The famous historian Howard Zinn died in 2010, but was an influence to many Americans because of his role in social movements across America. Many people who see themselves as historians try to stay neutral in times of social change, fearing that they will lose their credibility with the public.
Not Howard Zinn, though. He was known for trying to turn the United States into a less militaristic, more equal society, since the Vietnam War. They even made a documentary about Zinn, called “You Can’t Be Neutral On A Moving Train”. He honorably served his country in World War II, led protests against the wars in Vietnam and Iraq. Pair that with his writings and I think that he was one of the most important figures in American history. He changed the way we teach history in our high school and college classrooms by telling the stories of the downtrodden. This form of history is called revisionist history, which was a shift from the orthodox version they taught in classes to promote nationalism.
I'm writing this piece because Zinn always had an opinion on what is going on in America, and 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick act of kneeling for social justice reminded me of one of Zinn's most famous quotes. "If patriotism were defined, not as blind obedience to government, not as submissive worship to flags and anthems, but rather as love of one's country, one's fellow citizens (all over the world), as loyalty to the principles of justice and democracy, then patriotism would require us to disobey our government, when it violated those principles." We, as a country, have to look at what patriotism actually means.
In America being patriotic should be defined by serving your country. Not just in the military, but through voting, going beyond the ballot box and demanding accountability of our government — by being an active citizen. Longtime ESPN analyst, Stephen A. Smith, recently reported that "until 2009, no NFL player stood for the national anthem because players actually stayed in the locker room as the Anthem played." Smith continues, "the players were moved to the field during the national anthem because it was seen as a marketing strategy to make the athletes look more patriotic. The United States Department of Defense paid the National Football League $5.4 million between 2011 and 2014, and the National Guard $6.7 million between 2013 and 2015 to stage on-field patriotic ceremonies as part of military recruitment budget-line items."
That, to me, is just damning — trying to feed us this false idea of patriotism. The pundits keep saying that Kaepernick is the one trying to divide us up in creating a race war, but it is the defense contractors who are working to separate us through, not patriotism, but nationalism. The founding fathers would be ashamed of people being neutral in times of change, becoming neutral in the public eye is degrading to our free speech and system of democracy. The American Revolution was not sparked only by politicians who thought they could fix all of the problems; it was started by farmers, merchants, shoemakers, dockworkers, and many other working class people saying enough is enough. I truly believe in my heart, and I think in Zinn's heart, that the only act you could possibly do to be "Un-American" is to swear your allegiance to another country.
Other than that, what is "Un-Americanism?" How do you define it? We are the most diverse nation in the world, as we are filled with different cultures. Our identity should be based on our diversity and equal opportunity for all. Connecting this event to the current election giving it the attention it deserves from our public officials is essential to our democracy, when keeping in mind a quote from Zinn. He states, "sure, one of the presidential candidates is better than the other. But we will go a long way from spectator democracy to real democracy when we understand that the future of this country doesn't depend on who is our next president. It depends on whether the American citizen, fed up with the buying off of our Congress and president by the billionaires; fed up with the murderous greed of our healthcare system and the pharmaceutical companies; fed up with the planetary self-destructive path of our energy, auto, lumber, agribusiness and chemical companies; will organize all over the country a clamor for change even greater than the labor uprisings of the '30s or the black rebellion of the '60s and shake this country out of old paths and falsehood into new paths and the truth."
Kaepernick in his actions has awakened the population to problems that must be solved. In the quest for a "more perfect union," he puts his money where his mouth is. But it needs not to be the wealthy and powerful in society who speak up, but droves of average working people that are not afraid to speak out. If we can tend to that for every issue in this country, we will recreate a literal meaning of patriotism to one's country, which is not nationalism that people think patriotism is today.