Sitting Tall: Colin Kaepernick, Nonviolent Dissent, and the Meaning of American Patriotism.

Sitting Tall: Colin Kaepernick, Nonviolent Dissent, and the Meaning of American Patriotism.


University of Rochester, Plaque honoring Francis Bellamy, UR, Class of 1876, author of the Pledge of Allegiance [Photo: David Kramer]

Dissent is the highest form of patriotism – Benjamin Franklin


see A World Heritage Site in our Backyard: preserving and profiting from the history, culture, and ecology of the Lower Falls Gorge

You’ve heard from George Payne on numerous occasions, recently in The Spirit of Corn Hill Lives: Photographing Rochester’s Most Historically Diverse Neighborhood

Throughout the year, George has written about and photographed the progress of the Lower Fall Foundation in making the Lower Falls Park and Gorge a World Heritage Site.


New York Times, 9/6/16

George teaches philosophy at Finger Lakes Community College and is the founder of Gandhi Earth Keepers International.

Today — as did President Obama yesterday — George weighs in on Colin Kapernick’s decision not to stand for the national anthem.

Reflecting upon Kapernick’s stance, George looks at the legacy of Susan B. Anthony and George Francis Bellamy (University of Rochester, 1876), author of the Pledge of Allegiance.

see also Passing the torch at the Susan B. Anthony House

Sitting Tall: Colin Kaepernick and the Real Meaning of Patriotism

I may not agree with everything that San Francisco 49er quarterback Colin Kaepernick has done in his NFL career. I did not like the time he wore socks with pigs dressed as police officers. If that was not an outright act of hate speech, it was an act of dehumanization which is beneath him as a citizen. I’m sure he later regretted doing that. San Jose Mercury Story

But the point is, I do not need to agree with Colin Kaepernick in order to appreciate his right to express himself as an American. It was the social philosopher Voltaire who said, “I may not agree with what you say, but I will fight to the death for your right to say it.”

Freedom of speech is the cornerstone of any vibrant democracy. Without the right to express grievances against one’s government, especially in a nonviolent and civil manner, political control moves dramatically to the right in the form of oligarchy, autocracy, and even dictatorship.

Whether you agree with him or not, he does believe that police brutality is a problem that needs to be addressed. Those who say that Kaepernick does not have the right to articulate his grievances using nonviolent means, are, in essence, suggesting that what our forefathers and foremothers went to war over was useless. For as I understand the American Revolution, the colonial patriots did not fight to defend the customs and traditions of their nation. There was no nation. Instead, they fought for the right to be represented as equal human beings.
Mr. Kaepernick was not offending the legacy of those who went to war for our American independence; on the contrary, he was making use of his inalienable rights to be a free and independent citizen-what it was all about in the first place.

Photo by George Payne


Letter-to-the-Editor, City, September 21 – 27, 2016

Recently I was listening to a sports radio show out of Buffalo. The host was talking about how Buffalo is considered to be one of the most racist cities in America. Disagreeing with this assessment,he referenced the many African American quarterbacks that the Buffalo Bills have drafted or acquired over the years. To make matters worse, a caller then chimed in about an incident at a Bills game which he will never forget. To summarize the call, this man and his friend were in the bleachers during the playing of the national anthem. He went on to say, “a 250 lbs African American male was sitting down in the row below us. My friend, who was a Vietnam veteran, leaned over and said:”hey buddy, get up. Do you think you are in Russia or something?”

Although I get the sentiment, I wonder if this man could possibly know how absurd he sounds. First and foremost, if the man sitting down in front of him lived in an autocratic society like the Russia of that era, he would not even have the choice to sit down. Conformity was obligatory. To resist the State protocol was to risk your life. The fact that he has the right to sit down is what supposedly distinguishes an open and free society from an autocracy. Why take that right away by accusing him of being a conformist?

Like the friend of the caller in Buffalo, my father also fought in Viet Nam; but he sees this matter a bit differently. My dad told me that he served for Kaepernick’s right to protest. He did not fight to make protesting an un-American activity. In other words, my dad did not fight so that his sacrifice could be viewed as more sacred than the rights of citizens to be free. What makes soldiering a sacrifice- besides the toll it takes on one’s body, mind, soul and nuclear family- is the willingness to let go of egotistical desires. Citizens do not sing the national anthem to celebrate soldiers. Soldiers enlist and serve so that national anthems can be sung. There are many different ways to sing our anthem. Some of them are with words and instruments, while some happen by just sitting down.

Colin 2

Colin Kaepernick (Stock image)

This event has caused me to recollect those days in high school when I felt forced to say the “Pledge of Allegiance” before classes. It became a daily drag to recite the pledge, but to refuse to do so was too much work. There were days when I would mumble through it, and other days when I would quit before it ended. To be honest, I probably even got away with not saying it every once in a while. But most of the time I just went along with the crowd. The social pressure to conform was immense.

When I moved to Rochester in 2000 to attend St. John Fisher College, I was surprised to learn that the author of the “Pledge of Allegiance” was a student at the University of Rochester in the Class of 1876.



Photo by George Payne

What the plaque at the University of Rochester will not tell you about Francis Bellamy, is that he was a Baptist minister’s son from upstate New York. Educated in public schools, he distinguished himself in oratory at the University of Rochester before following his father to the pulpit, preaching at churches in New York and Boston. He was restive in the ministry and, in 1891, accepted a job from one of his Boston congregants, Daniel S. Ford, principal owner and editor of the Youth’s Companion, a family magazine with half a million subscribers.

According to a substantive article in the illustrious Smithsonian:

United States v. Susan B. Anthony was a criminal trial in the federal courts. The government charged her with the crime of voting without “the legal right to vote in said election district”—she, in the words of the indictment, “being then and there a person of the female sex.” Her trial revealed the complexity of federalism in the post-Civil War years. She was convicted in federal court under federal law for violating state law about who was eligible to vote. New York state law prohibited women from voting, and a recent federal law provided for the criminal prosecution of anyone who voted in congressional elections “without having a lawful right to vote.”

Learn more at the Federal Judicial Center Website


Photo by George Payne

What Kaepernick and Anthony both have in common is a love for country that goes beyond blind obedience to national rites and customs.The type of patriotism which these individuals expressed is the type which makes more enemies than friends. It is not for cowards.

To break an unjust law using the tactic of civil nonviolent resistance is an American virtue. Likewise, to sit down during an anthem which does not represent your core values is courageous. The latter act may not be against the law, but it is against the grain, which can be equally dangerous. Both acts would have made Francis Scot Key proud. When Key wrote the words,” O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave, ” he was glorifying the reality of freedom in the lives of people who are willing and brave enough to be free. The symbol of the flag is not what Key was glorifying. That would be an act of fetishism which makes an inanimate object more important than the intrinsic rights of human beings flying it. Moreover, an anthem can also become a symbol of sheepish allegiance to a false idol. If it is not performed by free citizens who have the right to remain silent, it is just a song.

National Anthem Lyrics

O! say can you see, by the dawn’s early light,
What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming,
Whose broad stripes and bright stars through the perilous fight,
O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?
And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,
Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there;
O! say does that star-spangled banner yet wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

On the shore dimly seen through the mists of the deep,
Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes,
What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep,
As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?
Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam,
In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:
‘Tis the star-spangled banner, O! long may it wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

And where is that band who so vauntingly swore
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion,
A home and a country, should leave us no more?
Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps’ pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:
And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave,
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

O! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation.
Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n rescued land
Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation!
Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,
And this be our motto: ‘In God is our trust.
And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


A lone man refusing to do the Nazi salute 1936. from Used by the Nazis, euphemisms are alive and well today

see also

Passing the torch at the Susan B. Anthony House

About The Author

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History and a Storyteller in Residence at the SmallMatters Institute. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, the CITY, Lake Affect Magazine and Brighton Connections. My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.


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