesn't stand for the national anthem?
We can have intellectual individualism and the rich cultural diversities that we owe to exceptional minds only at the price of occasional eccentricity and abnormal attitudes. When they are so harmless to others or to the State as those we deal with here, the price is not too great.
Sitting or kneeling, raising a fist or linking arms during the National Anthem? Are those harmful acts, to others or to the State? Of course not. They're not harmful when done in the NFL, or in Major League Soccer, or in one of my local high schools.

They are acts that jeopardize nothing, other than perhaps some sponsorship dollars, maybe some beer sales if people actually get mad enough to stay at home instead of going to an NFL game. Staying at home, mind you, where no one will ever know whether they're patriotically standing for the anthem in their living room.
But freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.  
The 'existing order' is that everyone stand, regardless of the fervor of their patriotism, or how much they truly value our freedoms, or the extent to which they believe those freedoms extend to all Americans. We have no idea, looking around, who really believes what, or who loves our country - except Colin Kaepernick and those who protest with him.

The substance of freedom is not kicking out those who would publicly protest the symbols of our country, rather than hiding in a corner somewhere out of sight, out of mind and airing their grievances to no one. No - that is the shadow of freedom Justice Jackson told us about in 1943.

From my middle aged white lady perspective, perhaps it's the people who cannot differentiate between the shadow and the substance who are the ones who should leave.