Opinion: Protesting is part of being an American

Protesting is the most patriotic thing there is.

Jonathan Kaupanger
January 26, 2018 - 1:49 pm

(Photo by Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/TNS)

Protests are part of our country's DNA.  And we’ve had some pretty interesting ones too.

Demonstrations against King George III’s Stamp Act in 1765 included mock funerals and the secret society known as the Sons of Liberty.  Their slogan, “No Taxation Without Representation,” can still be seen – as a form of protest - on Washington, DC license plates.  The Sons of Liberty would often use violence to get their point across. 

They protested in 1768, again, to fight the Townshend Revenue Act and more famously the Tea Act of 1773.  For the Tea Act, the protest the form of tar and feather threats to ship captains and of course, the most famous protest in American history, tossing 90,000 pounds of tea into the Boston Harbor.

Our country began with violent protests. 

Right or wrong, we are free to do it, so we protest when we feel we need to get our point across.  We have a history of violent protests.  Like the New York City Draft Riots in 1863, Wilmington Insurrection of 1898, the “bread riots” in 1863, to name just a few. 

World War II veterans started to protest city government corruption in Athens, Tennessee, when they returned from Europe in 1945.  They organized their own political party and put up several vets for local office. Election Day, 1946 and the civil protest turned violent.  The veteran poll watchers received the first attack when the crooked sheriff and his deputies started beating and detaining them. 

The sheriff and deputies took the ballot boxes and barricaded themselves in the jail. The vets were armed with high-powered rifles and attacked the building. The battled raged all night until the veterans decided to toss dynamite at the jailhouse. 

After the votes were counted, the vet candidates were declared winners and would go on to restructure and clean up the corruption in Athens. Good outcome, but still a violent protest.  I actually feel proud about the Athens protest. 

Very patriotic you know, veterans coming to the rescue and all.

So why do we have such a problem with a peaceful protest, especially one that’s against a violent issue?

Colin Kaepernick started a protest by sitting during the national anthem. His reasoning was solid, but the action was still shocking to most people. 

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” he said in an interview with NFL Media after the Aug. 14, 2016 game.  “To me, this is bigger than football and 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.”

He was protesting for Americans who don’t have the national stage that he had.  He was protesting for Americans who could no longer talk.  

Americans like Amadou Diallo.

Manuel Loggins Jr.

Ronald Madison.

Kendra James.

Sean Bell.

Eric Garner.

Michael Brown.


Alton Sterling.

But how dare he sit during the Star Spangled Banner! Of course even that changed, and a veteran was instrumental. 

Nate Boyer, former Seattle Seahawks player and Green Beret talked with Kaepernick and his San Francisco teammate at the time, Eric Reid.  The next game the sitting turned to kneeling.  Reid explained why they changed the form of protest in a New York Times op-ed on Sept. 25 last year.

“After hours of careful consideration, and even a visit from Nate Boyer, a retired Green Beret and former NFL player, we came to the conclusion that we should kneel, rather than sit, the net day during the anthem as a peaceful protest.  We chose to kneel because it’s a respectful gesture.  I remember thinking our posture was like a flag flown at half-mast to mark a tragedy.”

An American protest. Peaceful, respectful and to the point. But still an American protest.  251 years after the Sons of Liberty started protesting, the American history of protest continued.

But now, that’s been taken away. Words like “what he deems are wrongdoings against African Americans...” or one that really boils my blood, “belief in a perceived injustice” slowly started creeping into some journalistic descriptions of why the protests were happening. 

And then all of a sudden, the protest stopped being about police brutality towards American citizens.  It was hijacked and turned into a show of patriotism.

News coverage stopped talking about the fact that black Americans are killed at three times the rate as white Americans.  The country forgot that in 2013, 92 percent of the arrests in Ferguson, MO were black Americans, even though the black community only makes up 65 percent of the city. 

We choose to ignore that in states that have Stand Your Ground laws, white on black homicides are 354 percent more likely to be ruled justifiable than white on white crimes. We’ve chosen to ignore the painful history of American’s like LaTanya Haggerty, Ramarley Graham and Shereese Francis.

Why isn’t it patriotic to protest the unnecessary and abusive deaths of American citizens? 

Next month is Black History Month and I feel very fortunate that it’s my job to tell stories about some really incredible Americans.  Stories about Crispus Attucks, the first person killed in the American Revolution.  The 555th Paratroopers, who couldn’t get medals or citations, but they could be sent to the worst parts of the war.  I get to tell the story of 320th VLA Barrage Balloon Battalion – the only all black battalion to hit the shores of Normandy on D-Day.

I love history.  I love telling stories too.  The stories I get to tell next month are a form of protest for me.  A peaceful one, but it’s still a protest against the whitewashing of American history.  But not everyone has a platform like this where they can show solidarity for their fellow Americans who are suffering.

Except, we do.

Instead of getting so twisted up about patriotism, when you see someone kneeling during the National Anthem, remind yourself why it started in the first place:

 ***Americans are being abused because of the color of their skin***

Protesting against that is the most patriotic thing there is.