Essay: Don’t speak for veterans, taking a knee is not about them

Renee Pineda, a junior majoring in political science, is a Hatchet columnist.

I don’t watch that much football. I understand the rules, but it’s just not my cup of tea. My state doesn’t have a big football team, unless you count the Lincoln Cornhuskers at the University of Nebraska, and my dad will only occasionally put on a NFL or college game. But because he’s from California, he is a devoted 49ers fan. And that’s where the former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick comes in.

Before one of the games last August, Kaepernick decided to silently sit during the national anthem. He knelt at the next game after a conversation with Nate Boyer, a Green Beret and former NFL player. Kaepernick’s actions from more than a year ago are still making an impact today with more NFL players now taking a knee during the anthem. But instead of the nationwide conversation focusing on the reason why the kneeling began – claiming oppression of people of color in America – the attention has landed on the flag and the national anthem, and what that means for the millions of people who live in the United States.

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The mere action of kneeling at a sporting event while the anthem plays and the flag is displayed has caused an outcry in the name of U.S. veterans. The belief is that those who kneel are disrespecting the men and women who have fought and are currently fighting in the U.S. armed forces.

I understand the respect the military commands. I spent the first 18 years of my life in a military town. My dad is an Air Force veteran who has served in Southwest Asia, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. My dad still works on-base as a civilian. I live mere minutes from Offutt Air Force Base in Bellevue, Neb., and I used to live on the base as a child. A large portion of my graduating high school class came from military families and some transferred schools several times due to their parent’s career, which is vastly different compared to many students that I’ve met on GW’s campus.

Both of my parents immigrated to the U.S. in the late 1990s from the Philippines. My dad went to California and my mother went to Tennessee. My dad enlisted in the Air Force after getting naturalized. My mother came to the U.S. on a work visa as a physical therapist and she was eventually naturalized and able to call herself a true American. My parents later moved to Nebraska where they met, got married and had two daughters.

My direct experience with the military has instilled a great respect in me for the people who have chosen to protect this country through service. But using veterans as a tool against protesting is illogical. Kneeling has never been about the U.S. armed forces and it doesn’t make sense to make it about them now. Those who have chosen to be a part of the military do not share one mind. Their ideals and political standings will be as diverse as the nation they serve. And for veterans who have passed, it’s impossible to know exactly what they would’ve thought about a football player who has silently protested against police brutality and racial oppression, and for freedom of speech.

Calling attention to the problems within a country – like racial profiling and police brutality – isn’t un-American or anti-military. We wouldn’t be where we are today without protesting. Protests and marches have been, and continue to be, an integral part of the progress of the American people throughout the mere centuries that the country has existed. From the Boston Tea Party to the March on Washington and the Dakota Access Pipeline, using our voices and demanding change is the American way.

Although many people stay true to the belief that protesting is free speech and should be protected, those who are against kneeling often ask why the protest must occur during the anthem while the flag is presented. Protests and marches will not work if they don’t grab attention. The method of each protest will never be accepted by everyone, but that isn’t the purpose.

The popular and unintelligent response to protests is that “if you’re not happy with the country, then leave.” A country would be stunted and abysmal if the only people who lived there were all content with the cards they had been dealt and the liberties the state allows.

My mother has been a practicing physical therapist for more than 20 years. Every two years she is required to take a test and submit paperwork to make sure she is still qualified to practice. She has always passed. But this year was different. The Department of Health and Human Services required my mother to prove that she is, in fact, a citizen. While she was able to provide all the information necessary, she was curious as to why, after 20 years of practicing, they were now asking for proof of citizenship. The department claimed that it was part of a new system. But for the other physical therapists that my mom works with, their citizenship was not questioned.

The military service that my dad voluntarily signed up for – going overseas and leaving his family – did little to stop his wife from having to prove that she’s a citizen, while her colleagues were not asked. My dad’s military service doesn’t stop the fact that he and his family will always be seen as “foreign.”

I encourage students to listen to veteran students’ thoughts instead of imposing one’s own on them. But remember, this protest isn’t about their service. Kneeling isn’t about the veterans. It never was. It’s about the injustice that people in America endure, in pursuit of their own version of the American Dream.

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