Monday, September 25, 2017

I Sat

The Twitter-verse is all a flutter.  NFL team owners are falling over one another, re-framing what were obviously well-chosen talking points distributed by someone with sense.  Smart, thoughtful, inspiring, involved young men were inspiring and admired, despite the President's divisive, disappointing, and inappropriate words. 

All of a sudden, Colin Kaepernick is a folk hero.

It's spread to Major League Baseball, too, and that hand on his shoulder makes me smile.
And then I remembered sitting during the national anthem.  A lot.  In many places.  And not because I was busy nursing an otherwise inconsolable infant at the time.  It was 1969 and 1970 and 1971 and '72 and my friends were being shipped off to what is euphemistically referred to as an unpopular war.

There were bloody protests and enormous peaceful gatherings.  There were the Black Panthers and SDS and SNCC and the Weathermen and the yippies and the hippies and everyone had an agenda.  No one liked the war.  No one agreed how to stop it, once Bobby Kennedy shouldered Gene McCarthy aside and then found himself assassinated on an L.A. ballroom floor.  We were left with Hubert Humphrey and were stuck, again, with Richard Nixon.

I was young and female and not very interested in being arrested.  I avoided sit-ins.  I marched, I held signs, I did not chant.  I went to teach-ins and learned facts to amplify my outrage and fuel the somewhat acrimonious conversations with my father on the telephone, every Sunday night, after the rates went down.

I went to Washington, D. C. for the Mobilization Against the War, and came home safely.  I heard fabulous music at free concerts against the war.  I worked for a losing leftist running for the Senate.  It was all part of something larger than the space I was occupying myself, but that personal space felt vaguely empty.  I was good at going along with the crowd.  What could I do to mark my protest as a personal statement?

So, I sat.  I wasn't alone; others who looked like me and dressed like me were sitting, too.  There were stares and glowers and more than one shaking head.  No one ever approached me or asked me why. I always felt conspicuous, and I was more than a little bit proud of myself that I was taking a stand.  I never felt threatened; but perhaps I was just naive.

Okay.  Not perhaps.  I was naive.  

I knew that respect must be earned, that patriotism cannot be commanded.  I loved my country, but I was ashamed of my country.  I couldn't extol her virtues when she was so obviously in the wrong.  I was young and filled with certainty. I knew I was right. So I sat. 

I put nothing at risk, not my job or my reputation or my safety.  I was just one short Jewish girl making a small statement in my own way.  I'm impressed by those who are willing to take my small act of courage out onto a larger stage.  They are shouting from the rooftops, heads bowed, kneeling before us all. They are taking the conversation into America's living rooms, on Sunday Night Football, where I imagine folks debating whether sitting or kneeling or standing with arms linked is best... and maybe, just maybe, the ideas behind the gesture come out from the shadows.

Did I mention that I was naive?


  1. Thank you for this post. I did not get involved in the Vietnam era, and I really haven't taken public stands on big social or political issues, although I certainly fought public battles for educational purposes in my school district. I learned then that I am a fighter. Now I would sit, or kneel. I actually took a knee in front of my TV during the anthem as my Seahawks remained in the locker room.

    1. We do what we can, when we can.
      Although I was opposed to the war, my efforts to shut down my campus had much more to do with the 5000 pages I was behind in Anthropology 101.

  2. I will take a knee when I go to the Nets game on Saturday. I cannot believe that 45* doesn't understand that people kneeling has nothing to do with the flag, but with police brutality and racism. He's so clueless. I will do my part.


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