A few weeks ago, a gentleman came into my shop asking for (and receiving) sponsorship for his youth organization. On the way out he mentioned he was heading for a high school football game and looking forward to it, he said, “…unless they take a knee. If they do that, I’m leaving.” And out the door he walked.
As a patriotic American, as a daughter, niece, wife, and mother-in-law of men who have nobly and selflessly served our country in the armed forces, I am ever-mindful that veterans sacrifice their time and affirm their loyalty to preserve the freedoms of all citizens. One of those freedoms is enshrined in the First Amendment to our Constitution.
This man felt entitled to exercise that freedom in my shop, but by so doing he attempted to pervert its meaning to somehow suggest that it’s OK for him to say and do what he likes, but not for high school football players, or coaches or parents or spectators. Or for athletes who believe ALL Americans are entitled to equal protection under the law, that police brutality is wrong, and who wish to call attention to the issue via peaceful and constitutionally protected protest against social injustice.
Indeed, protest is often the first step toward progress and positive change. In Allegany County nearly 30 years ago, nonviolent citizen action started a movement against the siting of a nuclear waste dump — a movement that ended successfully at the U.S. Supreme Court and permanently prevented other such facilities from being built.
As I consider the irony of the man’s statement, I think of Colin Kaepernick and what inspired his daring and, some would say, outrageous action. I place Kaepernick and others like him in the same category as those patriots in Boston Harbor, tossing tea into the water. They did what they did to attract attention to their grievances. To be heard. And surely their action made lots of people angry and uncomfortable. But this act of protest led ultimately to the founding of our nation!
Before casually dismissing another person’s deeply held beliefs, one should ask, “What if the rebellious acts of those Tea Party patriots so long ago had been squashed? What if the media or social pressures of the day had silenced the protesters? Would the Revolutionary War have even taken place?” It’s stunning to consider how different our lives might be had the passion of those men, and the cause they believed in, been extinguished because it made some people angry or uncomfortable.
It is one thing for Americans to disagree about the causes we support. It is another entirely to claim constitutional rights for oneself but deny them to others. I would welcome this gentleman back to my shop for a measured discussion about the rights we both enjoy thanks to everyday citizens committing daring and outrageous acts and risking everything for a cause they believe in.
Angelica Sweet Shop