Why I don’t stand for the pledge

Why I don't stand for the pledge

Kyle Comito

The American flag which hangs in the corner of Pascack Valley's "new" gymnasium.

By Jamie Ryu, Pascack Valley High School

Editor’s Note: The opinions presented in this article are not necessarily that of The Smoke Signal or its staff. To be consistent with prior opinion articles, this disclaimer was added after the fact for both clarity and transparency.

I stand with Colin Kaepernick. I stand with Brandon Marshall. I stand with Jeremy Lane and Arian Foster and Martellus Bennett and all the others. We stand by sitting, kneeling, and raising our fists.

I stopped standing for the pledge in my sophomore year of high school in the wake of the death of Freddie Grey. When people ask, I say that I am sitting in protest. Recently, San Francisco 49er’s quarterback Colin Kaepernick has been in the news and has been heavily criticized for doing the same, albeit with the national anthem. His protest has caused a wave of other NFL players to follow suit, bringing national attention to something I have done for almost two years now.

For a long time, I thought nothing of the pledge. Every morning, kids have to stand, take off their hats, place their hands over their chests, and repeat the all too familiar phrases. It was ingrained from a very young age. It was just the thing to do.

Over the years, I’ve grown disenchanted with the state of our country, especially when it comes to the way it handles many social issues. I’ve learned things outside of school that have me questioning what I’ve learned in school. I read— really read—the pledge and realized what it actually said.
And I realized that the values it preaches are not the values that are reflected in our society. People may bash the internet, but it has given me this: the chance to form my own opinions based on a myriad of sources.

To clarify, I have a great respect for this country. I am not protesting the people who have died or survived—or who currently are—serving this country. I am not protesting the military. As Colin Kaepernick said, “They fight for liberty and justice, for everyone. That’s not happening. People are dying in vain because this country isn’t holding their end of the bargain up, as far as giving freedom and justice, liberty to everybody.”

And, again to be clear, this is not to take away from this country or any of its accomplishments. I simply don’t have the undying, unwavering support for this country that some people seem to have. My respect comes with a healthy dose of criticism. I support this country, but at the same time, I criticize its actions heavily and wonder if it is taking the right steps to protect its citizens and grant equal rights to every resident, and I say that including people who are not citizens.

And in the aftermath of the deaths of Freddie Grey and Eric Garner and Michael Brown, I simply could not stomach the thought of standing in respect for a country that seems to not respect its citizens. I wanted systemic change and I still do. And that’s why I sit.
Sitting is my way of taking a stand for something that I feel is wrong. Yes, America is a better country than most on the planet and yes, my sitting for the pledge does nothing to solve the problems I have with this country. But my sitting is akin to my standing as an ally with those who are the mostly deeply affected by heavy injustices that minorities face in this country.

I sit because nothing has been done about police brutality towards black Americans. I sit because people are insisting on denying people access to bathrooms that correspond with their genders. I sit because the pledge includes the phrase “under God” and I am an atheist. I sit because there are still restrictions on gay men donating blood. I sit because the prison system disproportionately affects the poor. I sit because there are people in this country who do not have the “liberty and justice” that the pledge promises.

And I’m not the only student to have done this. There was a Supreme Court case in 1943, West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette, that established a student’s right to refuse to stand for the pledge.

So I support Colin Kaepernick in his choice to sit for the national anthem. I think he and all the others who have not stood for the pledge have a type of courage that I do not possess. They have used their platforms to stand for what they believe in and have exposed themselves to criticism nationwide. There are people who are calling for these men to be shot. I was reluctant to write this purely because of that backlash that I know it will cause. But what kind of protester would I be if I didn’t take the opportunity to speak out about an issue that is important to me?

You can feel however you want to feel, both about my actions and theirs, but I urge you to take a look around you, and notice the water that you have been swimming in all your life. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who has to fear walking down the street. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who is oppressed or bullied or ridiculed because of the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes. Ask yourself if you’re perfectly content with a country that allows, and in many cases legitimizes, prejudice.

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