If you want to honour our veterans, and those who died during the two world wars, then enjoy the freedoms they fought to preserve and use them to draw attention to injustice.
That’s exactly what NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick does by taking a knee during the national anthem. He is using his right to peacefully protest to draw attention to injustice. That injustice is that cops are much more likely to shoot black Americans than other people.
Kaepernick is not protesting the flag, or the anthem, or disrespecting veterans by using a constitutional right that soldiers fought to preserve. He is trying to draw attention to a problem, despite criticism and the harm it is causing to his career. Despite this, he remains firm in his resolve to draw attention to the injustice his fellow citizens suffer.
That is patriotism.
In Canada, many wear poppies to honour the sacrifices of soldiers. But I also know people who choose not to wear a poppy, because they feel they conflict with their pacifist principles. If you don’t also support the right of someone to choose not to do this, then you don’t truly understand why our soldiers fight.
They were not fighting to defend a society’s right to enforce conformity. Far from it. Those are the kinds of countries they fought against.
Police brutality exists in Canada, too. There are egregious examples of racial injustice in Canada, but there hasn’t been a protest similar to Kaepernick’s. No Halifax Mooseheads are taking a knee during the anthem.
Is it because our problems are not as bad? Are we as Canadians more likely to protest in other ways? When will an athlete take a knee to protest the way Canada treats the First Nations?
Last month, Sidney Crosby divided Canadian hockey fans by accepting an invitation from Donald Trump to attend the White House with the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
Some disagreed with this decision, saying Trump’s views and behaviour are so destructive, so abhorrent, that Crosby shouldn’t do anything that gives him legitimacy. Many supporters jumped to Crosby’s defence, which is their right. But as you can see with a quick search on Twitter, most of that defence involves questioning people’s right to criticize him. Boosters accuse Crosby’s critics of envying his talent, being over-sensitive, and playing politics. “Who the heck are you to criticize Sid?” was the general tenor.
This summer, Crosby took the Stanley Cup with him on a visit to the Camp Hill Veterans hospital in Halifax. Fans often hail him for his kindness towards veterans. It’s not something all athletes do and he deserves that praise. But his fans should remember why those veterans he supports fought. Patriotism isn’t about photo ops; speaking one’s mind is a fundamental freedom.
If someone thinks that Crosby and the Penguins should not go to the White House because it legitimizes Donald Trump’s hateful divisiveness, then it is their right to say that. It’s a right that soldiers fought to preserve, so honour their sacrifice by respecting it.
Many have used the “You’re going about it the wrong way” to criticize Kaepernick, or people who don’t wear poppies, or people who question the wisdom of Sidney Crosby’s decision to lend credibility to an authoritarian racist. But this is merely a deflection of the problem. If there is a better way, are you effectively using this method to eliminate injustice? If so, please share it with the rest of us.
This “going about it the wrong way” criticism is the attitude of someone who refuses to recognize the problem or simply doesn’t want to have that uncomfortable conversation.
What this criticism does is distract from the problem. You can support the goal of someone’s protest without having to agree with the way they are doing it.
So, if someone is protesting to end police brutality, bring clean drinking water to First Nations communities, or get law enforcement to finally do something about the pandemic of missing and murdered indigenous women, don’t criticize their methods if they’re doing it peacefully.
There are many forms of protest and the way you choose to do it is up to you.