Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances. - First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America
The right of all American citizens to petition their government for a redress of grievances is a tremendous right that has not always been respected evenly. This past week we saw the President of the United States, who should be the greatest champion and guarantor of this right, suggest that the business owners of teams in the National Football League should fire any, and I quote, "son of a bitch" on their teams who should choose to exercise their First Amendment rights.
The grievance, in this case, is the dismal manner in which African-Americans are being treated in this country. Colin Kaepernick expressed his protest as follows (via nfl.com):
"I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," Kaepernick told NFL Media in an exclusive interview after the game. "To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."
Kaepernick's concern is focused, quite clearly, on the the constant drumbeat of African-Americans (typically young, typically male) being murdered by out of control cops and the almost universal failure of the government to hold those cops accountable for their crimes.
But the President's speech galvanized mass action this past weekend. Entire football teams linked arms in solidarity. Droves of players knelt for the anthem. Entire teams did not exit their locker room for the anthem (did you know this "tradition" of players standing for the anthem dates way back to...2009?) as an apparent compromise on the protest, but unity against Trump's assault on their freedom of expression.
We scientists do not have a clean record on the treatment of the powerless in this country and around the world. Just a few weeks ago Nature stepped in a pile by publishing an Editorial that said we should respect the accomplishments of a slavery-era physician who performed a lot of painful experiments on enslaved women without the benefit of the then-state-of-the-art anesthesia. You know about the Tuskeegee experiment. You've followed the story of HeLa cells.
Professor Melissa Bates has suggested that we take a knee.
So, on Tuesday I invite you to stand, or take a knee, with me in solidarity with the citizens of our country that are bravely exercising their right to challenge their government. I’ve been using the hashtag #ScientistsTakeAKnee on Twitter (h/t @sciencing_bi) to organize the conversation. Whether you’re alone, or with a group, I encourage you to stop for a while on Tuesday and to take a knee. You can take a picture and post it to Twitter or other social media.
As she does, I love the ideals of this country. I am particularly enamored of the way we have constantly used our rights to petition our government to redress our grievances in an attempt to move forward. To progress. To make things better for more and more of our fellow citizens.
I believe that our business, that of scientific discovery, is one of the most progressive, positive and forward thinking things that we can possibly do as a society. I love the fact that our fellow taxpayers back this with their own hard cash money each and every year. And I also love the fact that this gives us, the scientists employed by those taxpayers, a special responsibility to act accordingly. Progressively.
So I will be taking the knee tomorrow. At noon. Very likely in front of my workplace where there is a sign proudly identifying our lovely institution.
I invite you to join us. Wherever you like, wherever you feel comfortable. Take a selfie, take a group shot or just quietly take a second by yourself in private.
Think about all of those kids who have been shot. Think about your fellow citizens that most certainly will continue to be shot by the cops without anything resembling penalty for the criminals. Think about how science may not be doing enough for all of us.
Take A Knee.