In 1955, a black woman named Rosa Parks was arrested for not giving up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white person. This simple, defiant act, violating an unjust law, spurred a year of protests that financially damaged a transit company and eventually led to the repeal of the very law she violated. Parks is one of the most powerful symbols of the civil rights movement in part because this one, seemingly inconsequential act contributed to meaningful change.
So patriotic and essential to American history was this act, that she was on the short list of people under consideration for being imprinted on to American currency. It's a well-deserved honor. Peaceful protest is the foundation of progress in our nation. It is fundamental to our heritage. Without it, we would still have slavery, women wouldn't vote, and Catholics would be persecuted for their beliefs. Civil dissent is rarely without cause or a simple symptom of disrespect.
The United States was founded on the principles of freedom and equality. The Declaration of Independence formally began the definition of what we were to be, and got to the point in the second paragraph when it indicated that "all men are created equally." While the intent of the founding fathers was sincere, this has been a work in progress that we have now pursued for more than 200 years. Rosa Parks wasn't the first or last to protest in the name of civil rights. In fact, referring to the "civil rights era" as if it ended feels incorrect.
Patriotism is often associated with serving in the military. This is without question a great reason to be patriotic, but it's only a fraction of what it means to serve this country. To be patriotic also means standing for this core belief in equality. In fact, serving this nation comes in countless forms, sometimes by being a teacher or nurse, a philanthropist or clergy, a parent or foster parent. Believe it or not, even serving in an elected office counts.
The "take a knee" controversy shouldn't be a controversy. Eric Reid shares his intent in his participation last year, while a white Vietnam veteran and Dallas sportscaster lays out the problem, and even Bob Costas gets to the core of what patriotism is. The protest is not against the military, and the military is not the sole source of American patriotism. The protest is making the statement that the America we live in and want to love is not treating a vital part of our population fairly, and change is overdue. Rosa Parks was every bit as much of a patriot.
American greatness is a strange thing. Our history is one of continuous social injustice, but despite this, we've built incredible wealth and the ability to make things. I've long felt that greatness in part comes from self-awareness and a willingness to act on that information. We've gotta start taking this self-awareness seriously. We've regressed the last few years, despite a few notable milestones in the right direction. Caring for each other and speaking up for each other is essential. Empathy is required.