Modeling Courage: Colin Kaepernick’s Walk in the Footsteps of Great Civil Rights Agitators

Two years ago when Colin Kaepernick first took a knee during the National Anthem, there was a lot of disgust expressed by fans and opposers. Complaints ranged from bigots’ scathing label of “uppity negro” to the more benign statements such as, “There’s a time and place for everything,” meaning, “Not now.” These were nearly the same words that were used to try to quiet Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and delay the Civil Rights Movement. Today, the issue of protesting on an NFL field, for any reason, is a matter of national debate, and a very timely one, given the state of our democracy. Most of this dispute comes down to race—the artificial categories designed to separate people and create a thinly veiled caste system in our society. None of this is new. Humankind has always been engaged in this brutal struggle for power. Fortunately, history has shown that the challengers to tyrannical rule often win though they don’t often reap the rewards in their lifetimes.

 

The story of Colin Kaepernick is so profoundly similar to the biblical tale of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego that, for me, it is an inevitable comparison. In brief, King Nebuchadnezzar builds a huge golden idol and commands that when the music plays, everyone should fall prostrate before it and carry on with a spectacle. As with any self-adoring tyrant, the king imposes consequences for disobedience. He commands, “whoso falleth not down and worshippeth shall the same hour be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace” (Daniel 3:5-6). More concerning than the king’s edict is the response of his people: Like good Nazis, residents lined up to make sure none of the perverted rules were broken. Luckily, these concerned citizens reported Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to the authorizes for not bending a knee at the appointed time, requiring the king to kick up the heat in the inferno, looking to make an example of the three men. (If this is beginning to sound familiar, you are paying attention.) Here’s where the miracle happens: Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego’s lives are saved though the lives of the soldiers who deliver them to their fate are not.

 

Okay, so maybe Kaepernick is not being thrown into a literal fire, but dismissing and preventing him from working in the NFL is equally severe punishment for kneeling when the authorities insist one stand. This is the strength of fear: It teaches other NFL players, and mere mortals, to comply or suffer a similar destiny. Kaepernick, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had an unflinching conviction to stand apart for the sake of their beliefs. They did so even at the risk of great peril because the rules were unethical and wicked, and they made a conscientious choice to challenge the status quo.

 

This familiar rhetoric of oppression—appeals based on rewards, coercion and/or threats of violence are eerily similar to the current language of our president against Kaepernick and anyone else with a differing opinion. Essentially, Colin Kaepernick’s broken heart would not allow him to stand during the anthem. Wishing to protest gun violence against black men by leveraging his fame, visibility and power for the sake of others, Kaepernick silently bowed his head. His is a sacred endeavor worth our admiration and support, because what he does, he does for all of us. If sports leagues begin to fire black men for defiance, as the president and several other powerful figures suggest, we are witnessing a new form of discrimination and punitive blackballing; these are simply new methods of coercion and intimidation, designed to keep people from living with integrity and exercising their right to free speech. Were it not for Kaepernick’s courage, which was above all a deep compassionate wail against the extraordinary violence meted out to black men all over the country, we would simply go on, anesthetized to the plight of an entire segment of the population. Instead, the nation is discussing the issue every week, for hours.

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“Mural 136a” by Will Schmitz for Living Artist Project

At last, more NFL athletes are beginning to speak up. They seem to be reacting more to the attempts of the president to silence non-violent, peaceful protest than to Kaepernick’s original stance for social justice. Nonetheless, their actions serve as a show of solidarity and support for freedom. They seem to say that they are protesting because they are free. This is the life breath of America: Liberty. Throughout history, individuals like Colin Kaepernick have stepped into the bright light of public scrutiny in order to bring about change. Kaepernick’s necessary anti-collusion lawsuit seeks to reform the NFL’s ability to stifle a player’s individual ability to thrive. This is important for numerous black men, who wish to participate freely in sports and other forms of civic engagement without experiencing monetary repercussions. Let’s not make the mistake of minimizing the situation. Kaepernick’s case is clearly as much a civil rights case as Plessy v. Fergusson, Roe v. Wade or numerous other important cases that have been heard in the past century.

Without key individuals stepping forward to demand justice, the courts have historically remained deaf to cases that have later had far-reaching beneficial consequences for future generations. That’s why Colin Kaepernick’s early and consistent non-violent protest to relentless police aggression and fatal force against black men is of vital importance to our future as an open democracy. Like any visionary, imagining a better world, the bravery employed by Colin Kaepernick in using his body on the front lines of transformation is critical to altering our current trajectory. Kaepernick is using his status, voice and position to further the cause of justice. The ripples of his actions we are only beginning to feel.

 

 

 

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“This Land Is Our Land”

We all have a part to play in how our world operates. The interconnectivity of our lives can no longer be ignored. Beloved, justice-loving President John F. Kennedy once said, “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” Now, more than ever, this question is pertinent in its application to service in this country, and also to the required work in our cities, families and extended communities. Perhaps we need to expand the definition of poison, broaden the scope to encompass of how actions that intend to harm one group inevitably undermines all of us, since we share the same ecosystems.

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Cristiana Briscese

When Regan took office, he implemented all manner of racists policies as a backlash to the reforms of the 1970s—the product of much bloodshed and activism during the mass Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s—he wanted a return to the past, to once again disenfranchise black Americans, who were at last prospering with gainful employment, access to the ballot and a legislated end to centuries of legal discrimination. So the 80s became the decade for undoing the gains of previous decade, by first closing the factories that employed thousands of workers all over the country, but especially in the motor cities of the mid-west, where many blacks had migrated the century before. Other manufacturers shuttered plants as well, lining their pockets and resting their large heads on soft pillows in the great old US of A, while keeping their portly purses well out of reach of Uncle Sam. Combined that with the simultaneous economically devastating white flight from urban cities and the strategic divestment in the remaining communities, and America’s working class was dealt a mortal deathblow.

Just as many whites as blacks lost jobs to the factory closings. The lose of tax revenue from those who left the cities, dwindled, and then, those who could, packed their bags and left. But it seems that now the desolation of a targeted group of people has inexplicably, at long last, trickled down to the rural areas of Virginia and runs amok in the woods of Pennsylvania, where the toxic stream meanders through the land and fords the vast wildernesses where once stood the fabled factory of the well-paying job for the undereducated. And just like that, it becomes woefully apparent, that though poison will at first killed the intended undesirable fish in the immediate vicinity, it will, before long, also kill the frogs in distant ponds as it runs it course.

Take the clever example offered in the movie There will be Blood when oil tycoon Daniel Plainview, takes his straw and says to his nemesis, “I drink your milk,” he clarifies that the oil beneath the ground does not honor property boundaries; the milk, of course, is a metaphor for the oil in the earth, the same collective resource of all those who inhabit the land, sustenance that may as well be any resource from housing, to jobs, to healthy food, to lead-free water.

Your consent is unnecessary.

Similarly ironic, when decades of fracking leads to earthquakes in places like Oklahoma that had never before been susceptible to the shifting of tectonic plates, it give pause—to some. Or, when oil pipelines that have long mapped over Native lands like arteries outside an ailing body leak oil into formerly pristine waterways, we see that it’s only a matter of time before what we have done unto others gets done to us:

Pillage the forests; get land erosion and warmer climes.

Spray pesticides, and kill all the bees.

Undermine the livelihood of black American, and sow widespread unemployment.

We are all connected.

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by Cristiana Briscese

No one can escape the poison once it seeps into the land, the water and the air. We have to clean it all up, or we all perish. We don’t get to choose who lives or who dies. We must be the stewards of the land, and not solely the environmental aspects of our shared geographies, but of the people, especially, and the plants and animals that are sustained or destroyed by our daily choices, and our insatiable hungers. We must invest in each other, with our hearts, and be willing to extend that love to our brothers and sisters—no matter what skin tone, regardless of papers, beliefs, notwithstanding.

It is our responsibility to seek these reconciliations—each one of us. When we have done these things, all will be well.

Celebrating Winning: 2016’s National Book Awards

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Book Art

You get to live your dream. Stay on task with your passion, and do the work you are called to do. Here’s some inspiration from The Atlantic about the National Book Awards winners. The entire crew of fabulous writers, and now winners, were congratulated, but the moving words of John Lewis, winner of the Young People’s Literature award, are to be remembered. (I’ll let him tell it.)

 

Enjoy, my friends!

Making the Count: Our Rights and Duties

Election season is upon us, again. It is a joyous time, one full of demanding intellectual rigor, requiring contemplation and discernment in order to ascertain which propositions to support and which presidential hopeful to embrace. With all the valid concerns Americans face, we must weigh the balance of a society enduring broad disparities in services, goods and care, based on income levels, gender and race. That’s why I love this country: even with our national foibles, rampant discrimination and numerous beneficiaries of unearned privileges, we each get the same opportunity to vote. Regardless of political leanings, no matter our party affiliation, voting is a duty that must be taken seriously. There’s too much apathy—too many people declining their responsibilities, not making time, and shirking the duties bestowed upon a liberated citizenry.

 

History teaches many lessons to those willing and able to observe them. Since the advent of human existence, there has been slavery and its lesser forms of abridged liberties, myriad forms of oppression: the Egyptians enslaved the Israelites, the Romans subjugated any conquered person, the monarchs of Russia created serfs of countless legions of peasants; the early Americans enslaved boatloads of Africans shipped over like so many other tradable commodities. Less severe are the disenfranchised of the world, ruled by tyrants, people unable to decide their own fates, for example, in places like South Africa, where once only those born with the right skin color could vote or North Korea, where even dreams of liberty are taboo. The list of deprived world citizens, past and present, is endless. We must not forget this reality. We must honor these fleeting privileges. They are precious jewels in the shifting power structures of the tumultuous geopolitical landscape.

 

The privilege of suffrage is a profound responsibility, necessitating our distilled convictions to not let others decide for us. We must not defer our power for another day, else we may find the power lost forever. It is our duty to exercise our right to vote. It’s what many people have died for over the centuries—a right too many take for granted: the privilege, in this country at least, has worn dull with use. We have entered a time of ennui with disposable everything; this insatiable desire for quick consumption has us in a vice grip of boredom with our own democratic process. Now that we no longer need die for the right to vote, it has become nearly worthless.

If one were to search the centuries for a single reason for unrest, uprising and revolt, it would most likely result in the quest for agency—freedom. Humans, rightly so, want the right to choose their destiny. That yearning defines us as humans. We may even have too much choice, too much freedom. We are lulled into a stupor by our easy lives. We grow fat on the expectation of having our way. We forget that we are one of many, deciding a common fate in a power-sharing process based on the full participation of society’s members.

To abstain from the vote is to betray our own democracy, our own moral mandate to be agents of change. Were it a question of people subjugated under laws without the slightest possibility of mitigating outcomes, we’d die for liberty. And yet, we have the ability to impact our own governance, but easily abandon our duties as a form of stubborn foot stomping. We have the power to decide our fate and the direction of our nation, our states and our cities. We must use our power.

People make every imaginable excuse for not going to the polls. They attempt to justify their inaction—they seem to be waiting for a magic carpet to transport them to a mythical utopia in which voting is irrelevant and only the candidates they want will appear on the ballot. This complacency is akin to the child archetype, rendering citizens helplessly mute, overcome by indecision, protesting carelessly about their discomfort with their choices, eschewing their responsibility in obscene temper tantrums. The nation is not formed to serve individuals; we serve one another, the collective good decided by all, sharing both the burdens and the glories of our making. Relying on excuses while ignoring the past and the current political reality in our nation prevents progress, ingenuity and the pursuit of truth and justice. We must allow the past to inform us so that we may correct the mistakes of the past and leave a legacy of love for our children. We only put our own civil liberties at risk when we succumb to fantasy and refrain from exercising our personal power. Even if we don’t get our way this election, we still have an obligation to participate in the established democratic process in our nation.

The past is available to us as a powerful tool. Without the right to vote, we lose our democracy—one that many people have died to secure—early settlers who fought the British Crown, poor white men and later white women who gained suffrage under new systems, and most recently, African Americans, whose blood wrested the vote from those in power. Will we abstain from the duty of this obligation out of complacency and apathy? Don’t we have an obligation to our predecessors to cast a ballot? I believe we do.

Too many people in our country are ready to take up arms, assemble bombs and shed innocent blood to be heard when there is a viable, peaceful option in place and accessible to us right now. My hope is that our hunger for liberty and justice, democracy and activism is peaked by injustice, cruelty and tyranny, and that our needs will be slaked by performing our civic duties, especially our right to vote—for we need that hunger to stay engaged, awake and empowered. And, we must do our duty to nourish our souls and pacify our spirits.

Vote!

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