One day before the NFL holds its 52nd Super Bowl, a crowd of dozens in San Luis Obispo came together in Mission Plaza with a message that for many defined — and polarized — this football season: Take a knee.
The “Take a Knee for Equality” rally Saturday, coinciding with Black History Month, was hosted by the San Luis Obispo chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and featured a number of performances and speakers, including San Luis Obispo Mayor Heidi Harmon, Matias Bernal of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance and SLO NAACP Chapter President Stephen Vines.
In a speech that was part tent revival sermon and part slam poetry opus, Vines called on those in attendance to reject hate and embrace love. Literally. For a little more than three minutes, Vines encouraged those gathered in the plaza to embrace, shake hands and “spread the love” to people around them.
“Because love ... is all-powerful, all-knowing and everywhere present,” Vines said with a preacher’s cadence. “When we use love, we will win! Love never fails, it is always victorious!”
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Not everybody has felt the love for the “Take a Knee” movement.
As several prominent football players, beginning with former 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, took a knee during the national anthem before games to protest systemic racism, several high-profile figures condemned the movement, including President Donald Trump, who said team owners should fire “any son of a b----” who kneels.
Trump’s remarks earned him numerous rebukes, including from Kaepernick’s mother and NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, who said “divisive comments like these demonstrate an unfortunate lack of respect for the NFL, our great game and all of our players, and a failure to understand the overwhelming force for good our clubs and players represent in our communities.”
Saturday’s rally marks the latest effort in the newly resurgent local chapter of the NAACP. In January, the chapter also hosted an event commemorating the life and legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.
But despite that resurgence, Vines noted the relatively sparse crowd in his Saturday speech, and he called for better communication and coordination between local organizations.
Another speaker, Barry Price of Bend the Arc, said that protesters need to move beyond what he called the “boutique activism” of catchy slogans like #Resist and protesters coordinating their efforts with local law enforcement.
“Real protest can’t be predictable,” Price said, as the small crowd clapped and cheered him on.