Freedom Isn’t Easy

Yesterday someone said to me: “I gave your campaign money because I thought you were going to bring people together. But, you’re just another far-out liberal.”

I asked him what turned his perception of me from favorable to unfavorable, and he offered: “Your posts lately (Facebook).”

There are only two subjects for which that might be the case and one was gun control.

“No, I agree with you on assault weapons, but the other stuff.”

The “other stuff” had to be with regard to NFL players taking a knee during the National Anthem. I had written that I stand for the anthem, but also understand the protest. I wrote that I, personally, did not view the protest as disrespectful to the military, but as a call to address compelling evidence of systemic racism.

Regardless of disagreements I didn’t consider my position to be divisive. Defending the First Amendment and taking a stand against social injustice isn’t….far-out….is it?

I trust this fellow and I know without question that his repulsion of my view is rooted in his own beliefs about patriotism and national pride. I wasn’t going to dismiss him. I’m also passionate about America and I cannot pretend that I don’t see the issue of injustice as critical, and the denial of it as – dangerous.

Except….

Arguments are often less about what started them, than what they become. The sides drawn from the debate/controversy surrounding the National Anthem; what it means and the issues of justice, now stand in different contexts from the statement that was made in protest. That exchange with a friend (I hope that he still is) was not idle chat to me and looking for a platform to understand all sides of this issue is something I’ve been doing since the controversy began. And I had somewhat of an epiphany.

The tradition of the anthem at professional games isn’t that longstanding, and the inclusion of our military is really only since 9/11, but it was cut from the same ideological cloth as Old Glory herself and to separate pride from our symbol of freedom…well…maybe that’s dangerous, too.

The rituals that bind us, especially if they include the honor of military sacrifice, serve a purpose to strengthen our resolve to retain our patriotic values.The ceremony has now become, for many Americans, inextricable from reverence for our military who pay the price for our exercise of freedom. Perhaps, the ceremonial pledge offered in our National Anthem includes freedom yet to be realized.

I haven’t changed my mind about the First Amendment, or the reality of systemic racism and how that betrays our values, but the issue of participation in our national ceremony is not about those things to those who are angry at kneeling. They aren’t going to change their minds either. I can argue ‘til I’m red, white, and blue in the face, and not one person is going to move from their position.

What credibility do I have to reframe the context of this debate? Very little, probably. I am not a black man in America. It has never been assumed that I stole a nice car just because I’m driving it. I have never seen eyes scan nervously when walking past them down a side street. I cannot and will not pretend that I speak for people who endure suspicion and suffer the sometimes deadly consequences of judgment and fear, just because of the color of their skin. And I will not ever say that the protest to call attention to profiling and social injustice is unwarranted or misplaced.

I can, however, call attention to the conversations we should be having by giving the conflict that has arisen a platform to acknowledge the differences drawn from the battle lines. “We can agree to disagree” isn’t going to work here. We’ve tried that. But, one side succumbing to the other isn’t going to happen, either. People don’t easily surrender the deep rooted beliefs from which they identify themselves.

So….what do I say to my friend?

This, perhaps: “Freedom isn’t free and it isn’t easy. It comes with a price that can exact struggle even among friends and family. And that price also demands that we never become complacent toward our promise of liberty, and justice for all. Our traditions to recognize our pride in this great endeavor, and to honor the sacrifice of those who have been willing to die to protect the cause of freedom, can make us stronger in that pursuit.”

And like I’ve written many times: “I stand for the National Anthem to acknowledge the Brave and to renew my commitment to them to make the “Land of the Free” a reality and not just a lyric in a song.”

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