The Shitstorm Over Sitting Down for the National Anthem... And Breaking Out of EVERYTHING the USA Stands For
September 5, 2016 | Revolution Newspaper | revcom.us
From a reader:
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's refusal to stand for the national anthem has unleashed a shitstorm. He told the press: “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses Black people and people of color. 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.”
What happened next points to an important truth: a courageous stand by a single individual against oppression can reveal deep discontent and unleash protest very broadly. Of course, the haters—racists, Fox News fascists, police unions, Donald Trump, and idiots who just resented having their football disrupted by reality—are flipping out. But what is more important, and interesting—starting from the need to get to a world without exploitation and oppression and what that’s gonna take—is what the controversy reveals about deep and wide outrage in society over the way police murder people and get away with it, over and over. And more: by doing this in a way that goes up against the ritual of flag worship that people are expected to participate in, this raises questions about the whole society and the so-called American way of life.
And now, the biggest questions cry out loudly, demanding to be spoken to: What is the problem? What does the “American way of life” have to do with it? And what are we going to do about it? Right now, while society is in an uproar, there are new opportunities, and urgent challenges, to seize the moment and transform the terms on which society is fighting this out. And to do that as part of preparing minds and organizing forces for an actual revolution that will end police murder, and the other crimes and horrors this system puts on people here and around the world.
Touching a Deep Nerve
Colin Kaepernick’s action came at a time of exposure, outrage, protest, and significant uprisings against police murder of Black and Brown people. Everywhere you look, times are changing. NFL quarterbacks are generally put out there to act the part of backward “role models” sucking up to and promoting what is ugly, unjust, and criminal about America. And too many prominent athletes in this country who do know better have kept quiet about murder by police. So it is refreshing and a positive development that an NFL quarterback stepped out like this.
When he continued the protest at the next 49ers game, he was joined by teammate Eric Reid. Reid said, “It’s bigger than football, what he’s [Kaepernick] doing. I think it’s worth doing. Taking a knee is worth doing, because it’s people’s lives and issues that are far bigger than the game.” And separately, Seattle Seahawks player Jeremy Lane also refused to stand and sat on the bench during the national anthem at a game in Oakland.
Arian Foster of the Miami Dolphins said, “I understand 100 percent what he’s [Kaepernick] doing. He’s frustrated, just like me. He’s just like my brother. He’s just like my cousins out there. He’s frustrated. It’s hard seeing people get murdered and killed without repercussions.”
A few days later, star soccer player Megan Rapinoe, who is white, kneeled during the national anthem before the Seattle Reigns’ National Women’s Soccer League (NWSL) game. She said this was an “intentional” act in solidarity with Kaepernick and that “Being a gay American, I know what it means to look at the flag and not have it protect all your liberties. It was something small that I could do and something that I plan to keep doing in the future and hopefully spark some meaningful conversation around it.”
Other athletes who have so far spoken in support of Kaepernick include Tommie Smith and John Carlos, who gave the Black Power salute during the national anthem at the 1968 Olympics, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (Basketball Hall of Fame), and Jim Brown (Football Hall of Fame).
Artists who have supported Kaepernick include singer Chris Brown, filmmaker Spike Lee, comedian W. Kamau Bell, hip-hop artist Chuck D, actor Susan Sarandon, and filmmaker Michael Moore.
And all kinds of people are having the way they’ve been looking at the world shaken up. Nate Boyer, who tried out for both the SF 49ers and the Seattle Seahawks, is a former Green Beret. He clearly does not agree with Kaepernick about the national anthem, but in a public letter in the Army Times he was moved to say to Kaepernick: “What you are doing takes a lot of courage, and I’d be lying if I said I knew what it was like to walk around in your shoes. I’ve never had to deal with prejudice because of the color of my skin.”
What Does That National Anthem Stand For?
The fact that this controversy has broken out over refusing to stand for the national anthem has thrown the big question on the table: What is the USA all about? Different people, representing different positions within society, with different perspectives on the problem and solution, have jumped into the fray. Shaun King wrote a column in the New York Daily News exposing the story of the national anthem’s third verse, which celebrates the mass execution of escaped slaves who fought against the U.S. in the War of 1812.
Even beyond that, what does this country stand for? It is like what Joey Johnson said when he burned the American flag at the Republican National Convention: slavery, genocide, and unjust war. We’ve got a moment here to be really challenging people with what Ardea Skybreak writes in her new book SCIENCE AND REVOLUTION: On the Importance of Science and the Application of Science to Society, the New Synthesis of Communism and the Leadership of Bob Avakian:
Personally, I can’t stand the American flag, or the national anthem, or the Pledge of Allegiance, or any of these kinds of symbols that proclaim that one country or one population of one part of the world is somehow better than everybody else. That’s what’s called “jingoism,” or “national chauvinism”—that way of thinking is downright nasty and we should call it what it is and refuse to go along with it! We should all be thinking more like citizens of the world and not like Americans. But then you see people stand up in schools and at sporting events—they’re standing up for the flag and the anthem, and they’re putting their hands over their hearts and maybe even singing along, and often this is being done by people who are themselves being oppressed and degraded on a daily basis by the very system that they are saluting!
It’s time to put an end to this kind of stuff. Think about what you’re doing, what you’re saluting! People need to think more about this, and educate themselves about the true nature of this system. These police murders, for instance: they’re not an accident. They’ve been happening for a long time. They happen on a horrific scale. And they keep on happening, because the root of this problem can be found in the very foundations of this system.
Let’s help people, and challenge people to “educate themselves about the true nature of this system.” Let’s get the crash course in REAL American history and reality—Top Ten Reasons Why You Should NOT Salute the American Flag—all over social media and passed out at sports events when we sit down for the nasty-full anthem. And get the American Crime series into as many classrooms as possible.
It’s good that many people oppose the relentless murders by police, and the mindless patriotism. But what’s good about “USA” patriotism—mindless or not? Let’s bring a massive reality check to what the U.S. and its rag have always actually represented for the world. The U.S. has always been the land of the thief and home of the slave!
Like Bob Avakian says, “American Lives Are Not More Important Than Other People’s Lives.” (BAsics 5:7). With revolution, humanity is capable of a much better world. Everyone can get into the leadership, vision, and strategy for this—especially the leadership of BA.
An Unexpected Response Among Veterans and Active Duty Troops
One way the attacks on Kaepernick have come down is to accuse him of disrespecting U.S. troops (which Kaepernick says is not his intention). I’m sure the people hollering about that expected to whip up a lot of reactionaries, but also confuse and disorient a lot of people who aren’t into blind obedience to the flag and the national anthem. After all, the system has been working on this “support the troops” bullshit for a long time, and getting away with it way too much. And yes, they did set loose a lot of noise. But the response from veterans and active duty GIs has been far from all bad.
Now to be clear, I (the writer of this letter) was in this country’s military, and I do not “support the troops.” Nobody else should, either. The U.S. military is an institution tasked with defending and expanding the interests of this imperialist USA, and to do that it has committed unrivaled crimes of brutality, violence, and mass murder (again, see the revcom.us series “American Crime”).
But the troops are drawn from all sections of people whose actual interests are sharply in conflict with the role they play in the world. History has shown that when confronted with reality, many among them are capable of much better!
This was definitely so in Vietnam. In that war, as a result of the righteous ass-kicking the U.S. Army received from the Vietnamese people and the firm stand of sections of the antiwar movement and Black liberation struggle in NOT supporting the troops but rather calling out the CRIMES of these troops and CHALLENGING THEM TO BREAK WITH IT, many became demoralized and unfit to fight, others began to resist, and some became straight-up revolutionaries against the system that ordered them to kill innocent people. This was true of Carl Dix and it was true of others at the time as well. So it is significant, and something which no doubt gives nightmares to the rulers of this country, when some among them today publicly stand on principle, even with their illusions. It can be the beginning of a process which, if revolutionaries work on it, can become something very dangerous for the rulers and very good for the people, especially as things develop toward an all-out revolutionary struggle for power.
There is an online petition that organizers say has 5,500 signatures from veterans and active duty military personnel supporting Kaepernick’s right to sit during the national anthem. On the Twitter hashtag #VeteransForKaepernick, there are tweets from active duty military personnel and veterans from a wide range of perspectives, including a Black GI who posted, “I serve for his right to protest, not for police brutality.” A Black man posted that he wears his uniform when he drives at home so police won’t kill him. Another Black active duty GI asked, how can he tell his children he’s fighting for a country that will not fight for him?
A white active duty GI tweeted his picture with the message, “I didn’t volunteer to defend a country where police brutality is swept under the rug.” A white couple, both of them disabled veterans, posted that they refuse to stand for the national anthem at football games, and described the harassment and threats they get, but also how this messes with people’s justifications for going along with the system “out of respect for our veterans.”
We need to get right into the middle of the controversy around this with the REALITY Bob Avakian speaks to in BAsics:
It is not uncommon to hear these days, from government officials and others, that only 1 percent of the population is in the U.S. military but that this 1 percent is fighting for the freedom of the other 99 percent. The truth, however, is this: That 1 percent, in the military, is in reality fighting for the other 1 percent: the big capitalist-imperialists who run this country—who control the economy, the political system, the military, the media, and the other key institutions—and who dominate large parts of the world, wreaking havoc and causing great suffering for literally billions of people. It is the “freedom” of these capitalist-imperialists—their freedom to exploit, oppress, and plunder—that this 1 percent in the military is actually killing and sometimes dying for.
Seize the Time
The Revolution Club, Bay Area, shook up UC Berkeley by jumping into the Kaepernick shitstorm, DIS-respecting the flag, and challenging people to get organized for an ACTUAL revolution.
If you want to get a feel for what it can be like to jump into the middle of all this with revolution, check out the correspondence "The Revolution Club, Bay Area, Shaking Up UC Berkeley: Jumping into Kaepernick Shitstorm, DIS-Respecting the Flag.” They were out there in the middle of the UC Berkeley campus with the Revolution centerfold: “Land of the Thief, Home of the Slave”; a graphic with two quotes from Bob Avakian on internationalism; and a sign: “America was NEVER great! We need to overthrow the system!” Read what happened when they did that, here.
Let’s challenge people to Sit down for Their Nasty-full Anthem! And Don’t Do the Pledge of Malfeasance to Being a Fascist Robot Either! And then it is up to the revolutionaries to take all this somewhere else—to challenge people to rupture not just with mindless patriotism and complicity with oppression, but with patriotism itself and all the ugliness it is saturated with. Let’s get people out of patriotism and get into internationalism and revolution.
Share what happens when you do that by writing to email@example.com.
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