A lot of Trinbagonians, and maybe some Caribbean folks in general, most likely looked at the story of Colin Kaepernick and rolled their eyes. Oh, look, another rich kid joining the Social Justice Bandwagon, some of you are saying, who cares. Well, I do. And you should too, I think. Not necessarily because Kaepernick’s one-man protest is the epitome of thoughtful politics or anything like that, but because his experience can stand as a beginner’s course for the average activist or advocate, no matter where they are or what they do.
For those who don’t know, Colin Kaepernick, quarterback for the San Francisco 49ers, chose not to stand for the USA national anthem. Yep, that’s it. But, for most of America, that’s a big deal. And maybe rightly so – I mean, this is the country where a lot of folks think it may even be illegal not to stand at attention for the anthem. After the initial backlash to his one-man protest a week ago, he’s done it again alongside fellow 49er Eric Reid.
If you’ve ever thought about making a message resonate like Kaepernick’s did, here are five things you can learn from this;
- Even simple acts have weight. If you didn’t get it yet, this entire bacchanal is about a football player who sat down while the national anthem played. He’s no ISIS. The news cycle should return to its normal panic button pressing, right? Wrong. It’s okay if you keep your act simple but memorable within its context. In fact, it’s better when you do. Disruptive doesn’t always mean ’causes traffic’.
- Get your story straight. A lot of folks tend to think that they’re making a statement, when in fact they’re making noise. Colin Kaepernick, on the other hand, knew what he was going to say, and said that without getting drawn into someone else’s agenda. He made a simple act of what seemed like civil disobedience connect to a larger issue – extrajudicial killings by American police officers – without fumbling once (which, I imagine, is good form for a quarterback). But for that to happen, you have to think about what you’re going to say even before you do anything at all.
- There will be consequences… If it were easy, everyone would be protesting. In fact, even if everyone were protesting, it would be so much harder for your voice to stand out. Even with this simple action, folks are calling out Colin Kaepernick left and right. Folks are burning his merchandise, for Pete’s sake. And, if the public backlash gets worse, his job as a professional sportsman might be on the line. It might seem from where you stand that he has it easy. Truth is, everyone has something to lose. And if that’s what you’re concerned about, then this activism stuff might not be for you…
- …But those who see value in the work will come to your aid. Like Eric Reid, who knelt alongside him in his most recent act of defiance, and even military veterans (against the backdrop of folks saying Kaepernick’s actions disrespects veterans who fought for the nation that the anthem represents). I’ll be honest with you – depending on the issue, the support might not be a lot and might not be immediate, but there are folks who will be energized and appreciative of your bravery.
- Anywhere can be a platform. Colin Kaepernick is not a politician. Malala Yousafzai is just a 19-year-old girl. Not everyone needs to be Martin Luther King Jr. or Harvey Milk. You just need to care enough to stand up and speak out wherever you are, and to stick to it until at least one other person listens. My first act of activism was an argument with my grandfather about how he spoke about LGBT people, and that was long before I ever ended up talking about the same issues in front of anyone else. And, while it certainly didn’t change his mind, it did let folks know where I stood (or in Kaepernick’s case, sat). And that’s enough.
Deciding to speak out against what you view as unjust isn’t going to be as easy as you’d like, but it’s certainly not as difficult as you think. Pull up a friend for their accidentally sexist comments. Let your work colleagues know that LGBT people are people to. Tell your mother that ‘retard’ is no longer an acceptable word. Speak out. Speak out. Speak out. And remember, that every time you do, it has an impact that you even thought you could have.
Just ask that one black woman who sat in a bus. Or that guy who used nonviolent resistance to fight for India’s independence. Or that one guy who sat during an anthem.