Protests and Politics: One Veteran’s Perspective

Photo Courtesy of iStock.com/AlxeyPnferov

This past weekend, I attended a high school football game here in Texas. My daughter is a cheerleader for the school and one ritual that she is always proud to perform along with the group is to stand with her hand over her heart for the National Anthem. As an American, I always do the same. Over the last year, there have been strong opinions shared about protests during the National Anthem. As an African American, I have often been asked my feelings many times about this topic. My response is always the same: I may not agree with this method of protest but I proudly served to give those who do that right.

Almost 30 years ago, long before I decided to write about special needs children and parents, I took an oath as a United States Army Officer to “support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” As I learned in Civics class long ago, the first amendment to the constitution is the freedom of speech for all citizens. I may not always like what my fellow citizens say but I put on the uniform to protect their right to say it. I also come from a military family. My father retired from the United States Air Force and I have many other family members who have served in all branches of the Armed Forces. While we were all proud to serve, at times, we served a nation that didn’t always love us.

I remember hearing family members recount stories of shedding blood, sweat, and tears for America overseas only to come back to a country filled with racial hatred. There are those who call what Colin Kaepernick did and other players who sit or kneel during the National Anthem as the ultimate sign of disrespect for the flag and the sacrifices of the military. They are called Un-American or just ungrateful for what America has done for them. I disagree. While I don’t agree with their methods, I have seen far worse. I have seen people of all races spat upon for wearing a military uniform. I have seen coverage of people singing the National Anthem or reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at Ku Klux Klan rallies before going out to murder fellow American citizens. I have witnessed First Responders who happened to be people of color protect the rights of protestors at rallies (such as in Charleston, SC and in Charlottesville, VA) who spew hate and advocate violence against minorities. I have observed those who use the American Flag as a rain poncho, or use the flag as a piece of clothing (all violations of the U.S. Flag Code) all while proclaiming to be patriotic Americans. Lastly, I have seen the flag burned and stomped on. All on American soil and all by those who call themselves patriots.

The last few days have seen emotions running high on both sides of the “Right to Protest” debate. I want to thank President Trump for doing something that former First Lady Hillary Clinton and former President Barack Obama could not and that is to open an honest national discussion about racial and gender inequality. President Trump’s comments directed toward Colin Kaepernick as well as other players in the National Football League are about race, plain and simple (remember Tim Tebow kneeled and no one said a word about it); his words and policies on immigration are targeted toward Latinos (I have not heard one word about building a wall with Canada) and his words regarding women (remember “Grab ’em by the p***y”) are demeaning toward women. He has also started a conversation about discriminating against those with disabilities (remember he mocked a disabled reporter). He has opened up pandora ‘s box and now Americans must take an honest look at themselves in the mirror. This is a conversation that is not just of interest to America but to the world. Some (like Russia) want to use it for their own gain, while others are openly questioning America’s role as the standard bearer for decency and democracy. Some have even compared America’s fight for inequality with Nazi Germany or South African Apartheid. Now is the moment of truth: will America continue to lead or will we be relegated to second class status?

You may or may not agree with my point of view and as an American Citizen you have that right. The point is that I and millions of others served (and in many cases died) to protect that same Constitution that guarantees all Americans the right to free speech and the right to vote. In the 2016 presidential election, statistics revealed that only 47% of those eligible to vote actually showed up at the polls to exercise that right. This is by far the most alarming statistic highlighting our current political climate. Many said that they didn’t bother voting because they didn’t like either of the two presidential candidates. Some of those same people are among the loudest protestors of President Trump’s policies. To those I have no sympathy. Our leaders are elected, and it is your responsibility to vote. You have a right to protest; however, your voice is heard the loudest at the ballot box.

I have been eligible to vote since 1984 and have exercised that right in all but one election and that was due to military duty. President Trump won the election because those who supported him showed up and voted. As proud and loyal Americans, we must all do the same. The first words of the Constitution are “We the People.” You have the right to protest but in order to change something that you don’t like, show up and vote. I promise you — I will.

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Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.com on September 27, 2017.