Kneelers of conscience

MARIAN WRIGHT EDELMAN | 10/8/2017, 9:51 p.m.
Many President Trump observers believe he throws out inflammatory and divisive comments to distract in moments when the news cycle ...

Children’s Defense Fund

Many President Trump observers believe he throws out inflammatory and divisive comments to distract in moments when the news cycle is critical of his erratic, inappropriate and contentious conduct. That appeared to be true last week, when more than 3 million suffering Americans without power or enough food and water in hurricane-devastated Puerto Rico were desperately crying for more federal help. Senate Republicans were busy introducing another callous health care repeal bill to deny millions of Americans life giving health care to widespread criticism, and President Trump was spouting rhetoric that threatened to bring our nation closer to a military confrontation with North Korea’s intemperate leader. As if these crises were not enough distraction, President Trump chose to pick a loud, unpresidential fight urging football players who chose to kneel during the national anthem in nonviolent protest be fired. His blatant and sad attempts to pit us against each other as Americans should shame us all.

It did not take long to recognize that the specter of President Trump in Alabama standing before a boisterous, largely White crowd condemning a predominantly Black group of citizens for a peaceful method of nonviolent protest against injustice was chillingly familiar. Rev. Bernice King, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s daughter, was one of many who immediately pointed out historical parallels. On Twitter, she shared photos of civil rights leaders kneeling in protest next to a photo of NFL players Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneeling before a game.

It was former Super Bowl quarterback Kaepernick who made the first quiet, courageous and moving decision of conscience last year to kneel during the national anthem, written by a White pro-slavery supporter. He was personally and nonviolently protesting against a string of indefensible police-related killings of Black men and the pervasive racial and social injustices evident all across our nation. Reid and then others joined in the peaceful and prayerful gestures of conscience that triggered President Trump’s vulgar and utterly unpresidential outburst. Along with photos of her father, Bernice King commented, “People didn’t approve of the way my father protested injustice either; said he was causing trouble, called him an ‘outside agitator.”

Veteran Congressman and courageous civil rights icon John Lewis shared his photo kneeling with fellow protesters outside a segregated Illinois pool in 1961, captioning it, “The young people kneeling today are following a long tradition.”

Former Attorney General Eric Holder was among others who shared a photo and message about Dr. King, “Taking a knee is not without precedent Mr. President. Those who dare to protest have helped bring positive change.”

As one of many, many hundreds of thousands of people who protested, marched, sat and – yes – knelt and went to jail like Dr. King and John Lewis during the Civil Rights Movement, I know this is true. I applaud athletes using their visible public platform to protest racial injustice and carry on a morally courageous legacy so needed today in our nation and world. Americans standing up or kneeling down to insist our nation live up to her founding creed of liberty and justice for all are standing on the shoulders of moral giants throughout America’s history.