I take back almost every nice thing I wrote about 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick earlier this year while defending him from national ridicule.
The young man from Turlock became a polarizing figure by refusing to stand for the national anthem before 49ers games to protest police brutality. President-elect Donald Trump, then the Republican presidential nominee, led a chorus of Kaepernick critics suggesting the NFL player should leave the country. Death threats even came Kaepernick’s way, and his Twitter feed was filled with N-word slurs.
I backed Kaepernick’s constitutional right of free speech and his nonviolent protest because we need to remain vigilant about how the police applies use-of-force tactics. Too many officer-involved shootings have raised too many questions.
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But Kaepernick’s credibility was almost completely destroyed on Tuesday after The Sacramento Bee’s Alexei Koseff reported Kaepernick has never registered to vote in any election since becoming eligible in 2005.
As Koseff reported: “Kaepernick raised eyebrows last week when he revealed that he did not vote in the presidential election amid a football season in which his protest of racial inequality gained national attention.”
Kaepernick insinuated to reporters that he didn’t vote last week because he didn’t like any of the choices. It turns out that excuse was intellectually dishonest. Koseff checked Kaepernick’s voting record and what he found provided a sense of clarity that is the hallmark of good journalism.
It seems that Kaepernick – a young man of mixed race – could not be bothered to participate in a voting cycle that included the election of the first black U.S. president. As a California resident, Kaepernick also couldn’t be bothered to cast votes on the death penalty, marijuana legalization, school funding and several other important issues.
“I said from the beginning I was against oppression, I was against the system of oppression,” Kaepernick said last week when it was first revealed that he did not vote. “I’m not going to show support for that system. And to me, the oppressor isn’t going to allow you to vote your way out of your oppression.”
With those misguided words, Kaepernick illustrated why Trump is president-elect of the United States while thousands of people protest that fact and many others remain horrified by the idea of Trump in the Oval Office. Roughly 47 percent of registered voters in America didn’t participate in the 2016 presidential election.
Hold that thought and consider that the post-election analysis of Trump’s win largely has focused on working-class voters carrying him to critical electoral victories in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin. It’s an interesting assertion, but one that should include certain caveats.
For example, national exit polls showed that the overall pool of working-class voters with incomes under $30,000 voted for Trump’s opponent, Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton. Working-class voters who made less than $50,000 also went with Clinton, but by a small margin. Trump then beat Clinton in several income groups of families earning $50,000 or more.
It’s fascinating that a relatively small number of working-class white voters in three states – many of whom voted for Barack Obama four years ago – went for Trump this time and swung the Electoral College vote his way. “Had about 100,000 of these voters across the three states voted for (Clinton) instead of Trump, she would be president-elect now,” wrote Eric Sasson in the New Republic.
But while the white working-class narrative is full of disclaimers, it can be said without qualification that nonvoters had a profound impact on the election.
Exit polls also showed that Trump’s voter turnout basically equaled the voter turnout of Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republic presidential nominee. Clinton looks to have fallen roughly 5 million votes shy of Obama’s totals, and her turnout lagged among African Americans, Latinos and young people.
Throughout the campaign, critics debated a lack of enthusiasm for both candidates, but that conversation now has switched to street protests against Trump. There is some evidence that a number of these protesters – many of them young – also did not vote in the election. For example, KGW – a Portland television station – reported Tuesday that most of the 112 protesters arrested last week didn’t vote in Oregon.
Kevin Grigsby, who was arrested on Saturday, told KGW: “I did not (vote) and the reason why is because we know that the Electoral College is really what matters the most. And I think that we need to change that because your vote doesn’t matter if you don’t have enough Electoral College points.”
Do you know what words come to mind to describe those who raise their voices after first refusing to use their voices? Misguided. Self-defeating. Uninformed. Ignorant. They describe any and all who decry an American political system they refused to participate in.
Susan B. Anthony and other early 20th-century women suffered physical attacks, incarceration and cultural condemnation while fighting for the right for women to vote.
Kaepernick either doesn’t know or doesn’t care about the brave souls who marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965, while Alabama state troopers attacked them for seeking voting rights. Civil rights activist Jimmie Lee Jackson was killed in one of these marches. Other protesters were brutally beaten. That year, the Voting Rights Act was signed into law.
“No longer would the states be able to invent clever new ways to suppress the vote,” wrote the New York Times, of legal voting protections for disenfranchised communities. President Lyndon Johnson called it “one of the most monumental laws in the entire history of American freedom.”
In 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court rolled back a key protection, allowing states with a history of discrimination to change voting laws without federal approval.
The fight for civil rights is not over, yet some young people who have benefited from those rights, earned through sweat and blood by their ancestors, choose not to defend those rights by voting.
“There’s more than one way to create change,” Kaepernick told The Bee’s Matt Barrows later on Tuesday. Sure, but the most important way to bring change is by voting.
Kaepernick’s platform, after projecting righteous protest for months, is now a symbol for what is wrong in our political system. Through his fame, he is setting a bad example to young people everywhere. He mouths ignorant words justifying apathy in a voting system in which there are clearly consequences when people don’t vote. If you don’t believe there are consequences, just wait and watch in the coming months of Trump’s presidency.
Because Kaepernick has promoted the misguided notion of nonvoting as righteous, he is undoing the good he did by bringing attention to racial injustices and questionable police methods. He doesn’t seem like a bad person. He gives money to charity. He works with young people. But by holding himself apart from our political process, he helps to demean it.
Not voting isn’t smart or righteous. It’s the opposite. It says you don’t care about ideals that people died to protect. Sorry, Kaepernick. If you want our democracy to function properly, you can’t take a knee.