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Kneeling during the national anthem reaches a local level

Debate sparks after students kneel during national anthem

Annelise Bowser, Copy Editor

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As social injustice pushes the polarization of political parties and the continued demand for change from citizens across the country, the act of kneeling during the national anthem has sparked intense debate at every level of organization, from the White House to high school clubs.

During the weeks leading up to the homecoming assembly, STAR (Students and Teachers Against Racism) Club planned to lead their teachers and peers in kneeling while the men’s ensemble sang the Star Spangled Banner. STAR Club knelt in protest of acts of racial injustice and as a show support and solidarity for marginalized minority groups in America who don’t receive the same opportunities and freedoms that privileged classes often take for granted.

 

Taryn Coe is a language arts teacher and advisor to STAR Club and kneeled during the national anthem at the homecoming assembly.

Taryn Coe, language arts teacher.

Why did you kneel, personally?

So for me it was not an easy decision, it was something that I had to think really carefully about. I’ve never not stood before. And my grandfather was a pilot in WWII, and I was really close to him growing up, and whenever I do stand, I always think about what he fought for and what he sacrificed and those ideals, and so I feel like I am paying respect when I stand, but because of what’s happened in our country with regard to race, especially in the past couple of years, and

Charles Hesse, Taryn Coe’s grandfather, taken during his service as a pilot in World War II. (Photo Courtesy of Taryn Coe)

looking at the leadership of people like Colin Kaepernick and Michael Bennet, I felt like maybe my standing is somehow saying that I accept the way that racism exists in our country right now, and I felt like we’ve come to a point where to be silent about these issues is the wrong thing to do. So, for me, when I decided to kneel, I knew I would still be thinking about my grandfather and I’d be thinking about what the flag represents, but I’d also be thinking a lot more carefully and a lot more critically about who is not enjoying the freedoms in our country that our flag is supposed to represent and who is not receiving liberty and justice the way that they’re supposed to and so when I ended up kneeling I felt really patriotic, I felt really intentional, and it’s never been a more meaningful experience for me, listening to the anthem and thinking about my I’m doing what I’m doing and what’s important in our country.

 

What would you say to people who who view kneeling as disrespectful?

I have a number of friends and family members actually who view kneeling as disrespectful, and when I talk with them, I try to get them to think about why people who are kneeling are doing it. I haven’t met a single person yet who’s taken a knee who’s said that they disrespect the military or that they disrespect our country, and I also know a number of people who seem to stand up and not think about what they’re doing, they just do it because other people are doing it and it’s sort of what they’ve always done, they’re not being intentional about it, and so when people tell me it’s disrespectful, I try to challenge them to think about why do they think that. I’m not always successful, but I think that sometimes if people are willing to listen enough and hear from the other side, they see that kneeling is a form of respect. I mean when Colin Kaepernick and Erin Reed for example decided to do that, they consulted with Nate Boyer, who’s a former NFL player and also a former green beret, and they specifically asked him how they could do this is a way that was respectful to the military and when I was taking a knee and I had my had on my heart and I was looking at the flag, I felt incredibly respectful, and so I think that if people are willing to kind of look beyond just what they’ve always done or what they’ve always been told is respectful, and look at the deeper meaning behind the taking of a knee, then I think maybe they’ll be able to see that it’s really a very respectful, form of protest yes, but I mean protest is very American and I think one of the most respectful things you can do in our country is to peacefully protest.

 

Because kneeling can be very easily viewed as disrespectful by people like my dad who view the flag as representative of the sacrifices veterans make, do you believe that intent or impact is more important in this situation?

In general I feel that impact is more important, and I think that one of the things that STAR Club tried to do, when we first started thinking about whether we would take a knee or not, the impact was at the forefront of our mind, how would this be perceived, and what would people feel about it, and so that’s why we wanted to be really intentional about putting the statement out there, we wanted people to know, prior to that, is the reason we were doing it was because we believe really strongly in racial justice and I also feel that because of the lines in the sand that our president has drawn, that kneeling now is different from how it would have been even two months ago. So when you have the president coming out and basically implying that they don’t have the right to protest, I think that’s really concerning and so in addition to thinking about the impact on someone who’s a military veteran, or just anyone who feels that it is a disrespectful act, I also want to be thinking about, well what’s the impact everyday on the lives of people of color who are being told in so many different ways “your voice doesn’t matter, your lives don’t matter,” and I guess at a certain point, you have to be willing to take the risk that your intent will be misperceived and maybe the impact won’t be exactly what you wanted, but I feel like it would have been a worse impact to not take a stand or to not protest in this way. But I also want to say thank you to your dad for his service and I also completely understand where he’s coming from, and he makes a really valid point, and I hope that he’ll at least continue to be open to the conversation, but I know people feel differently about it, and I was really proud of the students in this instance because there were people in our club who didn’t want to kneel, and there was no pressure for anyone to do it if they didn’t want to, we felt really unified in the cause for what we were doing, but it was really special that everyone was able to express that in a different way, whether it was kneeling or standing. And I think one of the biggest things that I hope comes out of this is that people just think about why they’re doing what they’re doing, because I see so many people just standing, and they don’t know why they’re standing, and I think having these conversations about what it means to be a patriot, what does that truly mean, I think those conversations can only be beneficial in the long run.

 

How did you feel as you knelt?

I was kind of blown away by how powerful it was because like I said, the anthem has always been special to me because of my grandfather, so I feel like I’ve been pretty intentional about it and I am always thinking about the military and sacrifices and what our country’s ideals are, but I’ve never thought that clearly and that intentionally and in a way that was that focused as when I did when, I mean, hand on heart, looking at the flag and just thinking ‘this is what it means to be an American” and, so, I didn’t look around the gym the entire time so I didn’t know who was kneeling or what the impact was, but I felt an energy and a unity in the room, so I agree with Skala it was a very powerful experience, I thought it was a beautiful experience, and I’m really proud to have been a part of it.

 

Is there anything else you want to talk about on this issue?

I’ve had some really good conversations with staff and students, some of whom disagree with what we did and I just hope that we continue those conversations like that’s what I would most like to see come out of this is that people are talking about issues of race and justice. I think there’s a temptation at a school like Ballard that’s predominantly white, upper middle class, to sort of see these issues as someone else’s problem, but I feel like we’re at a point in time where that’s not a valid excuse. It’s all hands on deck, everyone needs to be involved in this, and we don’t necessarily need to see eye-to-eye, but we have to be willing to talk with each other and try to solve some of these problems.

 

Colin Bowser is a veteran who served in the U.S. Navy for 21 years, and his military experience has led him to oppose kneeling during the national anthem.

 

Why are you against kneeling during the national anthem?

Colin Bowser stands in front of the P-3C Orion at the Naval Weapons Test Squadron stationed at Point Mugu Naval Air Station, CA. (Photo courtesy of Bowser family)

“For a couple reasons. I think the first is that it uses disrespect in a way that brings the issue of lack of respect, for all races, colors and creeds and so on, in a counterproductive way. In other words, if the question that was brought up earlier was society doesn’t show enough respect in the way of proper policing and fair judgement to all races, if that’s the original complaint and the original problem, then showing disrespect by kneeling during the national anthem seems counterproductive to the overall point of trying to instill the need for society to respect black people or whatever minority is in question. That to me is one of the fundamental reasons. The other is that it compromises the idea of dissent and of public protest against something and takes that to too much of an extreme. I think you can show great dissent and you can show protest and you can show dissatisfaction with our government, which is a fundamental part of our society, without throwing out everything, and I think that we lower ourselves when we do that.”

 

What do you think about other forms of protest, like staying in the locker room or holding hands, during the national anthem?

“I think holding hands as a team while standing is a great way to show both respect for the country and respect for that moment in which the anthem is being played while showing unity as a team. I think it’s very symbolic and a nice gesture  I don’t like the idea of staying in the locker room during the national anthem.”

 

How did you experience in the military shape your perspective?

“I was in the navy for 21 years and that automatically instills in you respect for your country and and for the people in your country and for the values that we’re supposed to stand for. And it also brings you very close to the whole slice of society in the country from which the military draws from, all races, creeds, colors, men and women, national origins, social economic factors, upbringings, heritage, the whole array of people that make up the country. You are exposed to those and it gives you a broad sense of what it means to be an American. And that makes you I think have even more respect for the country and as importantly for the people who make up the country. And so when you grow up in that environment professionally you’re instilled a pretty deep respect for your country and for the people who wear that uniform and our flag is a part of that uniform. Trashing the several items of respect that  we choose to show our country is demeaning to that to me. And so those two things kind of exist in parallel, the idea of protest and public dissatisfaction and the need for people to correct the wrongs that exist in the country, which there are obviously many, are very important and that’s right out there in front of our eyes everyday and yet at the same time we could do that in a manner that still shows special respect to our country which itself is a very special thing and when you travel overseas and when you work overseas you see how unique and special our country really is, it drives home that point even more.”

 

What do you want students in particular to be aware of in regards to this movement?

“I don’t know if they understand the scope of what they’re doing. The magnitude of what you do when you kneel during the anthem goes far beyond that one individual’s actions.

There are, I imagine hundreds or thousands of disabled veterans who can no longer stand during the anthem or place their hand over their heart who probably wish they really could. And every person who makes the shortsighted decision to refuse to show that kind of simple act of respect denounces those who made the sacrifice that those kids are able to base their disrespect on.”

 

Can you tell more about the idea of intent versus impact?

“There’s a difference between what a person intends to do and what their actions actually display. I think what people were trying to say is if a person intends to show protest or show outrage or show dissatisfaction with something but their actions convey something well above and beyond that, and even in a manner that is inappropriate or disrespectful or mean, outside of that original intent then they’ve effectively diminished their voice. They’ve ruined their means of protest because their message, which originally was good and valid and something worth talking about and acting on, was then drowned out by the manner in which they chose to express that intent. That’s what I wanted them to know was the protest and the outrage around inequity and unfairness is utterly valid and completely justified but when you choose a manner of expressing that that itself is disrespectful and demeaning then you’ve ruined your message.”

 

What does it mean to be an American to you?

“I think it just means to be a citizen of a very special place with responsibilities and privileges that have come through sacrifice and hard work and risk.”

 

How do you think  President Trump’s recent involvement and comments have shaped and changed this movement?

“Unfortunately I think like with a lot of things President Trump has demeaned and damaged what would’ve been a hard conversation to begin with and I think in his typical way he’s made it worse.

I think there’s an element of celebrity following to all this too, without trying to take away from Colin Kaepernick’s personal views, I think if an ordinary person had tried to express dissent in such a way the public probably would not have followed it. So the idea that it took a celebrity or a public figure to make such a gesture and then bring in such involvement is kind of sad, that we ordinary people in our own dialogue didn’t generate such a ground swell of conversation about that.”

 

What do you think is a better form of protest to express these issues?

“To vote. To vote and to be involved in your community in a civil way and to protest in the ways that are well known to people to protest. To live your life in a way that shows respect and decency towards people and I think to try and cultivate your own community relations.”

 

What do you see as a way for this issue to be resolved nationally? What path do you see towards empathy on both sides?

“I think raising the standard of policing, communities and their police forces to get more involved with each other. We’re lucky to live in a progressive place like Seattle where those kinds of attitudes are hopefully easier to spread than other parts of the country, but at the same time I don’t think we should consider ourselves so special that were above the basic decency of people getting to know each other in their community.  I think the other thing is the fundamental story of understanding how did that individual get into that situation with the police in the first place. The act of violence or the terrible circumstances that follow a fatal police encounter are simply the last step in what was probably a much longer process, and breaking that chain of events that led to that final act is probably the fundamental thing to do.”

 

Is there anything else you’d like to add?

“I think my children and I got into it pretty well at the dinner table, and each of them were very passionate about their ideas and I was too and I think I wanted them to understand that we can disagree and we can just simply not see eye to eye and that’d be okay. But we have to remain close as a family and we have to remain close as a country. And I tried to use that parallel with them, is that even if we disagree on an issue like kneeling, we have to realize what is important beyond the initial argument that we’re having and you could extend that to the argument the country has right now.”

 

Disclaimer: Colin Bowser is staff member Annelise Bowser’s father

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Kneeling during the national anthem reaches a local level