One of President Trump's recent divisive distractions has been his attack on the right of Americans to peacefully protest by kneeling during the national anthem. He speaks of disrespecting the flag, but America is more than a flag. It is an ideal, an ideal of democracy and freedoms, one being the freedom to peacefully protest. Trump questions the patriotism of those protesting, but as historian Howard Zinn has said, “If patriotism were defined, not as blind obedience to government, not as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one's country, one's fellow citizens (all over the world), as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy, then patriotism would require us to disobey our government, when it violated those principles.”
Protests have been important catalysts throughout American history. Think through your knowledge of history -- the suffragists, the marches in Selma and Birmingham, and of course the Boston Tea Party just to name a few. To quote the American musician John Legend, “Protest is patriotic. Protest has played a critically important role in elevating the voices of the most vulnerable in our nation. Protest in America has been essential to ending war, to demanding equal rights, to ending unfair practices that keep citizens marginalized. If we quell protest in the name of patriotism, we are not patriots. We are tyrants.”
Some people are upset by what they perceive is disrespect of the flag and therefore disrespect of America. But they should remember or realize that America is more than a flag. We are indoctrinated from an early age to respect the flag, say the pledge of allegiance, cover our hearts when the flag goes by. But what does the flag represent -- it represents our country which supposedly stands for justice and democracy. Injustices have been fought against before, but there are still many to be overcome. Our country allows its citizens to be discriminated against when their skin is not the same color as the current majority, or their religion is not the same as the perceived majority, or their sexual preference is not the same as everyone else's. Breaking custom to kneel instead of stand for the flag is a peaceful protest to elevate “the voices of the most vulnerable in our nation.” When we see someone not following our own beliefs or customs, we should ask ourselves why and try to understand instead of blindly attacking them for being different or calling them unpatriotic. Those who are peacefully protesting by kneeling before the flag are making a patriotic statement. We need to respect and listen to that statement.
Ellen Wolcott, Charleston