On Aug. 26, 2016, San Fransisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick declined to stand for the national anthem. Whether he wanted to or not, he started a movement.
“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color,” Kaepernick told NFL Media. “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.”
In the very next game, other players joined Kaepernick’s protest. Some from the opposing team. By week three, there was a long list of NFL players from franchises across the country who had demonstrated or voiced their support.
Recently, another individual decided to join the cause: U.S. Navy Intelligence Specialist 2nd Class Janaye Ervin.
Ervin explained her actions in a Facebook post that is now going viral.
“On Sept. 19, 2016, while in uniform, I made the conscious decision to not stand for the Star Spangled Banner because I feel like a hypocrite, singing about “land of the free” when, I know that only applies to some Americans,” Ervin wrote.
Ervin is the second member of the U.S. military to publicly participate in the national anthem protest. And the act has already become extremely controversial.
The first was Lt. Commander Kate Meadows, also a Navy sailor, who posted a video on Facebook of her sitting on a bench through the morning colors ceremony.
Considering the fact that people were up in arms over a football player protesting the national anthem, members of the military joining in are bound to push some buttons.
In fact, Kate Meadows has reportedly faced disciplinary action and the Navy published guidelines warning their members not to join in. Ervin says she’s lost security clearance and has been threatened with jail time.
A quick look at a comments section online also reveals the expected level of outrage over a member of the military refusing to stand for the anthem of the country they serve.
On the surface, it’s understandable. Not paying tribute to your country’s flag or anthem does seem unpatriotic.
And we do kind of expect our military to be dripping with the most unwavering patriotism. After all, they’re the ones who go out and fight every day for our freedom to protest in the first place.
But there’s something much bigger going on here.
One of the Navy’s mottos is “Non sibi sed patriae,” meaning “not for self, but country.”
Refusing to stand for the national anthem isn’t about Colin Kaepernick, and it’s not about Kate Meadows or Janaye Ervin or anyone else. It’s about the country. It’s about giving a voice to the millions who feel that theirs has been silenced or ignored.
It’s about recognizing a systemic injustice in a country that claims to be the land of the free and acknowledging that we can do a better job at living up to that promise.
In a way, it’s the most brave and patriotic thing you can do.