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Image from Whistler Writers Festival

Mr. President,

Protest is one of the cornerstones of this great nation. Did you know that’s what the American Revolution was all about? A protest and uprising of people against injustice by their government. Protest is what this nation is founded on, and those people who signed the Declaration of Independence are revered today. They were rebels in their times.

If you read letter number 514 this week, you read another response to your denigration of people who protest during the national anthem. You say they’re disrespecting the flag. I looked carefully at flags last week. There is a can of Miller Light dressed in a flag on a billboard near my home. There were beach towels, replicas of the American flag, full of sand, hanging out the back of a car at the beach. How about the stars and stripes swimwear, speedos with the flag. I saw a bandana of the American flag on a motorcyclist’s head, where a helmet probably should have been. Are these displays and products respecting the flag? Not in my opinion. And yet no one is complaining about wearing the American flag in your crotch as being disrespectful or anti-American.

Let me recommend a poetry book I found at my local public library that addresses protest in many unique and heartfelt ways: Of Poetry and Protest: from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin, edited and compiled by Philip Cushway and Michael Warr. W.W. Norton, Co, 2016.

What a magnificent book in content and presentation. It is dedicated “To all those who have died because of the color of their skin.” This book is a rich collection of history and poetry, expressed in the words of some great American poets. Take a look at “History Lessons” by Yusef Komunyakaa and learn about lynchings.

Rita Dove, former U.S. Poet Laureate and winner of the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, writes of Rosa Parks in her poem, “The Enactment.”

In “The Identity Repairman,” Thomas Sayers Ellis follows the words African American 

“Before I was born

I absorbed struggle

Just looking

at history hurts.”

There are poems by Kwame Dawes, Camille Dungy, Tracy Smith, Patricia Smith, Terrance Hayes. Poems about Fannie Lou Hamer, the Detroit riots of 1967, Malcolm X.

We can learn a lot from this book, including some things we might wish not to know, like “The Talk: How Parents Raising Black Boys Try to Keep Their Sons Safe” by Jeannine Amber.  In “New Rules of the Road,” Reginal Harris writes about racial profiling and how to behave when stopped by the police.

I encourage you to read this book, cover to cover. Perhaps you will notice a theme. Perhaps you will be moved to tears by the words, the emotion. Maybe you will understand why athletes of color may feel compelled to take a knee during the national anthem. Perhaps their voices are not so dissimilar from those of Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Paine.

In the words of poet Amiri Baraka, “As long as the oppressed tell their true story it will carry the edge of protest.”

Let’s listen.



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