Thursday, May 24, 2018


I have mixed feelings about the national anthem protests that the National Football League is now working to shut down. On the one hand, I unreservedly support efforts to draw attention to police brutality in America. On the other hand, what's happening with the anthem protests is what happened when Occupy Wall Street's encampment in Zuccotti Park continued into the late fall of 2011: Americans stopped talking about what the occupiers were protesting and talked instead about how they were protesting. The authorities tried to shut the occupation down, the occupiers resisted -- and gradually it began to seem as if the occupiers mainly wanted the right to occupy. That's about where we are with the anthem protests. We're talking about the protests themselves. We're not talking about police misconduct.

The Zuccotti Park occupation was forcibly ended, and the Occupy movement was effectively dead after that. But we're still talking about inequality, and Occupy deserves a great deal of credit for that. Government policy on this issue is regressive, with isolated exceptions, but much of the public heard Occupy's message and remains receptive to it.

That's what we have to hope for in the case of the NFL protests. I don't think they've been nearly as effective -- the early days of Occupy got us talking about inequality, whereas the NFL kneelers mostly set off a conversation about kneeling itself -- but if they've helped to draw anyone's attention on police brutality, we have to sustain that focus. That's what's important, not whether this particular form of protest survives.

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