Joining a chorus of public figures speaking out on the issue, today news broke that members of Congress were now pressuring the NFL to change the name of the DC-area football team. The local team is currently known by an expletive that one local media outlet refuses to print saying that the word is a derogatory racial slur.
Despite protestations by the owner of the team that he will never change the name, popular outcry against the current name is growing. I don’t think it will be long before we get a new non-offensive mascot for our football team (I may even become a fan when they do this).
This is not a new issue. When I was in college, I participated in several game day protests to raise awareness among non-native sports fans that mascots based on caricatures of Native Americans are harmful, hurtful and indefensible. These were surprisingly scary public actions to go to. We had beer bottles thrown at us by drunk fans (I was actually was grateful for the chain link fence that the police erected for us!) and I thought this was a campaign that was going to be difficult and long and possibly fruitless (at that point Native American activists had already been trying to get these kinds of sports team names changed for decades with little success).
That’s changing now. I see this as part of the country’s move away from the fear-based reactionary politics of the past couple of decades back towards embracing more hopeful, progressive values.
I came of age as an activist during a very bleak era in U.S. history. But change does happen. Back then I never imagined that by 2014 I’d live in a country whose populace has gradually recognized that war is not the only answer to international problems, has seen significant victories in civil rights for gay (and some for transgendered) people and now pretty soon we won’t have to see kids yelling racial slurs and doing “the tomahawk chop” in the name of team spirit. Even the war on drugs is beginning to crumble (DC’s police chief said District officers are no longer enforcing marijuana laws and the city council just passed a new bill reducing the fines for smoking the herb in public down to the equivalent of a traffic ticket).
When I was a young activist and saw a spoiled, rich, inarticulate, buffoon steal a presidential election in a country that touted democracy as its highest ideal, I turned to older activists for perspective to keep me from getting discouraged and giving up entirely. I read Howard Zinn’s How to be Neutral on a Moving Train and he talked about the early days of protests against the Vietnam war and how small the turnouts were (30 people, even 300 people) and then boom! before long, those protests swelled to thousands all over the country and the anti-war movement was suddenly everywhere.
1.) Even in a corrupt political system governments (and other institutions created by people) can be moved by people. Whether that government is the United States or Egypt, doesn’t matter. People move governments. Not the other way around.
2.) Don’t give up today because tomorrow we win.. Martin Luther King told us that the arc of the moral universe is long but in the end it does bend towards justice (and mercy and progress). When change happens it can happen more quickly than you ever imagine. If you ever need a reminder of this, go talk to an old activist!