You Either Have Freedom, Or You Don’t.

Last weekend I made myself a really nice grass fed steak dinner and then sat down with a bottle of wine to watch a movie. I would normally do this with my partner Eric, but since he was working on Saturday I resorted back to a ritual coined in HBO’s Sex and The City as “secret single behavior.” This is a practice you perform over and over again when no one is around, and cooking myself a really nice dinner is one of those things I love doing… even when alone. I was really in the mood for the something British, as I often am, and while scrolling through NetFlix I discovered a film called “The Duchess.” Starring Keira Knightly, this movie chronicles the marriage of Georgiana Cavendish, Duchess of Devonshire, to her husband William Cavendish, the 5th Duke of Devonshire. Early in the film, the Duchess states during a dinner party “One is either free or one is not, the concept of freedom is an absolute.” This in response to a statement made by one of the Duke’s guests. It got me thinking… and it’s still working its magic on me days later.

Who would have thought a movie inspired by Georgiana Cavendish would have such an impact on me?

Some time ago, a young NFL football played named Colin Kaepernick, decided he would make a statement during the playing of the national anthem by kneeling, instead of standing, as is the custom. According to Mr. Kaepernick, he was doing so to bring attention to the blatant mistreatment of African Americans by police officers across the United States. Talk about causing a stir… we’re still angry and debating how this should be handled, indeed the President himself took a very vocal stand, calling anyone that took a knee during the anthem “sons of bitches” and suggested they be fired immediately. When this issue first presented itself my position was pretty clear… there’s a time and a place for everything and protesting our anthem was extremely disrespectful to the many men and woman that died protecting this country… like my Uncle Joey.

I also questioned the motives of Colin Kaepernick and thought he was probably doing it just for publicity. I was angered when I saw posters for sale on FaceBook comparing him to Rosa Parks, a hard working woman without millions, standing up not to an angry few, but to an entire nation. How dare they insult her memory? As time went by, the issue and scandal continued to grow, so much so that today it’s much bigger than Colin Kaepernick’s actions, it’s about how as a nation we reacted to it. It’s about whether we want to live in a country where we’re penalized, fired or even harmed for speaking up against something we believe in, even when it means speaking out against a symbol of our democracy.

I’m a critical thinker or at least I try to think of myself as one. I take people’s opinion into consideration, weigh the facts and then come to my own conclusion about everything from religion to pizza. I try to be very objective so when this Kaepernick thing created so much attention on the news and social media, I thought at first I was on the right side of the issue. I figured it was a publicity stunt and he was just making waves so he’d get noticed. I was also deeply offended at the idea of anyone disrespecting our nation’s anthem or flag. My Uncle Joey died in World War II fighting for this country and his memory and sacrifice lives on in my heart, even though he was killed three decades before my birth. I’m all for freedom of speech, but this wasn’t that at all, it was just someone trying to make a name for themselves. I think what scared me into realizing what was really happening here was when I noticed the village mob mentality the nation was taking. People were seriously angry and wanting this man to lose his job and career because of something he believed in. They argued that as a member of the NFL, he couldn’t express his personal opinions on their dime or use airtime for his platform. The issue grew and grew and suddenly it was about our rights as American’s to voice our opinions about something, especially when it affected us personally. It wasn’t about kneeling during the anthem, it was about our right to kneel during the anthem. The rights many died for, the rights we’ve fought so hard to preserve.

Yeah it sounds like I just repeated myself but I really didn’t. You see many times when we speak of something or we make a statement, we do so with much emotion and little logic. We have this knee-jerk reaction to go into our own history and past to defend what is being said… our own upbringing, without really thinking of the story itself. I was so angered that anyone would demonstrate against the symbology my uncle died for, I didn’t stop to think that he didn’t die for the flag, or the anthem, he died for what they represented and that’s what everyone seems to be forgetting. Even me. When I was able to breathe, remove myself, take a step back and see the big picture, I realized I was wrong. Big time. I had let emotion get the best of me and left logic on the curb with the meter running.

Watching the Duchess this big light bulb just went off in my head. As Americans we’re blessed with many freedoms, but they’re not supposed to come with conditions. We either have freedom of speech or we don’t. We either have the right to stand up to our government, call them out, or we don’t. The origins of our very nation date back to people wanting these basic rights so badly they abandoned their own land, crossed an ocean and chose to live very far away from everyone, just to live as they believed they should, without the fear of harm, oppression or prosecution. Colin Kaepernick declared in his own way that he desires this kind of life too… not to live in fear, and suddenly he’s become the enemy.

Now, in my head, the entire notion of me not supporting Colin Kaepernick is absurd. This is exactly what Uncle Joey fought for, the right to speak freely even when it’s inconvenient for others to hear it. The right to live a life without fearing the very people sworn to protect us. How dare we turn our backs on this alternate perspective… a man’s disagreement with honoring a flag and the freedom it represents, when so many in our nation aren’t experiencing it? When the very foundation of our democracy is under attack as we speak and those in power continue deny it? Where would they have us draw the line? Should people driving in cars with a flag of another country hanging in the rear-view mirror be arrested? Isn’t that dishonoring our flag? By celebrating another? Should cops be standing by during any playing of the anthem, looking for persons that aren’t standing? What’s the difference between arresting someone for this infraction or ruining their lives by taking their career away? The outcome is the same isn’t it? Regardless of his original intentions, this is not just about Colin Kaepernick, Donald Trump and the NFL, it’s about all of us. It’s about either having freedom or not having it.

The next time I hear the national anthem I will stand with pride as I’ve always done. I will remember the brave men and women that died serving this country, I will remember the sacrifice of those that lived centuries before. I will also stand in pride for the ability as an American to change my mind about standing. I will stand in pride and recognize that it is still a choice and not required for fear of losing my job or my life. The choice that so many around the world still don’t have. The choice that many in this country are trying to take away. I will stand because I desire to do so, not because I’m being forced.

Thank you Duchess and my apologies to Colin Kaepernick.

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