The Digital Press at the University of North Dakota is excited to present a timely sneak peek of forthcoming title, Protesting on Bended Knee edited by Eric Burin of the University of North Dakota. This book will feature a diverse group of 30 authors writing on the history, politics, ethics, and social impact of Colin Kaepernick’s kneeling protests.
In his expansive introduction, Burin reflects on the critical turning points in the saga of Colin Kaepernick’s national anthem protests: There was Kaepernick’s initial decision in August 2016 to sit and then kneel during the anthem. A little over a year later, in September 2017, President Donald Trump railed against the protesters, and thereby dramatically changed the story’s trajectory. The ensuing tumult led to another important episode: A November 2017 agreement in principle between the NFL, team owners, and the Players Coalition (a group that represents some, but not all, of the player demonstrators) to devote $89 million to social justice and community improvement initiatives.
Now, in May 2018, it appears that the tale has arrived at another pivotal moment: On Wednesday, the NFL and team owners announced a new national anthem policy in which players and personnel will be permitted to remain in the locker room during the anthem, but if they are on the field, they “shall stand and show respect for the flag and the anthem.” Any contrary action will result in the NFL fining the protester’s team, and the team, in turn, “may develop its own work rules, consistent with the above principles” for addressing such protesters.
In light of these developments, we’ve decided to give our readers a “sneak peek,” one of the thirty essays that will appear in Protesting on Bended Knee, Mark Stephen Jendrysik’s “Endgames,” a timely mediation on why “the fight for recognition and respect can have no end.”
Mark Stephen Jendrysik
“What are you rebelling against?”
“What have you got?”
Protesters are often asked, what is your final goal? What is your endgame? What do you want? The answer quite often and quite properly is, we don’t know because we don’t yet fully understand the extent of the repression we are suffering under. We are still learning. As we learn more about the conditions of our oppression we discover that more changes must be made.
So many things in our culture work against protest. Protest and protesters are devalued and made to seem ungrateful or irrational. After all, “we passed those laws now those people should be satisfied.” Reactions to any civil rights movement in the United States show a desire on the part of the privileged and powerful to establish an end point beyond which demands are illegitimate.
When you entertain the idea of an “endgame” a final stopping point to political protest, you are buying into an idea which has a lot of currency and power; that is the idea that we can find a final resting place for political dispute. That we will eventually come to a final and universally acceptable conclusion which will appeal to everyone. This idea goes back a long time. A desire for “still time,” a “Nunc stans” an endpoint, is part and parcel of human political interaction. This mind-set reflects a deep-seated desire to end political dispute once and for all. Of course, this is impossible. But the Aristotelian idea of a telos, or the Christian idea of an end to all things, or the simple desire to pretend that problems lie the past (“why you gotta keep bringing up old shit?”), all combine to make challenges to any existing order, especially one as self-congratulatory as that of the United States, that much more difficult.
We protect ourselves against the fluidity of modernity (the fact that everything changes, the center cannot hold, etc.) with a set of comforting myths. We hold tight to the idea that we can reach a final agreement on contentious issues; that critical questions of rights, of citizenship, of recognition, of respect, can be answered once and for all to the (apparent) satisfaction of all concerned. This belief is foundational to modern conservatism which often claims those final agreements were made fifty, two hundred or two thousand years ago. Whether there ever was a time of universal agreement on such questions is a matter of philosophical debate. But in our times, there can be no doubt that a politics based on the idea of rights is open ended. If the history of politics of modern times and questions of individual liberty central to our politics teaches us anything, it is that there is no final stance, there is no final resting point; there is no last position. In our times, all agreements and decisions are conditional, temporary and contingent. In the end, all positions are subject to renegotiation.
Victories in the fight for human rights are not necessarily forever. Nor are defeats. Nor can the powerful console themselves with the idea that if we simply give the subordinate groups some recognition, some scraps from the table, they will shut up. This is impossible, and yet this demand happens all the time. The question of Kaepernick is a perfect example. The powerful ask, “didn’t we do enough for these people?” As though the recognition of human rights and equality was a gift from some powerful entity and not something people possess based on common humanity and citizenship.
Accepting conflict doesn’t mean agreeing with protestors or accepting their goals. It means recognizing their right to protest. We would be wise to recognize that protest and the fight for recognition and respect can have no end. If we accept the idea that people are equal and “endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,” we will never reach a final moment of total agreement. If we are truly committed to human liberty we will accept the uncertainty and conflict that comes with freedom. To do any less is to betray the very principles of our nation.
Mark Stephen Jendrysik is a professor of Political Science at the University of North Dakota. He has thought, presented, and published on all matters of utopian thought. He is also the author of Explaining the English Revolution: Hobbes and His Contemporaries (Lexington, 2002) and Modern Jeremiahs: Contemporary Visions of American Decline (Rowman and Littlefield, 2008).
 Marlon Brando as Johnny in The Wild One (1953)
 Eternity or eternal existence, especially as an attribute of God, conceived not as infinite temporal duration but as a form of existence not subject to the limitations of time, and hence involving neither change nor succession. Also occasionally in extended use, especially with reference to mystical experience. Attributed to Thomas Hobbes.