Symbolic Speech

Colin Kaepernick warms up on the field.

Taking A Knee: The Protests Spread

It started with Colin Kaepernick, a quarterback who played for the San Francisco 49ers in 2016. To protest what he saw as oppression of people of color, he refused to stand for the National Anthem before his NFL games. His symbolic expression of dissent spread to other players and continued into the 2017 season, exploding into fiery controversy when President Donald Trump urged the NFL and its owners to fire players who refused to honor the National Anthem. The practice of taking a knee even spread to high school football players. Does the First Amendment protect the players when they refuse to stand for the National Anthem? And how does taking a knee fit into America’s history of political protest? We provide historical perspective in From Liberty Tree to Taking a Knee: America’s Founding Era Sheds Light on the NFL Controversy.

December 13, 2017 Below the Fold, Speech, Symbolic Speech
A liberty tree with effigies.

From Liberty Tree to Taking a Knee: America’s Founding Era Sheds Light on the NFL Controversy

Symbolic speech as a form of protest, like taking a knee at a football game while others stand for the National Anthem, enjoys a long history in America. It’s been a powerful form of political expression going back to the protests in the colonies in the 1760s against British oppression. Various forms of symbolic expression—liberty trees, liberty poles, effigies of hated politicians, even the use of the number 45—brought multitudes into the political sphere and was critical in building opposition to British rule. Much of this symbolic expression was controversial and even offensive but a powerful form of protest then and now.

November 5, 2017 Assembly, Below the Fold, Speech, Symbolic Speech