When San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick protested systemic police violence against Blacks and other people of color by refusing to stand for the national anthem at a pre-season football game, he ignited a national debate about everything from police misconduct to why we bother to sing the national anthem before sports events.
It was long overdue. But since the public first learned of Kaepernick’s silent protest and his reasons for doing so, his critics have demanded he shut up as they deem his actions to be offensive to veterans.
That pushes my buttons. I am a veteran who was sent to Vietnam from 1969 to 1970. I’m sick of watching unscrupulous politicians use veterans as human shields to blunt criticism of their favored policies. As a member of Veterans For Peace, I have taken a pledge to not remain silent about the devastating impact of war. Nor do I think we should remain quiet about the epidemic of police violence in our country.
This is what Kaepernick, who is biracial, was referring to when he told reporters “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.”
A Football Fan’s Dilemma
I am a diehard New England Patriots fan who has convinced himself that football is all about what happens between the white lines. Who cares that Tom Brady is a right-leaning Republican who is proud to be associated with Donald Trump if he can deliver those exquisite passes? As for Kaepernick the football player, I have begrudgingly respected his ability to shred the most elaborate NFL defenses since he led his team to the Super Bowl in 2012 in only his second year in the league. So I can imagine how jarring it must be for my fellow football fans to suddenly see him step forward as a citizen and use his fame to make football about more than the game itself.
Which is exactly what powerful political statements should do to us -— make us stop and think and even reconsider deeply held beliefs. Make us uneasy. In the spirit of Muhammad Ali, who publicly refused military service during the Vietnam War and took a principled stand against the deep racist currents running through this culture, the great Cleveland Browns running back Jim Brown and the Boston Celtics star Bill Russell, who both supported Ali, Colin Kaepernick has shattered another taboo. He has wrested Sunday afternoons from the hands of corporate shills and forced a meaningful discussion of the insidious plague of racialized police violence into our stadiums’ hallowed press boxes.
Doug Rawlings is retired college administrator who lives in Maine. He is the author of two books of poetry and a co-founder of Veterans For Peace, a nationwide organization of veterans and their allies dedicated to abolishing war as an instrument of national policy. For more, see veteransforpeace.org.
A National Anthem We Can Stand For
Colin Kaepernick has brought renewed attention to the national anthem, a patriotic hymn composed in the early 1800s that has been fixture at sporting events since World War II. Kaepernick and others who have joined him have noted the contrast between the anthem’s celebration of freedom and the injustices experienced by people of color. So how would it sound if the stirring melodies of the anthem were set to lyrics that envisioned a radically different kind of society?
Longtime activists Ellen Davidson and Tarak Kauff decided to find out in 2011 and wrote a new version of a very old song.
“The original version of the anthem was so militaristic and glorifying of war,” said Davidson, a contributing editor at this publication and an accomplished choral singer who has performed numerous times at Carnegie Hall. “This was an aspirational hymn to what can be.”
The lyrics appear below. To listen to Davidson and the Veterans for Peace chorus perform the song, go to indypendent.org.
O say can you see
revolution’s bright light?
Peace and justice
prevailed, and our
truth is still gleaming.
This broad movement of
ours has come strong
through the night.
We have dared to create
a new world with our
And the truth’s steely
glare, their lies
bursting in air
Gave proof through the
night that our cause it
O say do those hand-
painted banners yet
O’er a land that is free,
with resistance so
— John Tarleton