Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: activism

National Day of Action

13495181_10208951353837365_94521619094688861_nToday, I was one of the thousands of people across the country to attend an event tied to the National Day of Action. I was fortunate enough to attend a sit-in with Congressmen Cicilline and Langevin, along with mayors, local elected officials, survivors, clergy, members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, members of the Rhode Island Coalition Against Gun Violence, and my children.

We attended adorned in our Moms Demand Action swag and were surprised to see that Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts was there. We have been “friends” on Facebook for several years now, but with me having lived in Texas until three weeks ago, it was a wonderful surprise to see her here in our little state. Everyone started the event sitting in chairs in the auditorium at the Providence Public Safety building in downtown Providence, however, it became apparent that Congressman Cicilline, who had just attended the sit-in in the well of the US House of Representatives with civil rights legend Congressman John Lewis only the week before, wanted us to sit around him on the stage. So we all got up and went to the stage while Congressman Cicilline continued his comments. Today’s speakers included elected officials, clergy, survivors, and advocates. And then Shannon Watts got up to speak.

After having worked with Moms Demand Action for several years now, it was incredible to be in the same room with Shannon and more amazing to hear her speak about the reasons we were all there. Just by way of background, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded by Shannon in her kitchen as a Facebook page to vent her anger and frustration following the mass killing at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut in December of 2012. Quickly, her Facebook page grew into a grassroots movement. Today, there are over 3.4 million supporters and there are chapters in every state in the country. As I wrote in my previous entry, the tide is turning in this country toward those concerned with preventing gun violence and in opposition to those elected officials defending the desires of the previously dominant (and unobstructed) gun lobby. Change will not happen overnight, but it will happen. Taking the work of Mothers Against Drunk Driving as the foundation for this movement, remember that it took MADD many years to achieve a significant shift in public opinion and legislative action. As Shannon says, this is a marathon and not a sprint.

Having now seen the work of chapters in Rhode Island and Texas, it is apparent that there are passionate members of this organization in both states. I have no doubt but that this passion is replicated across the country in all chapters. I thought my friends in the Texas chapter had a much harder road ahead of them until I saw that the speaker of the Rhode Island House is an “A” rated NRA lapdog, not unlike the leadership in Texas. Several important and reasonable pieces of gun violence prevention legislation were left off the docket as the Rhode Island legislature wrapped up its most recent session. Shame on him.

Because the Republican leadership in the United States Congress, in both houses, has no intention of addressing gun violence, gun violence prevention organizations across the country are taking the fight to state houses. Across the country, sensible legislation is being passed against the wishes of the gun lobby, but in agreement with the wishes of the overwhelming majority of Americans (even the majority of gun owners). It was the intention of this National Day of Action to show the national Republican leadership that the people want there to be a vote on two key pieces of legislation. First, a bill limiting access of those on the no-fly list access to firearms, and second, closing the background check loophole allowing the purchase of guns online and at some gun shows.

It was incredible to meet Shannon today. She is as wonderful and determined in person as she is online. She not only remembered me from Facebook, but she remembered that my wife had died and offered me her condolences. I will continue to offer my help to this organization in whatever way they find valuable. Equally impressive, to me, was that my children were there with me because they wanted to be there. Everything I do in this movement is for the benefit of my children and the children of parents everywhere. To have my kids there, wearing their orange and Moms Demand Action t-shirts was heartwarming. Again, they were there because they wanted to be there. I was very proud.

As Congressman Cicilline introduced speaker after speaker, it became apparent that there were several gun rights activists at the back of the room glaring at the crowd. One wore a t-shirt that read Ban Idiots Not Guns. Now I’m not sure what that was supposed to convey, perhaps an allusion to those mentally compromised having access to guns, or maybe it was a comment on the people in the room. Another person tried a strawman argument with Congressman Cicilline at the end of the event, attempting to put words into the congressman’s mouth and then argued against them. Following Congressman Cicilline’s rebuttal, the crowd roared their approval and shouted down the individual, thus bringing the event to its proper conclusion.

I look forward to continuing to work for Moms Demand Action (and any other organization in Rhode Island) to put an end to the daily slaughter of 91 people in this country and the heartbreak it brings to their loved ones and friends. Nothing else is acceptable. Thank you to Congressman Cicilline, Congressman Langevin, Providence Mayor Elorza, Shannon and the moms from Moms Demand Action in Rhode Island. Together we will make a better tomorrow for our children. We are on the right side of history. It’s only a matter of time.

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Fools and Politicians

“Talk sense to a fool and he calls you foolish.”     Euripides

Yesterday, the president put forth four executive actions in an attempt to curb the gun violence that plagues our nation. He did so because the congress, with its 11% approval rating, ignored the wishes of the overwhelming majority of the American public three years ago who believed universal background checks on all gun sales is prudent. That support has been maintained. In a December 2015 Quinnipiac University poll, 89% of respondents support legislation requiring background checks on all gun sales (including 84% of households with a gun present). As the president said yesterday, the United States is an outlier in gun violence compared to the rest of the advanced world. And yet we do not have more dangerous individuals than the rest of the world. We do not watch more violent movies or television than the rest of the world. We do not play violent video games more than the rest of the world. And we do not have more mental illness than the rest of the world. There is only one factor which differentiates the United States from the rest of the developed world and that is the number of guns.

It is estimated that there are over 300 million guns in America or 89 guns for every 100 people.  That is far and away more guns than the rest of the world. By comparison, Canada has 31 guns per 100 people. Australia has 15 guns per 100 people. The UK has 6 guns per 100 people and Japan has less than 1 gun per 100 people. That much firepower in the public’s hands translates to a much higher firearm homicide rate per 100,000 people. The United States sees 3.21 homicides per 100,000 people, compared to 0.51 for Canada, 0.14 for Australia, 0.07 for the UK, and 0.01 for Japan. More guns do not make us safer.

And despite these executive orders being modest and common sense, the Republicans have come out against them. House Speaker Paul Ryan tweeted, “No matter what President Obama says, his word does not trump the Second Amendment.” This ignores the fact that the president’s actions in no way challenge the Second Amendment, they only clarify existing law and further refine and enhance the current instant background check system, while providing more resources for mental health. Presidential aspirant Senator Ted Cruz reacted by claiming “Obama Wants Your Guns” while asking for a donation. This petulant neophyte is the antithesis of common sense and the darling of the tea party, making the Euripides quote above all the more poignant.

History will show that the president was on the right side of this fight. It will also show that the Republicans came out against anything and everything the president supported. If the president said he liked baseball, apple pie, and Chevrolet, the Republicans would be against all three. And that is the shame the Republicans must carry. Their intransigence and obstructionism have been to the detriment of the country.

I work with some amazing people trying to fight for common sense gun violence prevention legislation, both on the local level and the national. And yesterday, while those standing behind the president and seated throughout the room represented both the victims of gun violence and the family members of those killed, I could not help but to wonder what it will take for the rest of the public to demand their elected officials move to strike against the gun lobby and the horror they bring to our society. It should not just be the victims and their family members who shoulder the weight of bringing about change. It is the average citizen who is sick of the daily bloodshed, sick of the gun lobby and their purchasing of senators and congressmen that must rise up and say enough. Not one more mass shooting. Not one more suicide. Not one more accident. Not one more. Otherwise, we are the fool Euripides warns us against.

Three Years

NewtownIt has been three years since the shooting at Sandy Hook that took 26 lives. Three years with no federal action to prevent the almost 33,000 gun-related deaths every year in America. But that is not to say that there hasn’t been action. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, founded shortly after the Newtown shooting, has grown into a juggernaut and only added to its power when it joined forces with Mayors Against Illegal Guns to form the umbrella organization, Everytown for Gun Safety. Fed up with federal inaction, Moms and Everytown have taken the fight to the states and squared up directly against the powerful NRA and gun lobby, with meaningful and measurable successes. As Moms Demand Action founder, Shannon Watts writes in today’s CNN:

“Since Sandy Hook, six states have passed background check laws. In 2015, nine states have enacted legislation to protect victims of domestic violence by keeping guns out of the hands of their abusers. We’re playing defense, too: this year we helped defeat 64 gun lobby priority Bill’s, including bills that would have forced guns into schools and bills that would have let people carry concealed, loaded handguns in public with no permit and no training.”

History will prove we are on the right side of this issue, but change will not happen overnight, much as we may like it to. So I urge you to consider standing up with us to change the United States’ outlier position compared to the rest of the developed world in regards to gun violence.  This is a seminal moment in American history. On which side do you want your children to remember you?

Twenty-Eight That Never Was

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Twenty-eight that never was

A life cut short in America because

A monster got his hands on a gun

No one stopped to wonder why

The troubled man needed to buy

One thousand rounds of ammunition

 

They gathered together for the midnight show

A happy crowd but no one could know

The monster was there because he’d been shunned

Twelve lives were lost

Countless families were tossed

Into the realm of the perpetually stunned

 

The monster had planned and carefully mapped

His apartment to be boobytrapped

But the neighbor did not open the door

Thankfully, his gun jammed

An unforeseen hole in his plan

In an effort to kill many more

 

Now the monster’s in prison

And some make it their mission

To fight for the legacies of those lost

Grief knows no sense of time

We go through life in pantomime

Knowing a gun culture’s true cost

 

Beautiful Jessi will never get older

That green shawl wrapped around her shoulder

We celebrate her birthday alone this November

She was smart, she was clever

She is lost to us forever

But this is how we choose to remember:

 

Thanks to Sandy and Caren and so many others

Too many brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers

Please know the we’ve only started to begin

Jessi’s message is clear

And the people will eventually hear

That in the end, love will win

 

Happy birthday, Jessi

Simplicity Fatigue

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There must be a term to describe simplicity fatigue, that feeling you get when your Uncle Know-it-all posts something on Facebook or Twitter which stuns you into open-mouthed disbelief at their lack of a fundamental understanding of a situation or their simplistic, childlike solution to the problem. Fatigue occurs after seeing “solutions” like this posted repeatedly by simplistic, linear-thinking people. Let us face facts. The problems facing our state, country and world are not simple. There are no more low-hanging fruit. To assume that there is a simple solution to a complex situation should invite derision. The mind-numbingly simplistic solutions I hear to these complex issues make me shake my head and fear for my children’s future. I’m not saying I have the solution, but I know enough to look beyond the basic. Politicians, who, with access to intelligence and reporting should know better, play to the simple-minded in the public for support of dangerous, short-sighted solutions.

Gun violence prevention is not an easy problem to solve. ISIS is not an easy development to understand. Neither is Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, or Israel. Or race relations, curing cancer, or parsing different religions. But to assume that there is a simple solution to all of the myriad complications within a given issue is feeble minded at best and dangerous at worst. The inability of most of the public to see more than one chess move ahead is frightening. I would worry about these people moving more than one Twister move ahead without causing bodily injury to themselves. Some of them should wear helmets.

But there is a fatigue that builds up over time reading comments to news articles online or in some cases the news article itself, never mind trying to follow the logic some display on Facebook, Twitter or some other social media. In some cases, they would be hysterically funny if they weren’t so deadly serious. And I’m not talking about grammar. That’s a discussion for an entirely different day. I’m talking about the rabid, linear “thinker” who cannot possibly understand the nuances of a given situation enough to rationally attempt to apply Occam’s razor.

Perhaps it is the fact that I’m still grieving the loss of my wife and father. Perhaps it is the downcast mindset I wake with each day because of this. But the social media fatigue I feel right now because of these linear thinking people makes me want to walk away from the computer, turn off the television and go read a book. And then I think of my children. If I walk away, who will fight for them? If I take a step back from any activism I engage in, are there those who will take up the slack? If decisions are made by those who show up, what right do I have to abstain and then complain? I need a way to regroup, recharge, and replenish in order to keep engaged. Perhaps turning away from it all for a while is the solution. I just hope there are enough like-minded people to carry on without me for a while.

Cold Heartless Steel

Minding my own business

Sitting here in the dark

I hear the children playing

I feel so exposed at times like these

The light goes on in the bedroom

I can see the shadows of the children’s steps

They pull the draw open

Their eyes widen as they look at me

The older one picks me up

I can tell I am heavier than he thought

I am afraid of what I might do.

Why was I left alone with the children?

Where are their parents?

Don’t point me like that, I’m saying. Run!

“Don’t worry,” the older one tells his sister

My familiar roar explodes in the room

I am racing the small girl as we both fall to the floor

Screams follow

Life spreads out into the carpet

Lives are altered and ended

Don’t blame me

I had to pass through an adult’s hands to end up here

I did what I was made to do

Kill.

Skip the Insane Root

macbeth

Or have we eaten on the insane root

That takes the reason prisoner?

Shakespeare, Macbeth I, iii, 84

Gun violence prevention is a lofty goal. It is also a multi-faceted problem. To deny that is to fall into the simplistic reasoning so often used by gun rights proponents. However, the difficulty of the task before us is no excuse not to attempt to address it. To ignore it is to abdicate responsibility to our families, neighbors, children, and ourselves. President Kennedy, at Rice Stadium on September 12, 1962, one year before being assassinated by a gunman, spoke of the necessity of facing seemingly insurmountable obstacles for the right reasons when he said:

“We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

In his inaugural address on January 20, 1961, he addressed the need to begin facing massive challenges to the republic. He said, “All this will not be finished in the first 100 days. Nor will it be finished in the first 1,000 days, nor in the life of this administration, nor even perhaps in our lifetime on this planet. But let us begin.” Such determination is what is needed today. And we need not be a intimidated by the fear of not solving the entire problem. Indeed, President Obama, in his second inaugural address on January 21, 2013, said the following:

“For now decisions are upon us and we cannot afford delay.  We cannot mistake absolutism for principle, or substitute spectacle for politics, or treat name-calling as reasoned debate.  We must act, knowing that our work will be imperfect.  We must act, knowing that today’s victories will be only partial and that it will be up to those who stand here in four years and 40 years and 400 years hence to advance the timeless spirit once conferred to us in a spare Philadelphia hall.”

We must begin to face the problem of gun violence in America. We stand apart from the rest of the developed world in the number of guns in circulation and the number of injuries, suicides, and homicides committed with a gun.

To accept the status quo is to relegate our children to a future where fear and paranoia trump participation and confidence. Compassion and empathy must triumph if we are to survive. Anything less would be to eat from Shakespeare’s insane root, surrendering reason. Our children and our country deserve better.

A Hero in Full

Sandy and LonnieGrowing up, Pete Rose was my idol. He played baseball like I thought the game should be played. All hustle, all the time. As I grew older, my idols came and went (so did my baseball skills!), and I learned that there is a difference between heroes and idols. I found that idolatry dehumanized the person and ascribed to them mythical attributes. A hero by definition (and by contrast) has done something heroic, but allows for human mistakes and misgivings, in a word imperfections or the right to be just a regular person who has done something extraordinary.

However, to meet a hero in person does give one pause. Not because you ascribe superhuman traits to them, but because you know they have been through something extraordinary, whether wonderful or horrific, and you don’t want to upset them or embarrass yourself by saying something stupid or insensitive.

It was against that backdrop that I met Sandy and Lonnie Phillips last night at an event in downtown Houston. Their beautiful daughter, Jessi, was murdered at the Aurora theater shooting on July 20, 2012. Sandy and Lonnie were in town for a call to action and fundraiser for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the grassroots organization started in a kitchen in Indianapolis, IN following the murder of twenty schoolchildren and six educators on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, CT.

Proving that there is a difference between the mythology attributed to idols and the humanization of heroes, right off the bat, both Lonnie and Sandy made it aware to me that they were regular, genuine, gracious people. In fact, when Sandy hugged me at the restaurant where we were to have dinner, she told me she was sorry for my loss. Here I was, ready to give my condolences on the loss of her daughter and she was consoling me on the loss of my wife. And instantly we bonded over our losses. At dinner we talked gun violence prevention, her hope to speak with Senator Sanders regarding his position on the “Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act” (PLCAA) allowing gun manufacturers product liability protection afforded no other product in America, thanks to the lobbying efforts of the NRA and the power they wield over politicians. We also talked about how the upcoming holidays are always a difficult time and how she and Lonnie will be going away again this year to regroup and recharge. Of course, this came up after she asked me what I was doing with the kids and I told her we were going away because none of us wanted to deal with the holidays.

It is the true character of an individual when they can bond with you over something big or small placing you on equal footing. My apprehension over meeting Sandy and Lonnie was misplaced. Both of them are wonderful, ordinary people thrown into a situation they did not choose and who have dedicated their lives to work so that no other parent has to walk the path they have been forced to tread.

In front of a group of about 50 women from the greater Houston area, Sandy and Lonnie described the horror of July 20, 2012 in visceral terms leaving no dry eye in the room. She answered questions and followed it with an amazing statement about how while she is forced to walk this path, she is lifted emotionally by the efforts of those who have come to this movement of their own accord and desire to make America a safer place. This was her call to action and the response from the room was immediate. By the end of the night over $10,000 had been raised and people were encouraged to join Moms Demand Action to do whatever they were comfortable doing knowing that the combined efforts of the organization brought a 3.5 million member counterbalance to the powerful, but aging, NRA and a vocal juggernaut to the halls of Washington, D.C. and statehouses across the country. I am proud to now call her a friend and stand ready to do whatever I can to help make her path even slightly easier.

Jessi’s mom is a genuine, ordinary woman responsible for carrying her daughter’s legacy and message forward while working every day toward a future where no other mother has to endure what she has been forced to live with. That’s what makes her a hero and Jessi should be proud.

Meeting a Hero

Having lost my wife last month and my father in November of last year, I know the awkwardness caring people bring with them when they want to express their condolences. Both my wife and my father died of cancer, an insidious, destructive disease that kills from the inside out. But what do you say to someone who has had a loved one taken from them violently? We anthropomorphize cancer and speak of the “battle” waged against a nefarious foe. But what “battle” can we speak of having been waged against an instantaneous, violent death? It is simply chaos from the cosmos, dropped upon the heads of those who survive. In some cases, it is the Damocles sword of gun violence befalling someone dear to us without warning.

So it will be with my meeting Sandy and Lonnie Phillips tomorrow at a meeting of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. As none of you will remember, my very first blog post was simply a reposting of their daughter Jessi’s blog about having just missed a mass shooting at a mall in Toronto on June 2, 2012. She was murdered 48 days later at the movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado on July 20, 2012.

In fact, despite continuing to write about it on my little blog, it wasn’t until the murder of twenty schoolchildren and 6 of their educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School that I was forced to act. It was while listening to a conference call of the Brady Campaign on January 7, 2013, that I heard Jessi’s heartbreaking story told by Sandy Phillips. The next week I was speaking out at Democratic clubs around Houston of the need for action to quell the violence guns were having on American society.

I consider my need to act an outpouring of love for my children. No longer could I look them in the eye and deplore gun violence without taking a stand and working to affect change. Whatever effect I might have (however small), had to be done for my children and their future. However, I attribute any courage I had to speak out publicly to Jessi, Sandy, and the parents and family members of those who were killed at Sandy Hook. But especially Sandy. Because while I had a hard time imagining me ever getting out of bed again should something so horrible befall my children, Sandy was out there speaking and acting, every day, despite the pain of her loss. And I know that change cannot be made without the efforts of those beyond the parents and family members of gun violence victims. People like you. People like me.

At a counter-rally outside the 2014 Annual NRA Paranoia Jamboree in Houston, I saw Erica Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Hockspung, murdered principal at Sandy Hook Elementary. I also saw the father of one of the murdered children. Despite their proximity and my desire to meet them, I was embarrassed to introduce myself. But was it the simple awkwardness attributed with expressing condolences or was it my guilt for not acting sooner to address gun violence? I don’t know the answer to that. I left them alone, content to stand alongside them that day in opposition to the more guns everywhere agenda of the NRA.

Tomorrow will be interesting. I am nervous, anxious and excited. I consider Sandy Phillips a hero. I don’t want to injure her or embarrass myself by saying something stupid or insensitive. It has been over three years now since I became active in this movement and I’ve seen it gather momentum despite roadblocks and disappointments. So, in spite of my nervousness tomorrow I will meet Sandy Phillips. I admire her too much not to attend.

MOMentum (or Thinking Big)

MDAWhen I started speaking out about gun violence prevention at local Democratic clubs around Houston in January of 2013, it was a hot topic because of the recent murder of twenty schoolchildren and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT a month earlier. Like many others, I had reached my breaking point knowing I could no longer look my children in the eye as a responsible adult if I did not act. So I spoke. I didn’t think big enough. Shannon Watts, a mother from Indiana, launched a Facebook site to show her anger at the Sandy Hook shooting, and it instantly resonated with other mothers. The group grew exponentially within months and soon, not only was I sharing the floor at Democratic clubs with equally impassioned moms, but there were branches of the movement in every state. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America touched a nerve.

And then something incredible happened. Nothing. Congress failed to pass any gun laws. Not universal background checks, not reporting of large ammunition sales, not a ban on large magazines or clips, no revisitation of the assault weapons ban, no consideration of gun trafficking becoming a federal crime. Nothing. That was followed by a fickle public blinking to see what Justin Bieber did yesterday, and gun violence prevention faded from the public eye. Until the next mass shooting. And the next. And the next. Soon gun violence was never out of the public eye.

All the while, Moms Demand Action continued to grow as a social media movement. Focus shifted away from the national political stage to the corporate boardroom. Several high-profile companies asked their customers to leave their firearms at home before entering their stores. And then, with the focus still on corporate responsibility, legislative fights were started in statehouses across the country at the local level. A war was being waged between activist mothers and the NRA juggernaut, and moms began racking up victories in states like Washington, Connecticut, and New York.

And then Michael Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns saw the symbiosis of effort and merged with Moms Demand Action to form Everytown for Gun Safety. Finally, two of the many gun violence prevention organizations had joined forces and brought their considerable resources and talents to bear. No longer was the movement hopelessly fractured or outspent. Everytown had the social media wherewithal to pressure politicians and corporations and the financing to compete with the heretofore untouchable NRA.

And now as the number of school shootings since Newtown eclipses 150, the number of mass shootings surpasses 1,000, and 33,000 Americans continue to die from gun violence each year, there is a more equitable fight for the conscience and accountability of America. The movement is still splintered, but economies of scale aside, politicians are listening, and the public is responding. There is momentum. The apoplectic vitriol from some gun rights enthusiasts is proof that their previously sacred ground is shifting beneath them. No longer do people resign themselves to the NRA’s stranglehold on politicians or the inevitability of another wave of gun-related deaths. No longer do they accept as uniquely American the deaths and injuries inflicted upon our families and neighborhoods. Momentum is building for change; the momentum that will wash the streets clean of our national bloodbath. Thank you, Shannon, for thinking big.