The songs Proud to be an American and America the Beautiful were being played on a loop, ad nauseum. The Swansea Police had closed the roads leading to the event at least a quarter mile in every direction, forcing people to walk or bike in. Despite the complete lack of traffic, a bike cop was gruffly telling people to stay on the sidewalks and angry that people were laughing at him. TV news crews from Providence and Boston were tripping over each other to cover the event. There were almost as many cops and media people present as there were protesters.
“We are all here for one reason and one reason only. Love of our country, love of our veterans. We want our country’s National Anthem respected, we want our veterans respected by everyone,” said protest organizer Mark T Shane of Swansea, wearing a tee shirt emblazoned with the words, Massachusetts Invented America.
Maybe Shane was right. Maybe this protest wasn’t about racism and Trump. Maybe this protest was all about love and respect. But it was also about anger. And burning stuff.
People were eager to burn their Patriots emblazoned hats, tee shirts, jerseys and sweatshirts. As people impatiently waited for the burning to begin, one man simply walked up to the fire and threw his hat into it before anyone could stop him. Other people were throwing stuff over the heads of the media and into the fire. People were so eager to burn their stuff that after the roughly 100 people in attendance recited the Pledge of Allegiance, Shane took the mic and asked, “Please don’t put anything on the fire right now. You’re smoking us out.”
On Sunday, about 20 members of the New England Patriots took a knee during the National Anthem. Star quarterback (and Donald Trump supporter) Tom Brady locked arms with fellow players in support of his kneeling teammate, earning the ire of some fans.
Players began kneeling in reaction to police brutality and the murder of black people by the police, starting with Colin Kaepernick about 13 months ago. Tweets from President Donald Trump, attacking the player protests, caused more players to kneel or link arms in solidarity on Sunday, setting off a national debate rooted in racism and white supremacy.
Taking Shane at his word, his protest was about asking the National Football League (NFL) “to support the National Anthem.”
“Is that so hard, to say, “Respect our National Anthem?'” asked Shane. “It’s not hard. It’s basic respect. Respect for people who have died, who will never come home, who will never leave the hospital. Respect.
“There are ways to protest,” said Shane. “We are a great country. What brings us together is our National Anthem and our flag. It’s for everyone. It’s not for any race, it’s not for any color, any creed. It’s for all of us.”
“Amen!” shouted someone in the crowd.
“Now with that said, I’m hoping all of us can unite, as a country,” said Shane. “Around our flag, around our veterans, but not necessarily around football. Football has to unite around us.”
“Exactly!” shouted a man in the crowd.
“One nation under God!” said a woman.
“We are one nation under God,” agreed Shane, “God, country and family. Football is down on that list and it better remember that. And ‘In God We Trust” is on our dollar bills and you can say anything you want. In God we trust.”
“That’s right,” said a woman.
Shane’s comments about the importance of football, and how to him it ranks below God country and family, reminded me of these words:
“To me, this is bigger than football, and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way,” said Colin Kaepernick. Kaepernick also believes that there are things more important than football: “There are bodies in the street, and people getting paid leave, and getting away with murder.”
“Listen, I love you people for showing,” said Shane, wrapping up. “We’re going to burn some jerseys. But we’re not going to burn a lot. The state fire marshal has asked us to be respectful, I’m probably going to get myself into a little bit of a jam tonight, but it’s worth it…”
Laughter from the crowd.
They all know Shane won’t get into too much trouble for flouting the law.
Here you can watch a man throw his hat into the fire as a Channel 4 news reporter gets in front of my camera.