Thoughts At Large

Passionate thoughts on random topics

Tag: Moms Demand Action

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.

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My Inspiration

Inspiration

 

Christopher Hitchens wrote, “To the dumb question “Why me?” the cosmos barely bothers to return the reply: why not?” This little blog started as a way for me to scream into deaf space when news events or personal experiences left me no other options; when nothing could mute the chest-tightening anger and helplessness I felt; when, as Shakespeare wrote, I bothered to complain “and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.” And so, I write. My first malediction was two years ago today. However, they were not so much my words but a reposting of the words written 45 days earlier by a young woman in Colorado. She wrote of the events she experienced at the Eaton Mall in Toronto on June 2, 2012 when a gunman (sorry NRA, he was a gunman (whom I refuse to name), not a perpetrator with some random weapon) opened fire in the Urban Eatery Food Court. Five people were shot, two died. She began:

 “I can’t get this odd feeling out of my chest. This empty, almost sickening feeling won’t go away. I noticed this feeling when I was in the Eaton Center in Toronto just seconds before someone opened fire in the food court. An odd feeling which led me to go outside and unknowingly out of harm‘s way. It’s hard for me to wrap my mind around how a weird feeling saved me from being in the middle of a deadly shooting.”

She continued by showing how, in three minutes, a decision to go out into the rain saved her life.

 “My receipt shows my purchase was made at 6:20 pm. After that purchase I said I felt funny. It wasn’t the kind of funny you feel after spending money you know you shouldn’t have spent. It was almost a panicky feeling that left my chest feeling like something was missing. A feeling that was overwhelming enough to lead me to head outside in the rain to get fresh air instead of continuing back into the food court to go shopping at SportChek. The gunshots rang out at 6:23. Had I not gone outside, I would’ve been in the midst of gunfire.”

That eloquent, insightful young woman was named Jessica Redfield and she was murdered two years ago today in the theater shooting in Aurora, CO. She and eleven others were killed and 70 others were injured that horrible Friday night. She is gone, but she continues to inspire. CarlyMarieDudley Since that time, her mother and thousands of others, many accidental activists driven to act after the horrors visited upon Aurora, CO or Newtown, CT or Oak Creek, WI or Santa Barbara, CA or Washington, D.C. or Spring, TX or any of the other tragedies that take 30,000 people a year. They have started a movement that will not only change the face of America, but make it a safer nation. It will not happen quickly (nor soon enough), but it will happen. Initially only disjointed lamentations from thousands of individuals, they have begun to coalesce into a united voice, a voice determined to prevent the next tragedy, a voice which has a goal of Not One More.

Consider the organization Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Begun in 1980 by one mother, Candy Lightner, after her 13 year old daughter, Cari, was killed by a drunk driver, it has gone on to become a national institution in activism with over 600 chapters in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. MADD has worked to enact zero tolerance legislation across the country, enacted 0.08 blood alcohol level laws nationally, is partially responsible for a 40% reduction in drunk driving attributed traffic deaths since 1982 and brought the term “designated driver” into the public lexicon.

Using MADD as a framework and appreciating the need to commit time, dedication, and effort for the long haul, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America was founded the day after Sandy Hook. And if MADD felt hampered by the strong alcohol beverage lobby, Moms Demand Action knew they were up against the behemoth of all lobbyists, the NRA. When asked to explain their activism success, MADD provides a series of critical tenets, foremost among them having passionate, committed volunteers and putting a face on statistics. As MADD writes:

 “Before 1980, drunk driving deaths and injuries were spoken about in terms of cold, hard statistics—a tactic that was having little, if any, impact on reducing the number of deaths and injuries due to alcohol related crashes. But MADD didn’t speak of statistics. MADD spoke of loved ones, family members and friends—an intensely personal communication style that started with the organization’s charismatic founder and continues today. Every death, every injury is given a face, family and history— personalizing the issue so that everyone can relate, even those who have never experienced the tragedy of drunk driving.”

 Because statistics can be found to support almost any position, especially with the gun rights crowd continuing to fund discredited economist John Lott (or should we call him Mary Rosh?) and his specious data, we are reminded of the phrase attributed to Mark Twain, “There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics.” To counter this, gun violence groups, like Moms Demand Action, have combined the top two pillars of successful activism, according to MADD, by having passionate volunteers share the stories behind the statistics. As shown by MADD, it is a formula for success and a roadmap showing not only what can be accomplished but how long the path may take. No matter, the determination of these activists knows no limit because their well of compassion has no bottom.

Moms Demand Action has also tried to harness the power of social media to not only get out its message, but to affect change. They have seen this strategy beget success. However, personally I have all but given up on Twitter as a means of communicating having lost interest in attempting to conduct a rationale discourse with people responding in 140 character bursts of bizarre thought. More often than not, I find myself descending into a miasma with some troll and their obtuse paranoia and misogynistic vitriol into a spiraling Dante-esque hell with no Beatrice to lead me out. There is never any discourse (or room for movement) and the inevitable name calling is wholly a waste of time. So, too, it is with so many of the comment sections of news websites and Facebook pages. What begins as a thoughtful comment soon falls victim to the lowest common denominator of society, the base, violent name calling and misspelled threats. I can’t imagine the mail received at the White House.

Politicians understand polls and chase donations. To acknowledge this is to understand the rules required to bring about societal change. While a new Quinnipiac poll shows 92% of voters support requiring background checks for all gun purchases (including 92% of gun owners) and 89% of voters support preventing people with severe mental illnesses from purchasing guns (including 91% of gun owners) this poll also shows that words matter. Assistant Director, Tim Malloy stated of the poll,

 “Americans are all in on stricter background checks on gun buyers and on keeping weapons out of the hands of the mentally ill. But when it comes to ‘stricter gun control,’ three words which prompt a negative reflex, almost half of those surveyed say ‘hands off.'”

In a fascinating series of articles in Rolling Stone, Tim Dickinson wrote of 7 (not-so-easy) steps to beat the NRA. To me, most importantly (and something about which I have previously written) is the need to assimilate the various gun violence prevention groups into a unified voice capable, in terms of membership and funding, to compete on Capital Hill, in state politics, against the gun lobby and for the conscience of the public. This has now begun to happen. Recently, Mayors Against Illegal Guns and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America have come together under the Michael Bloomberg funded umbrella Everytown for Gun Safety. The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun ViolenceAmericans for Responsible Solutions, the Newtown Action Alliance and others, including the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and It Can Happen Here continue their important work independently. There are economies of scale available to this movement which may be necessary to influence elected officials. It is unfortunate, but money talks in Washington and in state houses across America. It is a tactic successfully used by the gun lobby for decades and a resolution gun violence prevention groups must embrace.

Words matter. We are castigated for using the term magazine when we mean clip (or vice versa) and are constantly asked to define “assault rifle” (as if we invented it and it were not a term gun makers created so the average Joe could pretend he was G.I. Joe). Words matter, but so too can they inspire! Jessica Redfield continued in her post saying

“I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening. I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given.”

Every hug from a family member is precious. So tune out the static of the conspiracy theorists, the angry trolls, the paranoid “patriots,” the delusions of the “false flag” crowd,  and the AM radio troglodytes. Instead, read as much as you can. Learn the subtle nuances of these issues and find the inspiration left to us by others. A cruise ship steaming at full speed will take over half a mile to stop after the engines have been reversed. But it will stop. So, too, will we change America and in the process, save lives. Over these past two years I have met some amazing people. People who would rather be doing other things with their lives but who have had their futures permanently altered by gun violence. Visit these pages for more information on how you can remember the events of two years ago today and, perhaps, find your inspiration:

Jessica Redfield Ghawi Foundation Scholarship Fund

ACT Foundation – Alexander C Teves Foundation

Alex Sullivan Fund

Although I never met her, Jessica continues to inspire me.

Meanwhile in Texas

Meanwhile in Texas

In light of the horrific massacre of a family in Spring, Texas yesterday, I thought it would be good to gauge the response of our elected officials. Since there was nothing but the sound of chirping crickets in response, I thought we should investigate why. These pictures tell the story. Here they are, your Texas elected officials:

Texas Attorney General and Republican Gubernatorial Candidate Greg Abbott:

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Texas Governor and Republican Presidential Candidate Rick Perry:

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United States Senator Ted Cruz:

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United States Senator John Cornyn:

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Texas State Senator and Republican Lt. Governor Candidate Dan Patrick:

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Texas Representative and Republican Candidate for Texas Senate Steve Toth:

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United States Representative Steve Stockman:

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But before we chastise these elected officials (and we aren’t even counting Louie Gohmert), let’s consider some of their constituents:

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Now I understand.

 

 

 

 

 

The Class Ceiling

On Sunday, June 9th, a 39 year old man was arrested following a 911 call from inside actress Sandra Bullock’s Los Angeles home. The man was arrested after having scaled a fence on her property and gaining access to her home via a back door while she was asleep upstairs. She was not injured in the intrusion. An investigation of the individual led to his being charged with 19 felony counts, including: seven counts of possession of a machine gun, 2 counts of possession of an illegal assault weapon and 10 counts of possession of a destructive device (tracer bullets), in addition to breaking and entering and trespassing.

As horrifying as this is, we, as Americans did not even bother with a collective shrug. We barely blinked when a gunman opened fire in Santa Barbara or when there was yet another school shooting in Oregon. We have become accustomed to both violence and guns. Too many of us are numb to it now. Couple that with the pervasive misogyny of the intertwined subcultures of men, guns and violence and you begin to see the framework upon which our society is now built and upon which some of our elected officials feed.

Ms. Bullock was in Los Angeles to accept an award. Nothing surprising there! Actors and actresses have an entire season dedicated to celebrating their celebrity. However, this award speaks to the subculture we’re discussing. Spike TV holds a Guy’s Choice Awards show every year. Ms. Bullock was there to accept their “Decade of Hotness” award. Now, whether or not Ms. Bullock is a talented actor is best left to individual taste (however her box office receipts and salary per movie indicate that she is worth the investment), but must we award “hotness”? How, in 2014, am I supposed to look at my daughter and tell her not to be too concerned with her looks, that we celebrate intellect and passion above appearance? She would laugh until she cried. And then she would shatter every mirror in our house. We need only look at the tabloids at the checkout line to see the focus of our shallow society. From “Best Bikini Bods” to “Guess who went under the plastic surgeon’s knife?” to the latest drivel from all the celebrated-beyond-reason Kardashians, we idolize celebrity, but only pretty celebrities.

On June 10, 1963, President Kennedy signed the Equal Pay Act of 1963 as an amendment to the 1938 Fair Labor Standards Act. Specifically, it states that:

No employer having employees subject to any provisions of this section shall discriminate, within any establishment in which such employees are employed, between employees on the basis of sex by paying wages to employees in such establishment at a rate less than the rate at which he pays wages to employees of the opposite sex in such establishment for equal work on jobs the performance of which requires equal skill, effort, and responsibility, and which are performed under similar working conditions…

However, according to a study of The White House’s National Equal Pay Task Force, in spite of the fact that women play a major role in the economic engine of America (as compared to 1963) and the fact that women now earn more advanced degrees in America than men, women had only closed the gender wage gap from 61 cents for every dollar earned by men in 1963 to 77 cents for every dollar earned by men in 2011, the latest year for which data is available. While undoubtedly a significant gain, one would think that a law passed in 1963 would have completely eradicated the difference by now.

It wasn’t until 1984 that the term “glass ceiling” was first used by former Family Circle Editor Gay Bryant, and that was used to describe the competition between women in reaching the highest levels of business. She is quoted as saying, “Women have reached a certain point – I call it the glass ceiling. They’re in the top of middle management and they’re stopping and getting stuck.”  This definition of the glass ceiling would seem to mesh with the findings of the Council of Graduate Schools study where the majority of advanced degrees were obtained by women (59.5% of master’s degrees and 52.2% of doctoral degrees).

However, it is still a man’s world. From the media’s “sex sells” focus on female images Photoshopped beyond human anatomical limits to the overt compensation of men’s 3-story pickup trucks and need to openly carry AR-15’s and AK-47’s in Target and Home Depot, the male psyche is being beaten educationally and logically by women and has resorted to beating the female image with the only objects left to their stunted minds, guns and misogyny. Essentially, rather than dragging the woman to their cave by their hair, they subjugate her by obliquely beating her with the blunt object between their legs through anthropomorphic means in the form of a firearm. What a shame.

If only men saw women as equals and sought their advice on the important social issues of our time, perhaps we would find a partner instead of a punching bag. As President Kennedy said repeatedly, beginning in 1959, “a rising tide lifts all boats.” Instead, members of Open Carry Texas have resorted to calling members of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, “thugs with jugs” and have a one minute free for all where they open fire on a female mannequin. Guns get bigger, but, we’re told,”they’re only used for hunting,” as if we are supposed to believe that deer, birds and rabbits have gotten exponentially larger and evolution has furnished them with Kevlar skin.

We’ve become little boys with big toys (or more accurately, big boys with little minds and big guns). Am I expected to teach this to my daughter? Am I expected to treat my wife this way? Am I expected to subjugate my mother like this? And what does any of this teach my son? You may call me less than a man or a wimp or a feminist, but I’d rather open my arms and use my intelligence than open my legs and show my ignorance.

(If you’re interested in a little mental exercise, read this post. I was writing it in 2012 as news broke from Newtown, Connecticut of a shooting at an elementary school.)

Mother’s Day

Mothers Day

 

In honor of my mother, my wife, my sister and all of the mama bears of Moms Demand Action, here are a few quotes on mothers. In short, thank you.

 

“A mother is the truest friend we have, when trials heavy and sudden fall upon us; when adversity takes the place of prosperity; when friends desert us; when trouble thickens around us, still will she cling to us, and endeavor by her kind precepts and counsels to dissipate the clouds of darkness, and cause peace to return to our hearts.”

Washington Irving

 

 “I realized when you look at your mother, you are looking at the purest love you will ever know.”

Mitch Albom, For One More Day

 

 “Perhaps it takes courage to raise children..”

John Steinbeck, East of Eden

 

 “He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone

 

“My mother is a poem that I could never write”

Unknown

 

“Pride is one of the seven deadly sins; but it cannot be the pride of a mother in her children, for that is a compound of two cardinal virtues — faith and hope.”

Charles Dickens, Nicholas Nickleby

 

“My mother said the cure for thinking too much about yourself was helping somebody who was worse off than you.”

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

 

“If I were asked to define Motherhood, I would have defined it as Love in its purest form. Unconditional Love.”

Revathi Sankaran

 

“Sometimes when you pick up your child you can feel the map of your own bones beneath your hands, or smell the scent of your skin in the nape of his neck. This is the most extraordinary thing about motherhood – finding a piece of yourself separate and apart that all the same you could not live without.”

Jodi Picoult, Perfect Match

 

“If evolution really works, how come mothers only have two hands?”

Milton Berle

 

“Having kids — the responsibility of rearing good, kind, ethical, responsible human beings — is the biggest job anyone can embark on”

Maria Shriver

 

“The phrase “working mother” is redundant.”

Jane Sellman

 

“With children the clock is reset. We forget what came before”

Jhumpa Lahiri, The Lowland

 

“My most important title is still “mom-in-chief.” My daughters are still the heart of my heart and the center of my world.”

Michelle Obama

 

“I am sure that if the mothers of various nations could meet, there would be no more wars.”

E.M. Forster, Howards End

 

“A mother’s arms are made of tenderness and children sleep soundly in them.”

Victor Hugo

 

 

A Champion for Change

Champions of Change

The White House website has a section devoted to recognizing ordinary Americans for the tireless efforts they spend moving America forward.  President Obama’s declaration of American “exceptionalism” offended the rest of the world and rang hollow to Americans beleaguered by a societal abdication of responsibility, a systemic idolization of celebrity, an education system “wrestling” to merge science with religion, a federal legislative body paralyzed by intransigence and hatred and a country awash in daily gun violence.

The site recently asked for nominations for White House Champion of Change for Gun Violence Prevention. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America founder Shannon Watts was my choice and I, along with many others, nominated her. Here is my rationale:

No single person has harnessed the overwhelming passion Americans have to prevent gun violence since Sarah Brady. Born out of anger and disbelief after the senseless murder of twenty school children and 6 educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14, 2012, Ms. Watts formed a grassroots organization combining social media networking with passionate activism, targeting elected officials, businesses and the gun lobby while giving voice to thousands of mothers across America who see daily gun violence as a plague on the future for our children.

In little over one year, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America has become the voice for compassionate Americans and a major target for the gun lobby. The recent partnership with Mayors Against Illegal Guns speaks to the clout earned by Moms Demand Action.

It is never a good idea to threaten a bear cub around its mother. Moms Demand Action continues to show what effect threatening America’s children with continued gun violence will have as over 125,000 mama bears in all 50 states unite. As a father, I applaud Ms. Watts for her determination, organization and vision and can think of no other individual more deserving of this recognition.

Albert Einstein said, “If I were to remain silent, I’d be guilty of complicity.” Whether she is selected or not, she is a champion for change and has created an organization whose passion and compassion will continue to be heard in the gun violence debate in 2014 and beyond.

Hope and Faith

3--2099124-Rhode Island State Flag Waving

In searching for solace following the announcement that Claire Davis had died of the injuries she suffered at the school shooting in Arapahoe, Colorado, I did what comes naturally to many of us; I thought of home. The childhood I had known with its safety and warmth. It was there, on a field of white, that I found the spigot which allowed me to continue the flow of determination necessary to drive forward. The Rhode Island state flag is a field of white with thirteen gold stars arranged in a circle with a gold anchor in the middle above the word Hope on a blue ribbon. Hope. The word rings with anticipation, excitement and an overall expectation that tomorrow will be better than today.

This thought from home also forced me to consider the difference between hope and faith. To me, faith is the hope I have in others that someone else will fix the problem, whereas hope is the faith I have in myself that I can fix the problem.

I know what you’re thinking; that’s a very libertarian thought for someone who has been called a “libtard,” an “Obamabot,” and, through my limited understanding of texting idioms to “GFY” (which I initially understood to mean “good for you.”) My children, between fits of laughter later explained that my Twitter adversary and I had NOT reached a common understanding on the gun violence issue! However, after one year of being an “accidental activist,” I can say, without reservation, that I am not alone and that my Hope is buoyed by the knowledge that there are others risking vitriol and threats of physical harm to move America toward a safer future. Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the Brady Campaign, It Can Happen Here and others are stocked with motivated, opinionated and politically active members.

My hope is that we have enough faith in each other to know we will fix this problem.

Inertia

Bullet Flag

It has been one year since the awful events of December 14, 2012 occurred at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. One year since a disturbed individual availed himself of the arsenal his mother had legally purchased and shattered families in the little New England town and horrified individuals throughout the country and the world. Reaction was swift (except for the NRA) and all signs pointed to a paradigm shift occurring in the long argued battle over gun rights in America.

However, it proved to be a difficult year, not just for the families forced to endure each holiday or family event without their loved one. Indeed, for these uncounted victims, while they did not lose their lives on that fateful day, they certainly lost the lives they had known and the futures for which they had planned and expected. Daily events, done thousands of times before, took on a new, mechanical air as they searched to redefine “normal.” It is for these people and the loved ones they have lost that many people joined the voices of those calling for change. As I searched for some way to understand the past year’s events, the term “inertia” kept clawing into my mind. And so, using the words of Sir Isaac Newton, I begin:

“Every body perseveres in its state of rest, or of uniform motion in a right line, unless it is compelled to change that state by forces impressed thereon.” Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law I, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 12, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

Prior to the multiple, brutal mass shootings of 2012, organizations such as the Brady Campaign To Prevent Gun Violence and its legislative arm the Legal Action Project have been fighting the ever increasingly extremist positions of the NRA in courts across the country securing minor victories against a tide of right wing battles which have resulted in concealed carry becoming legal in all 50 states, open carry laws spreading like spilled blood across the country and stand your ground laws allowing shoot first confrontations to become immune to punishment and rationale to the paranoid. In addition, the NRA has systematically enticed Congress to reduce funding for firearm violence research, rendered impotent the ATF and exempted gun manufacturers from all product liability responsibility; this seismic shift occurring despite the screams of those opposing the proliferation of guns and warning of their inevitable violent toll on society. However, to the general public, raised on and catered to by sound bites and instant gratification, these long-term societal changes went unnoticed.

To use Newton’s terminology, the body (society) persevered in a state of rest (miasmic banality) WHILE it was (quietly) compelled to change that state by forces (NRA) impressed thereon. In effect, while we were distracted by other crises being broadcast 24/7 on cable news, it took the events of 2012 for us to realize not only the playing field had changed, but that we were in the third quarter of a different sport. In doing so, lives were lost, families destroyed and history altered. Shame on us.

 “The alteration of motion is ever proportional to the motive force impressed; and is made in the direction of the right line in which that force is impressed.”  Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law II, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 12, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

Many people began to wake up following the midnight movie theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado on July 20th. Most did not. The momentum created by the murders culminated in prayer vigils, moments of silence and an increase in gun sales across the country, including in Aurora.

Unfortunately, it would take another, even more mind-twisting event to wake the majority of Americans.  Only 147 days later, another disturbed individual, armed with a weapon of war, laid bare America as a gun violence dystopia to a disbelieving world. Suddenly, there was an outrage that flashed longer than a prayer filled candlelight vigil, longer than a moment of silence. People from across the country looked directly at the entities responsible for allowing this type of future to unfold: the gun lobby and the elected officials that they owned. Ever aware of their behind the scenes effectiveness and ability to outlast the public, the gun lobby “pleaded” with America not to politicize the tragedy arguing that it was not the right time to discuss legislation when so many families were in immediate pain. Unbelievably, and counter to all rational thinking, the NRA responded by saying the cure for gun violence was more guns. More cancer is not the cure for cancer. Drilling more holes in the bottom of the boat is not the cure for a sinking vessel. Eating more steak is not the cure for heart disease. But according to the NRA, more guns will cure America of its gun violence. Across the country, the sound of gears, springs and cogs could be heard crashing out of the logical brains of rational people.

Over the following months, a groundswell of accidental activists began asking, aloud, what could be done to change our society, to create a future where our children were safe from the hail of bullets in a country awash in firearms. The well-oiled machine that is the gun lobby sent forth their legion of followers with canned arguments too short to fill a bumper sticker and too simplistic to defend. Here, Newton’s second law of motion became evident. The trajectory the gun lobby had set the country upon was being impressed upon with a motive force from the majority of Americans not beholden to a gun metal deity. The new activists credited those who had been fighting all along for their successes and acknowledge, in Newton’s own words that, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants.”

“To every Action there is always opposed an equal Reaction: or the mutual actions of two bodies upon each other are always equal, and directed to contrary parts.” Axioms or Laws of Motion, Law III, Mathematical Principles of Natural Philosophy, page 13, Sir Isaac Newton, 5 July 1687

However, as predicted and anticipated by the gun lobby, America’s fickle attention wandered to other crises. Gun safety legislation, considered unassailable in December, sputtered and crashed when the gun lobby reminded Senate Republicans (and a few Democrats in red states) who owned them. And this is when the most amazing part of the story occurred. Those accidental activists demanding gun safety did not fold up their tents and go home. To the chagrin of the gun lobby, the activists absorbed the legislative loss, considered it a learning opportunity and realized that the change they saw as necessary and obvious would not be achieved immediately. It was a marathon, not a sprint. Again, to quote Newton, “Men build too many walls and not enough bridges.”

It was this event, the recognition of the gun safety activists that change would take time, which brings us to the question of whether we will remain in Newton’s third law of motion or see further movement because of his second. Will the opposing forces on the gun issue in America push against each other in a long-term stalemate, or will one side emit enough force to alter the trajectory of this issue?

Rather than demand change from the existing politicians locally and nationally, the activists have begun developing campaigns to elect a legislature more conducive to change. Rather than have a hissy-fit and demand a recall when a vote goes against their wishes, activists have embraced a longer term agenda of electing those who will act in the best interest of society and not the best interest of gun manufacturers. They have also sought to change our communities, not through legislation, but with the pressure of the pocketbook. Corporations are being pressured to provide safe shopping environments for their customers devoid of the testosterone-fueled paranoid shouldering their beloved bazooka.

Interestingly enough, the push back seen by the gun enthusiasts has been in the form of misogynistic berating of activists, the creation of “bleeding” gun targets in the image of the president and female gun safety activists and groups of gun-toting enthusiasts parading through towns and posing outside gun safety activist meetings. Is this the best approach the gun lobby can muster? Evidence suggests that these pedantic actions expose the gun lobby as the far right wing paranoids they are. Attacking ones opponent rather than their position will not win arguments. As Cicero said, “He only employs his passion who can make no use of his reason.”

And so here we are, one year out from the horrors of December 14, 2012. Which of Newton’s laws of motion will prevail? Perhaps Newton himself predicted the outcome when he said, “I can calculate the motion of heavenly bodies but not the madness of people.” May logic overcome vitriol and compassion trump paranoia.

Year One

blog

I started this blog one year ago tomorrow. Not that I expected anybody to read it, but as a way for me to pour burning liquid emotion onto my keyboard in hopes of having it coalesce on the screen into something resembling understanding, logic or rationality in order for me to carry on. All too often, I have failed.

My first post was simply a reposting of a blog entry made by Jessica Redfield who had escaped a mass shooting at the Eaton Center in Toronto. She had posted it on June 5th. One year ago tonight, she was one of twelve murdered and 58 wounded at the Century movie theater in Aurora, Colorado during a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises. Here, frozen forever, is her last Twitter post:

JessicaRedfield Twitter

Having been cast to live in Texas as a result of the world-class medical facilities at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center and seeing them as the best chance we had to fight my wife’s rare and aggressive breast cancer, I had become increasingly angry at the cavalier attitude Texans have with their guns. The “Come and Take It” crowd, most of them displaying Zimmerman-like bravado (when armed with a firearm), hiding anatomic shortcomings (if shoe size is a true indicator and not some urban legend) and compensating by driving the tallest, most ridiculous looking monster-trucks legal to drive on public roads.  The shooting in Aurora drove me to write. It was a cathartic exercise.

Mixed with equal parts sarcasm, anger, depression and pomposity, I put down in words my boiling rage. A few comments popped up, although in the vast universe of the internet I have no idea how these people tripped over my little blog. And so it went. Until December 14th.

I was sitting at the hospital while my wife was being restaged when the first news reports began to flash about a shooting at an elementary school in Connecticut. A shooting at an elementary school will be very traumatic for the children, I thought, assuming that the victim(s) would be adults involved in a deadly dispute of some kind. Slowly the details emerged. Children were among the victims and their numbers kept climbing. Like most of the world, I read the reports in disbelief, hoping for a clarification from the news outlets of a terrible mistake. Instead, the numbers continued to climb. More children were injured; more children were among the dead.  Like many other dates that are seared into our collective consciousness, I will never forget where I was when I heard the news. My wife and I made the hour drive home from the hospital that evening, although I cannot remember actually steering the car. That night, I shook.

The next day I told my wife that I needed to do something, anything to try to change the world in which I had sentenced my children to live. I was ashamed for my previous inaction and tacit acceptance of gun violence; I was ashamed for the country. The rest of the world looked upon America as a land populated by blood-thirsty renegades armed better than Dirty Harry with a fuse shorter than a Bruce Willis’s hair. Surely, after this mind-skewing, paradigm shift, Washington would act responsibly? Americans would demand it! Politicians would push and shove their way to the front of the line to co-sign responsible gun legislation! Unaware of any grassroots organizations and devoid of any previous political activism, I reached out to the one group I knew with a history of fighting the gun lobby, the Brady Campaign.

“I haven’t had a representative in the Houston area for three years,” said the head of the Texas Brady chapter. Roll that around in your head for a second. Houston is the country’s fourth largest city with a population of over 2 million people and the Brady Campaign has no local chapter? Hell, Connecticut has three!

And yet, in spite of my newly embraced activism, it all still seemed a little remote. I could still only partially allow myself to invite in the nightmare of what it would have been like if it had been my children. Emotionally, as a parent, as a human, it was a door I was only willing to open a crack, lest the devastating emotion behind it drown me. That all changed on a conference call.

The head of the Texas chapter of the Brady Campaign invited me to participate in a call with hundreds of other members and a guest speaker. It was scheduled for Monday, January 7th at 5:00. Because I was still at work, I stayed late and joined the call already in progress. There was a woman speaking with intimate knowledge of the shooting in Aurora. I listened intently, but removed and muted. However, as I listened, I began to piece together who the speaker was. At the moment my mind made the connection, she spoke the words that will forever haunt me. It was Jessica Redfield’s mother, and she was describing, in vivid detail, the events of that night and how, where and why her daughter had been murdered. I could no longer prevent that nightmarish door from opening. Jessica Redfield’s mother was telling me how that door had been ripped from its hinges and cast into space. Suddenly, it was all very real. I had come full circle. What I had started in July as an angry blog by simply cutting and pasting an entry from a theater shooting victim had brought me to listening to the mother of that same victim on a January night. Surreal. Emotional. Devastating. Goose bumps. Real.

I assumed I would write a few articles and make a few calls on behalf of the Brady Campaign. However, soon, word spread and I was being asked to speak at local area democratic clubs. Then I was asked to debate a state representative on a local PBS television program. (The Tea Party twit backed out at the last minute!) Immediately, armed with logic, a rational ethos and compassion, my inner Toby Ziegler/Josh Lyman/Josiah Bartlet took over. I carried photos of the Sandy Hook victims in my wallet. My speech ballooned to 45 minutes. I was able to scan the crowd, in front of whom I was soon to speak, and pick out the planted RWNJ’s itching to ask me to define an assault weapon. It became my personal goal to piss off at least one person in the crowd at each speech, although living in Texas, that was not a lofty challenge. Panel discussions followed and more speeches.

But soon, I found that while the name “Brady Campaign” got me in the door to speak, they did little else locally. I believe the Brady Campaign in Washington continues to do wonderful things standing up to the vitriol of the NRA and battling in state legislatures across the country. However, I needed to belong to something at the local level. What I found was my gender shutting me out of the most amazing group of people I had met in this fight.

It seemed that whenever I was asked to speak, so too was a rotating posse of equally exorcised and like-minded members of the Houston chapter of the newly formed Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, or just Moms Demand Action. These women were phenomenal. Educated, passionate and ready to go toe-to-toe with any gun rights wing nut, this group of similarly accidental activists bolstered my spirits and strengthened my resolve. Fuck not with a mama bear protecting her cubs, lest you unleash her limitless wrath. Enrage 100,000 of them and I pity the NRA. In short, they were the grassroots organization I longed for. I longed to be an “honorary Mom.”

We saw each other everywhere. From speech to speech, there they were. They were on-stage at a rally on the steps of the state capitol in Austin where I managed to get into a verbal confrontation with a RWNJ who tried to crash the proceedings (with his young grandson in tow). They were at a protest outside the Houston-hosted, annual paranoia jamboree (officially known as the NRA Annual Conference) where, again, I got to piss off a different RWNJ. It was there that I saw Neil Heslin, father of Jesse Lewis. Jesse was just one of the 20 children murdered at Sandy Hook. I stood ten feet from Mr. Heslin and wanted to speak to him, but my brain could conceive of no combination of words that could pacify him or rally him. What could I say that didn’t sound shallow, condescending or meaningless?  His eyes conveyed a pain, a hollowness that seemed to match the emptiness he must have felt inside, an ember and ash hole where his heart had once lived, a void which Jesse once filled.  I also saw Erica Lafferty, daughter of Dawn Hocksprung, principal of Sandy Hook and one of the first killed on that still inconceivable day. Ms. Lafferty had the same look of pain, but also a sense of fury behind her eyes that I wanted to bottle. And the Moms were there at a press conference with United States Representative Sheila Jackson Lee outside the Rothko Chapel commemorating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and beseeching the Senate not to filibuster the Manchin-Toomey amendment. This was a cause with character (and characters). I was not alone in this. There were now faces and voices with which I could bond.

And so, it has been one year since Aurora and 217 days since Newtown. The challenges that lie before us are still all there. Washington is still lethargic and paralyzed. The Texas legislature has passed 14 laws weakening gun laws. Countless assault rifles have been sold to those paranoid “patriots” convinced that the president will come knocking on their door to confiscate their guns. And the American public, with their fruit fly length memory and fickle attention span have moved on to other more current atrocities, shifting their outrage to a new target, resigned to the fact that their demand for gun control legislation (within the confines of our instant gratification society) was not fulfilled.

 Brady Fact Sheet

It has been one year since Aurora. One year, but for me, this is only Year One. We haven’t done enough. But we are not alone and we are not dissuaded. In a country awash in guns, there will be another mass shooting. Americans will again display their transient outrage and, maybe, Washington will listen. It is a long road through an unfair and uneven process, but change will come. We will be here fighting for those who cannot. And when change does come, ask yourself, “What did I do?” Let this be your Year One.

Two Videos, a Picture and a Question

Simple post today. Just two videos for you to view and think about and one picture for you to think about and answer.

Here is the first video:

How Many More Rounds?

If that didn’t move you, you have no pulse.

Here is the second:

Deja Vu

Now a question. How many more presidents, Republican or Democrat, will have to reorder those words and give the same speech with the same emotion and sincerity before we demand Congress does something? Before we demand that the “gun culture” in America is a failure that does not provide security to its citizens and that we embrace legislation similar to other industrialized nations who neither suffer our gun caused carnage nor understand our acceptance of it in the name of some bastardized definition of freedom? How long?

Now a picture for you to consider:

NRA Terrorist Organization

Discuss, debate, ruminate and then ACT. Now.