In the time that has passed since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School, I have wondered whether it will become one of those events, like 9-11 or the assassination of JFK, for which everyone remembers where they were when they heard about it. I actually don’t remember where I was when I heard about what happened in Newtown. But what I do remember vividly from that day is one of my roommates coming home, talking to someone on the phone about the shooting, her voice distraught, trying to make sense of what had happened.
I remember that moment because my roommate’s distress illuminated my lack of distress. I began to wonder why I had not wept for those children as soon as I heard the news of their deaths. I do not remember where I was when the Sandy Hook massacre happened because my first reaction was to go numb. And my subconscious probably chose to go numb because it feared what was coming.
That is -- the NRA’s pathetic excuses and Congress’s disgusting refusal to do anything about what happened. Our government’s inaction only validated my decision to go numb. What would happen to me if I cried for every victim of gun violence, and nothing changed? I’d be so full of grief that I would have no room left for hope.
And so, every shooting since Newtown has left me with a profound feeling of emptiness.
That’s what I felt Sunday morning when I woke up to two New York Times notifications about Orlando. “Oh, another shooting. Can’t wait to see what Congress doesn’t do about it.” I didn’t mention the story to my mom when she called me a few minutes later. I didn’t mention it to my boyfriend as I was getting dressed and saying goodbye to him. By the time I walked out the door of his apartment, I had all but forgotten about it.
We cannot allow ourselves to fall into a cycle of apathy.
But thanks to my addiction to social media, I couldn’t forget about it. Almost every post on my Twitter and Facebook feeds was about Orlando, and they weren’t just news articles -- there were emotional, vulnerable expressions of grief, fear, anger, and, perhaps surprisingly, hope.
I wrote to my representatives on Sunday. It’s the first time I’ve done that since I was in high school, when I and my fellow members of the Gay Straight Alliance called our New Jersey state representative to encourage him to vote for a bill legalizing gay marriage before Chris Christie became governor.
The bill didn’t pass, but I shouldn’t have let that discourage me from taking part in that kind of activism for all these years.
We Americans are distant from our legislators, and understandably so. Our system of government was designed to prevent “the people” from having too much say in it. The people could not vote for their senators until 1914. The Founding Fathers created the Electoral College because they didn’t think the people could be trusted to choose their president. Political parties put the election of the president back in the hands of the people, but presidential primary elections didn’t begin until 1901.
Throughout the history of this country, the people have acquired progressively more power in choosing their governors, but we still feel an understandable lack of efficacy. When polls say that 92 percent of Americans support universal background checks, and Congress doesn’t pass universal background checks, we feel as though our opinions have no influence on our representatives’ actions.
But we cannot allow ourselves to fall into a cycle of apathy. When the masses begin to say, “My voice doesn’t matter,” the number of people taking action shrinks. I don’t know whether it would have made a difference if I, and every other person like me who went numb after hearing the news about Sandy Hook, had written to our legislators telling them to take action. But we will not know the answer to that question until we try.
Let the grief settle so deep inside your heart that it compels you to reach out your hand and take action.
Human beings have a tendency to blame other people for their problems. It’s easy to criticize someone else’s behavior. It’s difficult to criticize your own. But we will not change the world until each of us vows to do better, because we are the world -- each of us is a stitch in the fabric which makes up this society we live in. Today is the day that you should allow yourself to grieve. Let the grief settle so deep inside your heart that it compels you to reach out your hand and take action.
Write to your representatives today. Then think about all the other things that you can do to enact change. Boycott businesses that allow firearms. Stop buying products (music, movies, video games) that glorify gun violence. Teach your children not to trivialize gun violence. Support or volunteer for a group like Everytown for Gun Safety or Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.
And, at the most personal level of social change, treat others with kindness. Do what you can to foster a sense of love among people, rather than a sense of hatred. Revere the power to create rather than the power to destroy.
Make it a goal to say to yourself every night when you lie down in bed, “Today, I did something to change the world.”
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