Democrat Stacey Abrams’ campaign declined to comment earlier this week on the wave of NFL players across the nation who demonstrated during the national anthem. But during a fundraising trip to San Francisco, the gubernatorial candidate minced no words.
“Protest is necessary in America. It is part of our responsibility,” Abrams told a San Francisco Chronicle reporter. “And as long as that protest is peaceful and civil, it should be allowed to happen because that is how we make change in our country.”
She added: “I would say that any leader worth his or her salt would celebrate this moment because it is exactly who we are – it is always been who we are.”
The anthem protests sparked political debate after President Donald Trump criticized players for kneeling during the national anthem and the owners who allowed the displays. That led to dozens of players, coaches and owners to kneel, lock arms or sit out the anthems on Sunday and Monday.
When the AJC surveyed about a dozen candidates for higher office on Monday about the protests, Abrams' campaign said she had no comment. It was a surprising pass for a candidate who has weighed in on other controversial debates, including a call for the removal of Confederate war heroes from Stone Mountain.
Georgia Republicans responded with disgust to the demonstrations, while former state Rep. Stacey Evans, Abrams’ top Democratic rival in the race, said the diversity of opinions is part of what makes the nation exceptional.
“You honor the flag and the country it stands for when you salute, but also when you kneel,” she said. “Because enmeshed in its fibers is the right to free speech, to expression, and to stand up for what you believe in. And sometimes, to kneel for it as well.”
Evans’ supporters also criticized Abrams’ campaign for declining a request to comment about the protests only to air her opinions in San Francisco. Erica Pines, a former chairwoman of the Fulton County Democratic Party, said local voters demand the right to know her opinions on divisive debates.
“Anybody running for governor as a Democratic nominee and avoids one of the most important topics of the year is out of touch with their base of support – and I’m talking about black women, the largest voting bloc of Democrats in the state,” said Pines, a prominent African-American supporter of Evans.