You don’t have to vote in America. Nearly half of registered voters didn’t on Tuesday, and that doesn’t count all the eligible ones who never bothered to register in the first place. Apathy – or idiocy – is a constitutionally protected right.
Colin Kaepernick, though, isn’t any old American.
It is disappointing when others don’t bother to get involved in the important collective decision-making of the country (if only to vote on local issues or for small party candidates as a way of honoring those who have sacrificed to provide and protect the right to self-government). It’s worse when someone who has spent so much time demanding everyone pay attention to him on social and political issues comes up empty when it matters.
Kaepernick has spent the past few months demanding that football fans contemplate social injustice, most notably violence by police against African Americans and other people of color, while watching games. He first sat, and then turned to kneeling during the playing of the national anthem prior to San Francisco 49er games. The cause is so important and so desperate, he is saying, that not a moment, let alone a few hours of an NFL game, should go by without thinking about the issue.
He has conducted scores of interviews about it, including after games when he didn’t even play. He has promised to donate money and has done what he could to raise awareness, leaning on his right to self-expression in the face of backlash from others who believe he is disrespecting the flag. In a league that will penalize players for dancing after scoring a touchdown, he has been given wide berth to draw attention to himself pregame. And that’s fine. Again, this is America.
Yet Kaepernick told the Sacramento Bee he
It doesn’t excuse the cop out of not voting, certainly not for Kaepernick.
You are either in or you are out. This wasn’t the media combing the corners of the locker room and then picking on a random player who didn’t vote. This isn’t the singling out of an otherwise anonymous American. Kaepernick has made himself a political figure, and while that doesn’t mean he needs to have an opinion on every single issue, he can’t just bail on an entire election.
When he chooses to not participate in the most basic and essential act of an American it reflects extremely poorly on him, his intellectual curiosity and his credibility going forward on nearly any subject. If he can’t be bothered to vote, then why should anyone listen to him? If he can’t find one initiative or proposal on a ballot to support or oppose, then how deep is he really thinking things through? That’s what he needs to explain.
Just saying Clinton and Trump are equally deplorable isn’t enough. There were plenty of other options at the top of the ticket. Green Party. Libertarian.
How about Gloria La Riva of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, who appeared on the ballot in eight states, including Kaepernick’s California. Is she too racist to deserve a vote? Since the 1970s, the woman has dedicated her life to fighting for poor and minority communities, from economic gain for Central Valley agriculture workers, to equal access to jobs and promotions for black firefighters in San Francisco, to LGBTQ political fights and on and on. Whether you support the solutions that the Socialist Party believes in or not, her dedication can’t be questioned.
Kaepernick has a bully pulpit, and if he threw his support behind La Riva, or any other small party, he could have delivered a massive surge of awareness. No, of course not enough to change the voting total by any considerable margin, but it is still something. If he said he was voting La Riva, you’d have to respect the effort at least.
And if La Riva somehow wasn’t enough for Kap, then he should have found someone to write in. He could’ve voted for himself even.
Kaepernick had made great strides in articulating his message, even if a solution remains nebulous and difficult. Essentially every reasonable person is against police violence … or any violence. What’s the path to the end game?
Maybe you disagree with what he is saying. Maybe you agree. Maybe you don’t care and just want to watch football. Whatever it is, he’s certainly made an impact in getting the issue discussed in non-conventional environments. With this self-inflicted wound, he’s damage a lot of that momentum.
After all, Tuesday wasn’t just about electing a president. The ballot featured elections for offices big and small, national and local. There were also multiple ballot initiatives, including at least three in California that dealt with criminal justice reform – Kaepernick’s own top issue.
None of this mattered to Kaepernick? None of it caused him to study up, speak up, stand up? Nothing?
It’s a challenge to take someone seriously if they claim to be America’s moral reminder on one issue and then come up completely empty on all the others. And conveying a message of non-participation hurts democracy. It’s an act of petulance from someone who most certainly isn’t powerless. Kaepernick is 29 years old, college educated, rich and famous. He is not some teenager. He can act like an adult.
If you’re going to be in the business of demanding everyone listen to you, if you are going to present yourself as a leader for a political cause – any political cause – then you have to play the game, all of it.
You have to vote. Taking another knee wasn’t an option here.