Saturday, February 24, 2018

Taking Up The Cross and a Cause

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.--Mark 8:34

It was one week after the Valentine's Ash Wednesday massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and the word had been spreading far and wide throughout Tallahassee: come to the state Capitol and show the students that we are going to fight for their right to go to their public school and not be mowed down by a semi-automatic weapon. Our school board and school superintendent thought this rally was important enough that they granted excused absences to any student wishing to attend. Marches organized on both the Florida State and Florida A&M University campuses, approaching the Capitol from south and the north sides. And then there were just the ordinary, work-a-day folks like me, who laid aside whatever was on the day's agenda to make this event the priority.

I don't have kids. I have never wanted to have kids of my own. The "biological clock" that I, as a woman, supposedly have built into my system must have broken back when I was a teenager because I haven't felt less feminine or upset that I didn't experience pregnancy and birth and then the responsibility of raising a child. All that said, I still have a tender spot in my heart for children. I delight in their successes (often shared with me by their proud parents), and I feel empathy for them when the world knocks them around because I remember that for my youth. But I never had to practice what to do in the event of an active shooter entering my school. And I never had to worry about someone wielding an AR-15 or other weapon firing multiple high-powered shots at me and my peers. Today's children are facing greater dangers than I ever did. And it's not OK.

So, just as I have done for Black Lives Matter, and standing up for Muslims in the face of a travel ban, and joining in silent peaceful protest for indigenous people fighting the Dakota Access pipeline, I went to the state Capitol not for me and my kind, but for those who are under attack: kids in public schools.

And what an experience! I arrived about ten minutes after the appointed gathering time of 11am. Already, there were probably about 300 people at the state Capitol, many of them teenagers from the local schools. I felt my heart swell with love and pride in these kids as they led chants of "We Want Change!" and "Vote Them Out!" Their voices were clear and loud and there was an urgency to their calls for action. The crowd kept growing. More people, young and old, and even a man in a WWII veteran baseball cap being pushed in a wheelchair carefully made his way through the growing throng of people. By the time the students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School arrived, there were more than 3,000 people crammed into the area in front of the Old State Capitol. It was amazing. The crowd was so large that the PA system they were using wasn't quite powerful enough for the people standing out in Monroe Street to hear the speakers. But it didn't matter. The speeches weren't "the thing"; it was the presence, the witness, and the commitment to the Parkland students that we, the grown-ups, won't let them down again.

Because we have let them down before. As I said, we have accepted a society where the children of today must not only practice how to leave the building during a fire drill, but must know what to do in an active shooter situation. Really? Shouldn't we be about making sure that there are no active shooter situations? Is there a reason that we have tolerated the expansion of the gun culture?

One day after the rally in Tallahassee, and a follow-up town hall on CNN, the National Rifle Association was peddling its agenda of fear and horror to conservative voters at the CPAC meeting. NRA spokesperson Dana Loesch actually said that the mainstream media, or what she called the "legacy" media, enjoy mass shootings because it's a ratings booster to show "sobbing white mothers." NRA leader Wayne LaPierre tried to feed into the paranoia that the Democratic Party is attempting to use a "new European socialist" approach to taking away everyone's guns. Some NRA members have decided to make death threats against the kids from Parkland, FL, who are speaking out about the shooting at their school. How ugly can you get?

But the voices of the children are vibrating at a frequency much higher than what we've seen before. Corporate America, which had been offering all kinds of membership benefits to people who flashed their NRA card, have started dropping the gun enthusiasts like the hot potatoes that they are. Politicians, refusing to cut loose from their NRA overlords, are feeling the pressure from voters in ways they are not used to experiencing. They're hearing from teens, parents, grandparents. But they are also hearing from the childless people such as me. Because this issue is bigger than me, or any one individual. This is a collective fight for the restoration of sanity to our country. I will pick up that cross and carry it into the streets, and into the voting booth this fall. 

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