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Kneeling Against Authority
by The Big Weasel
September 27, 2017

When I first came to America at age 14, I was told that it was a lot like Canada and England, and I wouldn't even notice the difference. Just a few words spelled differently and football has four downs, is all.

After a month, I was still trying to navigate the strange currents of southern California society. The paper had no mention of my favorite football team, the Ottawa Roughriders, or even the CFL at all. Weather reports indicated that Canada apparently got no weather. The whole country was blank. England apparently didn't exist. One kid tried to get me to give him twelve cents for a dime, apparently thinking of the British system. He punched me when I told him in Canada it was ten cents to a dime, just like here.

A month in, I walked into my first American classroom. Because of the British and Canadian educational systems, I was the youngest kid in the class by a full year.

The classroom wasn't all that different. There was a picture of George Washington instead of the Queen, and the walls had images relating to the teacher's topic: in this case, history. So instead of Wolfe versus Montcalm or Henry VIII, there were images of Abe Lincoln and John Glenn and so on.

The only thing different was the flag. Classroom flags were sedate little 18 inch affairs, pinned flat to the wall. Canada usually had two—the Red Ensign and the Union Jack. But they were just part of the background decoration.

THIS flag was on a pole with a gold eagle on the top and gold fringe, and was taller than I was. I figured maybe it was used in history lessons in some way.

The teacher strode in, and everyone took their seats. Then the teacher made a 'stand up' gesture that looked like a conductor asking his orchestra to sound like a scalded cat, and all the kids stood up, put their hands over their hearts, and started chanting at the flag.

I watched, utterly dumbfounded. Nobody had told me about this. I had stood up when everyone else did, and after a few seconds put my hand over my right lung. Left-handed, you see, and since I couldn't see any rhyme or reason, I just used my dominant hand.

The teacher had noted my unstylish clothing and leather satchel and figured me for a furriner, German, maybe or Swiss. The next day he handed me a mimeographed sheet. “Memorize this,” he said.

I read it with growing perplexity. “I pledge allegiance...”

Um, to the flag? What?

I took it home, along with a light load of homework (no Latin!) and memorized it. And then realized it wasn't for me. A newly-minted atheist, I didn't want to say “under God”, and just omitting the phrase seemed inadequate. Especially since the whole thing felt ridiculous, anyway. All these people, chanting earnestly at a piece of cloth in the corner. It seemed like something out of wartime Germany, not to put too fine a point on it.

So I got the salute sorted, and stood respectfully when the others got up, but remained silent.

The teacher noticed.

“Didn't you memorize the Pledge?” You could hear the capital “P”.

“Yes sir, but I'm not comfortable reciting it.”

He hauled me off to the Principal's office, and my Dad was called. He came in about a half hour later, and fortunately, the Principal knew the law. We agreed I could remain silent, and it was enough that I stood respectfully. I didn't even have to salute if I didn't want.

The teacher didn't like it, but had to acquiesce. He settled for picking on me for answers, and if I didn't know, might say something like “You need to know this if you ever want to be an American.”

I was lucky in one way: my classmates never picked on me about it. A year or two later, when Vietnam was clearly falling apart and authority was being challenged, things might have been different.

I never have recited the Pledge, not in over 50 years. And I still think it's ridiculous.

So when Colin Kaepernick dropped to one knee for the national anthem a year ago, I agreed with why he did it for a number of reasons, some personal, some not.

The first was his principal motivating reason: police brutality. That problem hasn't gone away. Over a thousand Americans—the majority of them African American—have been killed by police this year. Just yesterday I read, in quick succession, stories of a deaf man who was shot to death by police as neighbors screamed at the officers that he was deaf and couldn't hear them. Another man took seven bullets for turning and walking away from a cop. The cop hadn't detained him, and the video suggests that the cop found it suspicious the guy wanted to avoid him. Another guy was kicked half to death for having an epileptic seizure. He lived, but he'll know better than to have any involuntary neuromuscular spasms in front of his community's protectors and defenders. There's been a lot of unrest as cops, clearly guilty of murder, get acquitted all around the country. A rage is building.

So Kaepernick's grounds for protest are real, and valid, and unfortunately, have not changed.

Trump, pandering to his racist base in Alabama, attacked pro footballers who refused to stand for the anthem. He said, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when somebody disrespects our flag, to say, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field right now. Out! He’s fired. He’s fired!’”

Trump managed to hit on the issues of the rights of employees and other workers, and freedom of expression and freedom to protest. And with every step, he managed to squelch a fresh turd.

Le Bron James called Trump “a bum”. LeSean McCoy called him an “asshole”. Stevie Wonder fell to both knees in protest. Dozens of players on other football squads knelt for today's anthem. Coaches, managers and even owners linked arms in a show of solidarity with the kneelers. Pittsburgh's squad elected to stay in the locker room until the anthem was played. It has finally begun to show up in baseball. The SF Warriors decided to forego the 'honor' of a White House visit. The protests have even reached that most reactionary group of players, pro baseball.

Kaepernick's mother, in a great American moment, responded that she was proud to be the bitch Trump was referring to, and proud of her son.

What Trump doesn't understand is that you simply cannot order people to do things in the name of freedom. Or symbols. Or because {patriotism, religiosity, or fear}.

If someone orders you to stand for freedom, you should consider it your right to kneel if you want. Or sit. Or lie down. Or walk away.

If someone orders you to salute freedom, feel free to keep your arms at your side.

George W. Bush once declared that “Freedom is on the march.”

He was wrong. Free people do not march. They may decide to march, but they don't do so at the order of the President.

Trump does not represent freedom. He represents what people fought and died to protect their freedoms from.

If you agree with Trump, you have that right. But ask yourself just whose freedoms are being protected by ordering people to obey symbols of authority.

If you're fine with your answer, feel free to obey in the name of freedom. That, too, is a freedom you enjoy.

But don't demand that others share your servitude. You don't have that right, and others are free to ignore you. And Trump, they can even defy you.

Ice Fall, my science fiction novel, is now available in PDF format - FREE
Also available for free: PDF of Rocketships and Stuff
Preview of my upcoming novel, Earth Fall
Bryan Zepp Jamieson

Posted: October 6, 2017

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