There seems to be a lot of controversy about NFL players "taking a knee" during the playing of the National Anthem. As an act of peaceful protest against the unequal treatment of black men (who are shot, injured, arrested, incarcerated) in disproportionately large numbers to the white population, kneeling instead of standing is a powerful visual meant to be disruptive but ultimately meant to cause some soul searching in the audience. But kneeling has also been used as an act of bowing to authority, of showing contrition, of demonstrating a prayerful attitude, and as part of a marriage proposal. Kneeling was never considered an act of disrespect until now.
There is a powerful pull for individuals to conform to actions performed in a group; standing to recite a loyalty oath with hand over heart, as in the Pledge of Allegiance, allows individuals to blend in, to demonstrate that they are part of the group. When one person declines to remain part of the group they are often ostracized, as Colin Kaepernick has been. If others in the group join the one person and their numbers grow, those who sympathize with the original protest but who were previously afraid to fully express themselves can feel more courageous in their new group. This can result in dramatic positive change, as when Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. inspired massive peaceful protests against segregation (and violent backlashes by authorities), or in equally dramatic displays of assumed racial supremacy as with the recent marches by neo Nazis and white supremacists (which usually resulted in violent clashes with anti fascists).
As practitioners of yoga we are part of a group striving to create peace and balance within ourselves, hoping that this will spread to the larger community. Some work very hard to project "love and light" at all times while denying the shadow within themselves (unless you are a saint and have no shadows). Others work very hard to deny the light and embrace the shadows of race hatred, extreme nationalism and xenophobia. Most are somewhere in between, trying to make the world a better place but still on occasion lapsing into reflexive expressions of patriotism, or concerns about violence in "those neighborhoods". It has been said that when we are truly peaceful within our own hearts that expressions of violence will cease.
We can strive all we want to practice the Yamas and Niyamas of Patanjali but perfect Ahimsa (non violence, the first Yama) is impossible. We must kill to nourish ourselves (plants are sentient beings too), we commit violence in some form (mild or otherwise) every day in speech, thought, and sometimes in deed. The deeper work lies in cultivating equanimity as in the Bhagavad Gita - gaining the strength to do the things we must do while remaining unattached to the results. This should not result in doing nothing in the face of injustice; even small gestures can begin the transformation in someone else.
As we are seeing in the #TakeTheKnee movement.