Unarmed Truth

We all know Facebook is fraught with risk these days. Say the "wrong" thing and you could be in the middle of a vicious word battle with your "friends." This is especially true with the upcoming election and gun control issues.

I thought I had learned my lesson after a few unfortunate incidents. After those, I promised myself not to respond to angry posts and just allow others their voice.

But something happened after the Orlando shooting. Like thousands of other people, every mass shooting affected me and I wrote my share of posts related to the carnage, the tragedy, and the helplessness. I had made that promise to myself but political correctness and Facebook friendships be damned. How could anyone look at the pictures and read the heart-breaking stories and not want action?

I couldn't understand why our representatives failed us so abominably with the vast majority of Americans supporting common sense gun safety measures. It was absolutely inconceivable that minds and hearts were unmoved by such devastation and the slaughter of innocents.

So the Orlando shooting hit me hard, just as I know it affected many others, people like me that didn't know the victims but felt the intense sorrow. There was another reason, though. I live in the Southwest now but I grew up in Orlando and for 30 years it was my home. To see this nightmare in my home town was wrenching.

My Facebook resolution was broken and posts about common sense measures hit my wall with ricocheting anger. And the usual fracas occurred. "Friends" who didn't trust the government and loved their guns volleyed back--hard.

I felt anger that they could not see the pain, the suffering, the blood. They're all good people and yet their dedication to their stance was cold and impenetrable. I remember how I went back and forth with one friend about loopholes and gun sales and he insisted I was wrong and didn't understand the process. When I found factual support and sent it, he still insisted I was wrong.

At that point, I was completely frustrated because every time I addressed his issue, I asked him what I thought was the more critical question, "What do you propose to do to curb gun violence?" He didn't answer until the end of our volleys. It was an answer but all his passion was gone.

What I didn't get was why wasn't that the focus of his passion: How do we end the gun violence?

We went back and forth about that and he said my ideas were ineffective and I thought to myself isn't that how we solve problems? We brainstorm. We consider all the options. We try them. We don't just strike the ideas down. It made me think of what Obama had said about implementing some measures with the understanding that if even one action stopped one tragedy, it was worth it.

These shootings, this violence haunts me. As a mother of four children, I want to protect my family. I want them to have a better world and this "new reality" is not what I want my children to face. What do I tell them? Hey, Chris, when you're on your college campus and you get that text message like we got the other day, remember to zig and zag when you run. In truth, when I got that message alert recently that a possible armed man was on his campus, my heart stopped until I heard his voice and knew he was okay.

This heightened vigilance now follows me everywhere. I'm an educator and recently got hired at a new school. Since Newtown, like a cop that checks out a perimeter, I unconsciously check for the safety of my classroom and school. When I realized there were no windows, no closets, and no offices connecting classrooms in my new classroom, I was upset. There was only one door. This spelled no options. All of my other classrooms had windows, closets, offices. When I reviewed my safety plans for the year, I always reflected on where I would have the students go in case of lockdown, etc. One year, I even moved filing cabinets near both doors and discussed with my students what we would do in case of an intruder. With this new reality, I couldn't shield my students. If they weren't prepared, if we weren't ready, we might not have a chance.

After returning to my old school district, I was both encouraged and dismayed at what the safety instructions advised for an armed intruder. On the one hand, it finally gave teachers freedom to make choices and decisions in a fateful moment. We could "hide, run, or fight." For many years, that was not written in our safety manuals. It just said to be quiet and lock the door. So, on the one hand, I liked increasing our odds. On the other hand, it gave a directive for the teacher to stand by the door with whatever item he/she considered a weapon and be ready to attack. Okay, I was glad I had options but this paper instructed me to give up my life. I smiled sadly because like almost every teacher I know of course, I would rather something happen to me rather than my students, my "kids."

And when I recently returned to college for a Master's degree this summer, the recent text message alert from the university wasn't far from my mind. I found myself assessing the location of everything in the library. Where were the exits? Where should I sit so I could see the doors? Before Newtown, I would never have noticed.

To me, what is just as frightening as this new reality is what happened with that recent Facebook "fight." Several other friends joined the one guy's side and basically ganged up on me. Where was the respect? Why didn't I have the right to voice what I believed?

When I discussed this with my family, they explained that I was naive and couldn't write my beliefs on Facebook and that I should know better than getting into it with people on Facebook. In fact, a distant relative recently chastised me for putting my political beliefs on Facebook. I hardly know the man and he thought he had the right to silence me. To me, it wasn't about a fight. It wasn't about winning. It was about having a voice.

These tragedies affected me deeply and I thought about those, young and old, who have no voice anymore. When you think of that indisputable fact, all of the debates are moot points. Still, it can plunge a person into despair. Add in that mammoth, obscenely financed entity known as the NRA, pulling the strings of puppet politicians and it feels ever so hopeless.

One of the only comforts I've found is thinking about the civil rights movement. Talk about despair. Talk about injustice. Talk about tragedy. How did activists rise up against seemingly insurmountable odds and make changes?

I thought back to a Martin Luther King quote: "I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right, temporarily defeated, is stronger than evil triumphant."

As my mind was circling around civil rights history and inspiration, I was grasping for ideas for lessons for the next school year. As an educator, I thought that maybe I could make a difference with lessons on tolerance. I realized it was not enough to stem the tide of violence.

And as if by providence, John Lewis appeared on the news, the same Lewis I taught my students about last year when I taught them about powerful words. So often in that Native American school, non-Native Americans were looked on with distrust and yet, John Lewis's words and actions on March 7, 1965 spoke volumes, breaking through the barriers.

So many years later, he was teaching us all again with his leadership and the sit-in at the House to protest the inaction of our representatives: "We have been too quiet for too long. There comes a time when you have to say something. You have to make a little noise. You have to move your feet. This is the time." He entreated us to be "headlights, not taillights. We can't continue to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the reality of mass gun violence."

During that same unit, we studied another powerful person, Malala Yousafzai, and her words echoed back to me:

"One child, one teacher, one book, one pen can change the world."

"When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful."

How could I teach my students these words if I let myself be bullied into silence on Facebook?

In the next Facebook round I took a new tack. Instead of debating with my friend about her lack of faith in our government and our country, I asked my friend to join me in taking actions that improved our nation.

In honor of Orlando and the 49 lives lost, I am committing to 49 actions to improve our country. Will you join me?

No more moments of silence. Moments of action. Moments of speaking up.

Stanley, Amanda, Oscar, Rodolfo, Antonio, Darryl, Angel, Juan, Luis, Cory, Tevin, Deonka, Simon, Leroy, Mercedez, Peter, Juan Ramon, Paul, Frank, Miguel, Javier, Jason, Eddie, Anthony, Christopher, Alejandro, Brenda, Gilberto, Kimberly, Akyra, Luis Omar, Geraldo, Eric, Joel, Jean, Enrique, Jean C. Nives, Xavier, Christopher Joseph, Yilmary, Edward, Shane, Martin, Jonathan, Juan P., Luis S., Franky, Luis Daniel, and Jerald...You are not forgotten.

We will remember you with unarmed truth and unconditional love.