Political strategist and host of Reality Check on WURD Radio recently tweeted some thoughts on Colin Kaepernick and the #TakeAKnee movement seen catching fire across the NFL this weekend. Out of a series of hard hitting statements that struck right to the core of what it means to take a stand in this nation, it was the following tweet that summarized his main call to action:
9. Kneeling by itself is not political engagement. we’re duping a generation of our young ppl into believing that’s the height of engagement
Ellison is absolutely right.
There’s a difference between political engagement and optical resistance. And not understanding that difference is what has kept the resistance from being able to counter white supremacy in any meaningful way.
That’s not to say that sustained direct action and media mobilization is not important — it is. But if there is no goal beyond publicity and moral satisfaction, there will be no justice.
Sure, history will not soon forget Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the statement within the still hallowed line: “Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.”
As inspiring today as they were when they were spoken in 1863, the moral high ground of abolition alone did not put an end to slavery. The 1.25 million lives lost (5% of the population) during the Civil War did not end slavery as an institution in the United States, either.
Slavery ended because of the 13thAmendment which reads: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”
And yes, Martin Luther King, Jr. absolutely rewrote the pages of history when he stood at the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963, delivered his I Have a Dream speech and sang: “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed — we hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal.”
But it wasn’t the domination of the moral mountaintops that secured his call to “rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice.”
It took the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to ensure:
“All persons shall be entitled to the full and equal enjoyment of the goods, services, facilities, and privileges, advantages, and accommodations of any place of public accommodation, as defined in this section, without discrimination or segregation on the ground of race, color, religion, or national origin.”
And there is absolutely no doubt that the Selma to Montgomery Marches facilitated a social and political context that pushed the Voting Rights Movement forward. But it was not the death, the violence or the media attention that provided federal protections against efforts to disenfranchise voters of color — it was the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which reads:
“No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.”
Political progress is not about occupying the moral high ground and creating moments of popular public solidarity. It’s about using that visibility and political momentum to make dramatic shifts in the political structures that institutionalize racism in the United States.
It’s about policy.
You can have a dream, you can march that march, you can even wage that war — but if there is no policy to institutionalize those actions, injustice will continue. If these laws are not enforced, white power will continue to grow stronger socially, politically, economically, institutionally, and militarily.
Taking a knee is a fine sign of pubic solidarity, but that’s all it is. It’s just another made for twitter hashtag moment that gives people the feels, but leaves white supremacy completely intact.
Until this show of solidarity is connected to federal policy, it will be nothing more than another publicity stunt. Nothing more than another media feeding ground. Nothing more than a successful attempt by Donald Trump and the Republican Party to redirect the resistance into moral showdown while they move without effort down the political field.
When Colin Kaepernick originally took a knee, it was in protest of police brutality. With no connection to a demand in policy, though, the conversation quickly became about the morality or expressing political dissent during the national anthem. Locked in a go-no-where, white-led moral debate — the momentum generated when Kaepernick took a knee fizzled before it could be translated into a federal policy that holds police civilly and criminally accountable for the murder of innocent black civilians.
(For suggestions on potential political demands, click here.)
The refusal of a number of teams to stand on the field during the national anthem, the league-wide knees taken by black players and the locked arms taken by white players and others in solidarity can be even a more powerful display if it pushes past optics and starts pushing efforts to make larger political plays through policy demands.
The Strategic Institute of Intersectional Policy (SIIP) believes that we cannot end police brutality or white supremacy in any form unless we end the Republican Party’s illegal occupation of all three branches of government. The first opportunity to reset the balance is scheduled to occur next year during the mid-term elections. To be able to pass the federal policies needed to end police brutality, remove Congressmen and the President from office, restore the lost rights and programs dismantled by Trump’s neo-Confederacy and enforce the rights we have earned through both Civil Wars and Civil Rights Movements over generations of time — we must retake Congress. The only way to retake Congress is to successfully counter the strategy used to take it in the first place — voter suppression.
SIIP is calling for enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and the Equal Protections Clause in the federal courts to re-enfranchise the tens of millions of black, brown, poor, and disabled voters that were successfully denied their right to vote in the 2016 elections. By ending the practices of voter purging, voter id restrictions, polling closures, ADA violations and felony disenfranchisement — we can use the tools given to us through the efforts of the Civil War, the Civil Rights Movement, and the Voting Rights Movement to secure our vote, take back Congress and begin the process of dismantling the GOP, the Trump administration, and their white power movement immediately. (To learn more about the #WeAllVote2018 campaign, click here.)
Whether taking a knee against police brutality, white supremacy, or the Trump Administration, though, the moral high ground and a media campaign aren’t enough to contain or counter the progress of white supremacy. It takes sustained direct action and the successful passage and enforcement policy to win this war.
Until we start seeing shifts in federal policy, we’re going to be kneeling for a long time.
**For more information on the Strategic Institute for Intersectional Policy, click here.**
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