First off, let me apologize to those that keep their cardboard blogs separate from "other" things in life, life politics. I do the same, and I enjoy that I can escape to a place that, outside of the occasional cardboard representation of a politician, is free from controversy (at least in terms of politics). For those that do this, I tell you now that this post is about an issue that has sprung up in our society, so if you don't want any part of that (and Lord knows, I certainly don't blame you), please stop reading now. I will most certainly not be offended.
If you wonder why I am posting something along those lines here, let me give a brief explanation. I'm working on my PhD with a plan to go into academia when I am finished. I'm a conservative (that doesn't plan on voting for Trump - I always feel the need to throw in that qualifier), and research has consistently shown that academia is a left-leaning/tilting/in-some-places-falling-over field. That's fine. I have a ton of liberal professors that adhere to the notion that the academy is a place for all ideas to be debated, and as such, they respect me and my beliefs in the same manner that I respect them. That being said, those doing the hiring are often far less forgiving. Hence, I don't feel comfortable posting a lot of political things on Facebook or other social media outlets.
Therefore, you have to put up with this.
Last week, Collin Kaepernick made the news for all the wrong reasons. Though he had sat through the National Anthem the past two weeks, last week the media finally took notice. He was grilled over the decision, which he says is in response to the "oppression of black people" by the police in this country. By standing for the anthem, he claims, he would be ignoring the plight of the oppressed.
I was disappointed by his decision. I feel that most sports venues play the anthem as a way to honor the men and women serving in the armed forces, and they say as much when they ask everyone to stand. As a now-former PR practitioner, I knew that he would get backlash and the reason for his display would either go unnoticed or be trivialized. I was right.
But then I started reading comments about Kaepernick from people of all political ideologies and walks of life. They were hateful and nasty, well beyond what should be considered an appropriate response. Videos began to emerge of people burning his jersey, using extremely foul language directed at him. If anything, the public was doing a good job to reinforce the idea that racism and hate are alive and well in this country.
I asked my cousin - who could be better described as my brother - his thoughts on the situation. He was bothered, mostly by the commentary on police (his brother-in-law, who happens to also be my cousin/brother, is a detective). He felt it was an unfair portrayal of all police. When I asked if he felt disrespected, personally, he couldn't care less.
And that's when I was finally able to put my finger on what was really bothering me from this whole situation: faux-patriotism.
As an American, we all have the right to complain about things. I do it all the time. However, some of us (especially on the right) like to call out others for not acting like a true American patriot. We do it for a host of reasons, but it seems to me the primary reason is to silence those who disagree with us. This really bothers me, as I feel that as a conservative, I am often called a racist and a bigot for the same reason (for the record, I am neither a racist or a bigot).
So, here's my plea. If you're a vet and feel disrespected by Kaepernick's words, then you have every right to feel that way and I think everyone would agree that you have the right to feel that way. However, if you're an armchair patriot who feels he disrespected our veterans, then get your ass off the couch and put your money where your mouth is. Do something besides standing for the National Anthem to show your patriotism. What can you do? Well, let me give you a few places to start.
Nearly 50,000 veterans are homeless. That is 10% of the entire homeless population in this country. No person should be homeless, especially those that have offered their own lives as sacrifice for the protection of our country. You can help end veteran homelessness by donating or volunteering with local veteran advocate groups. For instance, Lubbock has the Veterans Resource Coordination group. This organization helps homeless vets find a place to live, a job, and any physical or mental health services they may need. Any donation you make to a similar group in your community will surely help someone.
Another way you can help is by becoming an informal advocate for veterans in your community. Be a voice for those who have a hard time speaking for themselves. Let community leaders now that more attention needs to be given to veterans issues.
Perhaps the most important thing you can do, however, is to help end veteran suicide. The veteran suicide rate in the United States is almost 50% higher than other groups. Veterans who commit suicide often need help that they cannot find, either because they don't know where to look or because our Veteran's Affairs system is incredibly inefficient (that's another blog post). There are a host of groups that are working to end veteran suicide. One that I am a fan of is called 22Kill. The organization promotes the "battle buddy" system in civilian life. This puts veterans with their civilian brothers and sisters who will advocate on their behalf. There are other groups that work to end veteran suicide, including the National Alliance to End Veteran Suicide, Mission 22, Stop Soldier Suicide and Active Heroes, among others.
There are other ways to help that I haven't mentioned. In all honesty, there are just too many groups to name, all of which would appreciate donations of treasure and time. One of the simplest ways you can help, however, may be to just talk to a vet. If you know a man or woman who served, let them know that if they ever need anything, even if it's just an ear, you will be there. If you see a homeless veteran, offer him or her whatever you can. Share a meal with them. Listen to their story. Perhaps you will think of a way to help them if you do. Just make the effort.
So there you have it. You may feel that Collin Kaepernick's actions are disrespectful toward veterans. But if you only sit on the couch and complain about him - if you don't take action to honor and support those who have sacrificed for your freedoms - are you really any different? Stop saying you are a patriot - prove that you are.