Of the 231,556,662 eligible voters in Tuesday’s pivotal election, 25.6% voted for Hillary Clinton, while 25.5% opted for Donald Trump. Among the sobering 46.9% who neglected to exhibit their Constitutional right to vote was social activist Colin Kaepernick.
What a huge miss as both an American and potential change agent.
Kaepernick is the familiar leader of a deeply passionate movement, one with a giant microscope its figurehead has duly embraced. Police brutality against blacks is the issue that catapulted Kaepernick to regularly embed a knee on the ground during our nation’s anthem. But his gutsy, historic protests have grown in prominence beyond the initial gesture. As athletes in the NFL and beyond have followed suit. Kaepernick has become a worldwide role model, albeit a controversial one, for exhibiting his democratic right to protest as granted by the United States Constitution. Freedom of speech. Freedom of expression. Because we are a free people, we don’t automatically interpret Kaepernick’s protest as disrespecting the military and lock him up; we are forced to accept that the American flag conjures up different sentiments for different people. We are forced to examine our own assumptions. We are forced to never forget about the foundation of our democracy.
At the root of our freedom is the right to vote. It is the very basic but important act that our ancestors fought for, and unrelated heroes risked their lives to help ensure that thankfully all American citizens would be included in the process. It is the nucleus of our democracy and the fundamental way we affect change. As an American, Kaepernick has the right to make his own choices, but to be the figurehead of such a serious, cultural movement and not vote in one of the most critical elections of our lifetime is baffling at best and deeply disturbing at worst.
Think of the messaging. I attended a bar mitzvah just this past weekend and the impressionable 13-year-old boy invoked Kaepernick in his speech. By openly fighting for the oppressed to gain respect and equality, Kaepernick is now this young boy’s role model. Now imagine if this 13-year-old was an 18-year-old who opted to stay home on Tuesday because that’s what his role model did.
Kaepernick has his reasons for not voting, making it clear that he heavily disapproved of both Presidential candidates. "Both are proven liars and it almost seems like they're trying to debate who's less racist,” he told USA Today in September.
Even if he’s right, the beauty of America is that an individual’s decision-making process comes with many choices. That’s why there are third party candidates, and if none of them appeal, there’s a write-in option. Kaepernick could have voted for Jim Harbaugh, Judge Judy or Mickey Mouse if he wanted. The point is that everyone has a voice.
Kaepernick lacks any legitimate excuse not to vote. He is not protesting the electoral-college system or voter fraud or the fact that Presidential elections occur in even-numbered years. Had the system of the voting process been his root cause, then a taking a knee here would have been more understandable, but it is far from it. What is more disturbing is that Kaepernick neglected to make choices in a state of California that was chockfull of races beyond the presidency. Besides the obvious Congressional battles, there were measures on the ballot that fall within the periphery of his core societal concerns. For example, voters passed Prop 63 which tighten California’s already stringent gun laws, and Prop 64 which legalized pot, while voters rejected Prop 62 which would have repealed the death penalty, while Prop 66, which barely passed, will speed up the process of executions. Did Kaepernick, who has come across as so educated and so impassioned on the complex dichotomy of race relations and law enforcement really not care enough to have his voice be heard Tuesday?
For the virtues of free expression and protest, it is this voice, aggregate across our citizenry, that carries the greatest possibility for real change—for better or for worse. Revolutionaries like Susan B. Anthony and Martin Luther King endured great hardship to ensure access to the polls. For a modern day revolutionary like Kaepernick to eschew that basic responsibility undermines his entire cause.