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It’s a thin line between esprit de corps and blind fanaticism. The feeling that we are part of a greater good versus there is no greater than we. I’m a hand over my heart allegiance pledger, a national anthem stander and singer.

I love my country but I do not worship her. I’m no, “Love it or leave it!” fanatic. I draw a distinct line between patriotism and nationalism. If cut, I only bleed red, there’s no white or blue that flows from my lacerated veins. I see our faults, but I also see the great good that is the USA. All organizations are dysfunctional, though not equally so. I see our dysfunction. 

One of the things the good ol’ US of A gets right is the Right to protest, one of our First Amendment Rights. I think it is no coincidence that the First Amendment is just that; first. Our freedoms of (and from) religion, of speech, of the press, of the people to peaceably assemble and to petition our Government for redress of grievances is a shining example for del total del mundo.

Free Speech must include ugly speech, radical speech, disruptive speech. It must, for without the freedom to depart from accepted values, expectations and conventions we have no avenue for change and the list of great leaps forward, of radical change that have occurred in the USA since we declared our independence from Great Britain nearly 250 years ago, are stunning. We are not our forefathers’ (or mothers’!) USA.

August will mark three years since Colin Kaepernick first chose to remain seated during the playing of The Star Spangled Banner, the United States national anthem. I’m not much of a footballer, but I was deeply disturbed with Kaepernick’s display. Disturbed? Okay, disgusted. Disrespecting our flag, disrespecting any entity that stands for freedom, did not sit well with me.

It took Kaepernick two weeks and three more sits before he went from sitting to kneeling, an absolutely genius change of presentation. In sports, players take a knee when a player is injured on the field. My angry acceptance of  Kaepernick’s Right to protest was immediately transformed into respectful curiosity.

Kaepernick buzz was hot in September 2016 and I remember standing on a starting line of a race wondering if someone would choose to emulate the Forty-niner’s QB and kneel during our anthem. No one did, but in that split second of uncertainty I realized just how gutsy  Kaepernick’s choice was, how vulnerable his protest made him. I was impressed and with Kaepernick’s change from sitting to kneeling I was in his corner.

I wasn’t transformed, I didn’t become a national anthem protest kneeler, but I went from a man who knew Kaepernick had the Right to be wrong to one who knew he had the right form to practice his essential First Amendment Right to protest and to petition redress for grievances. C.K. got me in his corner.

Kaepernick’s kneeling has been conflated as a protest and disrespect of our military, an absolute lie that has no basis in reality. It’s also been mislabeled as a protest against our police which it really isn’t either.

Kaepernick’s kneeling was a protest against implicit and explicit racism, against classism, against institutions that hold the life blood of citizens in its hands and the statistically proven reality that people of color are not granted the same equality under the law that white folks are given. That reality is inarguable; it is fact. It is fact and it is a reality that must change and for change to occur it must be aired, addressed and steps must be taken to fix our dysfunction. What’s more patriotic than that?

Difference of opinion is healthy but conflating, misrepresenting and “alt-facting” are dysfunction. They are dysfunction being spread by those who like the world the way it is, who prefer our inequalities to equality and who promote fiction over fact. Don’t fall for the lies. Don’t accept the hype. The United States Pledge of Allegiance ends with the statement, “…with liberty and justice for all.” It’s everyone’s job to make that true for everyone.

Again, let’s make America great. Let’s live up to our basic principles. Let us, like our nation’s founders, work toward a more perfect union.