“Love It or Leave It”: Protecting the Powerful and Oppressing Dissent

by JOHN COLE / The Times Tribune, Scranton (via CagleCartoons.com 2016)

A few days ago I found myself falling down the rabbit hole that is Twitter and a very right wing Tweet hit my timeline. It was from a pretty good friend I’ve known for sometime. I knew him to be somewhat on the libertarian spectrum of politics, but this tweet just kinda set me off. The tweet read, “If you don’t like a gym, you can leave it. If you don’t like America, you can leave it. Now how is this racist?”

This statement was wrong on so many levels, but I’ve heard this sentiment before. Distorting your disdain for a differing opinion, with an anti American sentiment. We see it all the time, most recently with the 4 Progressive Congresswomen the President. Going against the grain of the nativist rhetoric that floods the airwaves of mainstream media can be easily thwarted by telling someone if they don’t like the maltreatment, the injustice, the violations of civil liberties that the can just “leave”. It also is usually spewed in a way that’s easily palatable for the masses to consume. Make it relatable, oversimplified and it’s a dissent crushing argument for the right. In this case, I found it delusional to equate a sovereign nation with a private enterprise. Two extremely different things, so the argument is, a false equivalency. Also, to answer the later question in the tweet, “is this racist?”, when you’re using this statement in a context where you’re protecting a racist system, racist policies, actions, then yeah…it’s probably racist.

This version of the “Love it or Leave It” paradigm is pretty simple to explain away with some simple logic. You’re not born in a gym…I’m sure one can be, and it would probably be a real rare situation…but that child is not a citizen of Gymlandia. Going to a gym is a choice one can make, what country you’re born in isn’t. Asking someone to up and leave, sometimes the only place they’ve ever known, uproot them from family, just because they have a difference of opinion, or they’re looking for some sort of social equity is literally the most Un-American thing you can say. Remember that whole freedom of speech thing that some of the flag waving people love shouting about when some racist right wing hack gets banned from a private social media platform (a la Twitter/Facebook)? Ann Coulter, Alex Jones, Ben Shapiro, and their ilk have made careers whining about how so called SJW’sare oppressing their freedom of speech. Well, that freedom works both ways.

America is a nation that has grown leaps and bounds from it’s inception. The collective push back to injustice is part of the growth of this nation and ingrained in the spirit of the people. The Emancipation of slaves didn’t come without a fight. The end to child labor didn’t just happen because capitalists thought they were being inhumane and wanted to do “the right thing”. The end of Jim Crow segregation in the south didn’t come to be because the United States government had an epiphany that “Hey, maybe this King guy is right and ..All men are created equal“. No, the progress we see comes from movements. Disruptive to the status quo and necessary for the evolvement of the nation. Unemployment benefits, the 40 hour work week, Social Security benefits, these things may seem commonplace to some, but they didn’t come because of the good will of politicians and capitalists. There was no technocratic leader that had a plan to cure the ills of a nation in depression. Socialist movements, worker unions helped to make these things a reality. Workers had to unite, black people had to boycott and march, but these movements produced some societal change. There is nothing more truer to the American ideal than the radical resolve that pushes us to rise up against an autocratic, oligarch elite, in a pursuit for freedom and equality. If this is the sweet land of liberty, then the disenfranchised minority must have a voice. And in that voice, you will hear the sound of justice.

The history of “Love it or Leave it” has it’s roots in the McCarthy era anti communist witch hunts of the early 50’s. A movement to eliminate socialist leanings in American politics, and “protect democracy” was actually antithetical to it’s initial goal. Quite fascistic were the trials, it was more a war on dissent then it was a project to protect our “freedom”. For many Americans of that Cold War era, the image of the patriot was formed during those trials, as was the idea of the anti-American dissenter. People didn’t have to be truly “guilty” of anything other than having socialist/communist leanings. Anyone truly fighting for any kind of egalitarian policy prescriptions were deemed enemies of the state.

No situation exemplifies this dichotomy better than the case of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick and his ouster from the league because of his peaceful protest of police killings of black people.

Kaepernick, a 2nd round draft pick by the San Francisco 49ers, had a whirlwind of a career. He started out the #2 man on the roster, was propelled into the starting role due to the injury of incumbent Alex Smith, and took the team to within one play of orchestrating maybe one of the greatest come from behind wins in Super Bowl history. The glory for Kaepernick would be short lived. Coaching changes, some lackluster play sent Kap to the bench and some spot play here and there. With his diminished role at the position, people wondered if his time was soon up in San Francisco.

In 2016, motivated by the senseless killings of Travon Martin, Tamir Rice, etc. Kap decided he wasn’t going to stand for the National Anthem. He quietly sat. There was no raising of a fist, no loud speech, just sitting on the bench while the other plays stood in silence. Some with hands on hearts, some just standing, waiting for anthem to end so they could unleash their rage on the field. There was really nothing controversial in this benign gesture. When asked after the game why he wasn’t standing, he explained,

“I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. 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. …

This is not something that I am going to run by anybody. I am not looking for approval. I have to stand up for people that are oppressed. … If they take football away, my endorsements from me, I know that I stood up for what is right.

So that statement seems pretty cut and dry. He was asked why was sitting during the national anthem and he had a very clear cut concise answer. You would think…

The backlash to Kaepernick and peaceful display of dissent was quick and furious. The narrative was quickly changed from a man protesting the government sponsored murder of it’s black citizens to, hating the military and the flag. It sounds preposterous, but that is USUALLY the narrative in these situations. Hippies protest the war, Black Panthers protest unjust conditions of the Urban Black community, Martin Luther King marches for Black citizens to be treated with civility and have the same rights as our white counterparts. Every time a movement is born to call out these injustices, the cry of Un-American and communist follow suit. It seemed like there was a never ending pounding of this narrative in sports media with the Kaepernick protests. Ex-players were even chiming in, commenting on their love of country, love of military, and love of the flag. Kaepernick’s original reasons for his protest, ostensibly, police violence in black and brown communities, was silenced by the deafening beat of nativist empire loving flag worship rhetoric.

This is what the crushing of dissent, and movements for that matter, looks like. Calling a peaceful protest against police violence an, anti-American, communist/socialist act (see how socialism gets constantly mentioned as antithetical to the United States). Maybe there is nothing more American than protecting capitalism with slanderous patriotic language. Kaepernick was no longer a beacon of awareness to the vile actions of police violence. He now has, in the eyes of the mainstream media, devolved into an image of an anti-patriotic spoiled athlete that sows the seeds of division that threatens the star spangled fabric of America. An untouchable pariah to the league that made him a household name, and millions of dollars. In an attempt to salvage his reputation, to prove he wasn’t the staunch flag hating, military espousing enemy of the state that he was portrayed as, Kaepernick met with green beret Nate Boyer. A veteran, now retired from service Boyer decided, after hours of talking with Kaepernick (and fellow NFL’er Eric Reid) that kneeling was more respectful of the fallen U.S. soldiers. Respectfully, and thoughtfully, Kaepernick then kneeled. The mischaracterized hate against him in the conservative mainstream media continued and even seemed amplified with this now compromised protest of obedience. Soon, the NFL, now overran with the kneeling black players would silently ban the protest by telling players, “Hey, if you guys don’t want stand, just wait in the locker room until the anthem is done… it’s all good bro”

The kneeling trend was soon no longer en vogue and was over, as was Kaepernick. The NFL colluded to silence his stance against police brutality by keeping him without a job. As quarterback injuries pilled up, and quality play at the position was needed, Kaepernick was denied the opportunity to show his skills that once electrified the sport.

This collusion hasn’t stopped Kaepernick’s righteous rebellious spirit at at all. The longer he’s been forced out of the game, the louder his actions in civil rights have become. He’s literally put his money where his mouth ( and for all intents and pun purposes his knees is) is. He’s donated over a million dollars to various charities. He speaks out in solidarity to any mistreatments of the people at the hands of governmental violence.

Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck has surprised the sporting world by retiring at what many feel is the prime time of his career. Kaepernick is still working out. Fine tuning his game waiting for the call, the opportunity to play the sport he loves. I’m hoping he gets a shot. There’s nothing that more embodies the American spirit, than Colin Kaepernick, his persistence to follow his passion for his love of the game, and his quest for the justice of the voiceless.

So as when you come across the “Love it or Leave it” rhetoric vomited up by right wing pundits on mainstream news media, or our president’s twitter feed, or even from your mildly right wing friends on social media, remember it’s role in the gaslighting of dissenting discourse.

I scream/sing play guitar in Bitter Lake and host the This is Revolution Podcast. Oakland, CA born, Richmond raised. Words and thoughts from the Lower Bottoms.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store