Dear Vice President Pence, I Wish You Would Lead With Empathy

Dear Vice President Pence,

Today, in a ridiculously transparent publicity stunt, you abruptly left an NFL game because some of the players participated in the #takeaknee protest. Of course, it’s absolutely your right to leave an event if something offends you, as much as it is the players’ right to protest what offends them. However, to plan your exit beforehand, knowing that the “offense” would occur, is disingenuous and should be insulting to your supporters. And I don’t ever want to hear another person say that football players should protest on “their own time” when you, the Vice President of the United States, participated in your own protest today, using tax-payer dollars, and tweeted about it on your official @VP Twitter account. Then, your boss himself tweeted that he instructed you to leave the game. Your administration is not governing; you are all  participating in a reality show whose goal is to make and keep the American people angry. And sadly, it’s working.

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I’m not going to argue whether or not #takeaknee is offensive. All protests are, to someone. And I don’t care if you or anyone else boycotts the NFL. But even if football players kneeling during the national anthem  is horribly offensive, why can’t you, and all Americans who also take offense, stop for one minute and consider why they are kneeling? They are kneeling not to spite the flag and what it stands for, but because they want their actual reality to match what it stands for. The flag is a symbol; we don’t revere it because of the cloth it’s made from, but for what it is supposed to represent: liberty and justice for all. And when people with skin darker than you and me, Mr. Pence, say that their liberty and justice isn’t the same as our liberty and justice, I believe them. An experience doesn’t have to be true for me in order for it to be true for someone else. 

Brene Brown says, If empathy is the skill or ability to tap into our own experiences in order to connect with an experience someone is relating to us, compassion is the willingness to be open to this process. This is what I strive to do in regards to #takeaknee and other forms of protest. I have never been treated unfairly or unjustly because of the color of my skin, but I have experienced unfairness and injustice. I understand what that feels like, and therefore, am able to empathize with those who make bold choices to inspire change. I may not always agree with their methods, but I hope that I never dismiss their hurt and that I act with compassion when I speak of them or to them.

Last night, Richard Spencer and his gang of nazis once again marched in Charlottesville (and vowed to keep coming back), desperately trying to spread their message of white supremacy. You made no mention of this on Twitter. Instead, you chose to deflect from the very real problem of racial injustice in this country and take a stand against the NFL. You are throwing your support behind teams who are making standing for the national anthem mandatory. Forced patriotism isn’t patriotism at all. That’s authoritarianism, and it should frighten all Americans, regardless of political leanings.

You have such a powerful platform, Mr. Pence. You could inspire real change in our country if you wanted to. Not theoretical, feel-good pride for this nation, but actual change. What if, instead of leaving the stadium today, you had relaxed, enjoyed some football with your wife, and then tweeted your gratefulness for our freedom of speech and your commitment to making America great for everyone, regardless of the color of their skin? I’m not sure if all that would fit in 140 characters, but think what an impact it would have made.

And, instead of week after week making football the center of our collective attention, use your platform to heal. Help us grieve the 59 people killed in Las Vegas last week. Reassure the millions of American families whose children stand to lose their health insurance that CHIP will be funded. Throw every ounce of effort you have into restoring power and clean drinking water to the people of Puerto Rico. Tell the people of color who are begging you to listen that you believe them when they say America has never been great for them.

The American experiment is just that, an experiment. We don’t stand for our flag and pledge our allegiance because the experiment is over. We keep going, and keep experimenting, with empathy, compassion, and allowing all voices to be heard. And we won’t stop until we create a nation that does in fact provide liberty and justice for all.

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