Three Speeches

I’m not one to use this blog much for political grandstanding. With the occasional exception of complaining that my vote was not counted and a record of joining up (and breaking up) with Occupy Wall Street last year, the Activism part of Reverse Retrograde has almost always been on a personal level. Cut down my own spending and consumption. Buy only ethically-sourced makeup. Consignment-only fashion.

Days were necessary for me to decide what to say (if anything) about the school shooting at Sandy Hook. In all honesty, I hoped to temper my immediate visceral reaction with a few days of digesting and preparing to react. I felt my reaction wouldn’t be complete until I had taught my own students, and realized how much older than the tiny victims they all are. I hoped for some objectivity.

I may have failed. Today I stumbled upon this video on Youtube, and I was struck by it.

Three presidents, three school shootings, three speeches. Yet in the thirteen years since Columbine, those years which saw me grow up and formed the foundation for my adult life…almost nothing about how we deal with these tragedies has changed. Not even the words from the presidents. Most of us who grew up in the US during this period could probably rattle off a speech for reacting to a shooting verbatim, because we’ve heard them so many times.

We’ve seen at least 179 school shootings in the United States since April 1999. One hundred. Seventy. Nine. Not all of those shootings involved deaths, and thus many have been forgotten or ignored. Only a handful have made it onto the national stage.

The words of these three presidents mean absolutely nothing if they are not reinforced by concrete actions, and frankly we’ve all failed each other in the last thirteen years. How could we allow 179 examples of attempted or successful cold-blooded murder in our schools to change nothing about how we react to and move on from shootings? We can’t even truly have a national conversation about this, because it’s never the right time to have a dialogue about guns.

I suppose that’s a somewhat unfair assessment. The reaction has changed. People like Mike Huckabee have decided that it’s their place to tell us exactly why children died in a primary school, deciding that he alone is the mouthpiece for the divine.

People like Huckabee are doing the same as all the rest of us, grasping at any possible explanation for the slaughter so that we might not have to face the random and unpredictable nature of school and other mass shootings. If we could only blame “God’s exit from society” or contraceptives, or abortion, or gay marriage, or violence in movies, or values, or rock and roll, or feminism, or gun control, or WalMart, or any one thing…we wouldn’t have to place the blame where it truly belongs.

We have no one to blame for these shootings but ourselves.

If we are willing to sacrifice children as young as six to the Liberty we cling to in our guns, we have no one to blame but ourselves. If we stand by Newtown as we stood by Littleton and Blacksburg, but make no real effort to change gun and mental health access in the United States, we have no one to blame but ourselves. If we allow the hollow words of a president to convince us that enough is being done, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Make no mistake: This can and will happen again if real change is not enacted.

I can’t stand another thirteen years of this. I can’t stand a single death more. I can’t stand the thought that I can’t walk into a movie theater or a school in the United States without that tiny voice in the back of my mind whispering, “Know your exits. If the shooter comes in the back, where will you go?” I can’t stand the thought of sending a child of mine into the ever-present possibility of violence.

This has to stop. The only chance we have is to start placing blame where it belongs, and transforming that realization into real and lasting change. I don’t pretend to have any answers, but I know that the first steps have to be taken now, before the memory fades away and we forget until the next time. Start the conversation. Start taking action.

This time, we must change.

Start here: Read up on the latest research into the United States’ gun culture.

I’m Breaking Up With You, Occupy

It’s not me, it’s you, Occupy.

You woke up the world and changed the political and rhetorical discourse. You brought people from all walks of life together in their commonalities instead of their differences. You woke up and mobilized a generation. You have the tools of connectivity around the world that your forebears in 1968 and 1848 would’ve died for. You had every potential to change the world forever.

But you’ve fallen off the bandwagon and wandered off into the woods. Not even you know what you want anymore. I don’t believe the rhetoric that those who never felt your pull have spouted since the beginning, that you are an aimless amalgamation of smelly hippies that never had a path anyway. I know better. I was there. I saw that you had real aims, reachable goals, motivated people.

So what’s your excuse for falling apart?

I’ve seen an ugly side of you in recent weeks, a side I never saw in November when I joined you in the streets. You’ll need concrete examples, and I’ll furnish them.

You’ve begun squashing dissent within your ranks, pushing out those you and your cliques decide “isn’t ______ (revolutionary, counterculture, whatever) enough.” Exclusion is contrary to every aim that occupy espouses. But you didn’t even stop there. Members of Occupy went so far as to shove a livestreamer, Tim Pool, because he may not have been enough on their side.

This is just the tip of the iceberg, dear Occupy. This moment has caused an open schism within the Occupy Wall Street movement, because it’s become the age-old debate of violent vs. nonviolent civil disobedience. Have you forgotten, Occupy? Have you never read your history about the Civil Rights Movement, about the French Revolution, about the Arab Spring? You’re kowtowing to those who believe that BlackBloc tactics are the next step. You’re afraid of those who believe violence is the only way, and you’ve allowed your fear to drive you into their arms.

You lack self-discipline. How many times have you marched against the abuses of the system, and then gone back to trying to exploit it in your favor? People have problems with drugs, alcohol, and mental health issues. But you give them a free pass, and fail to hold each accountable for her/his own actions. You willingly bring on negative stereotypes by smoking pot in the park, and then complaining of police brutality when an officer tickets you. 

You distract from the true police brutality, and discredit your brothers and sisters who suffer it. 

You’ve been swept up in the furor of the “Fuck the Police” marches. You’ve forgotten that the police are a part of the 99 Percent. You’ve made it Us vs. Them, in everything. You’ve forgotten that it was supposed to be about all those disenfranchised by the current economic system. You let the police violence intimidate you into losing your focus. Are you so blind that you truly believe that wasn’t the aim?

You hide behind your masks and proclaim that this is freedom. Instead of humanizing the movement with the faces of real people, and being courageous enough to own your rebellion with your real name, you hide. You espouse a global revolution, but you buy your masks to symbolize your commitment to liberty from factories in China that keep their employees in slave labour. You line the pockets of those you were sworn to oppose.

I waited my whole life for this movement. At five, I was telling my kindergarten teacher that when I grew up, I wanted to be an activist. My generation’s acquiescence and anesthetization through sugary sodas and constant stimulating enraged me. I thought, Occupy…I thought we really had a chance.

And so, my dear Occupy…I’m breaking up with you.

I’m not saying it’s over. We might be able to salvage this once we’ve both taken some time to decide whether we want to. In the meantime, I have only one request.

Stop. Just stop. Stop wandering into the woods and stand there a moment. I’m not asking you to come back to the path because I can’t make that decision for you, but at least to consider it. Drop the “Vs. Them” and make this simply about “Us.” All of Us. Consider the confusion and emotion and hypocrisy, and decide what to take.

I’m going to go back to changing the world in my quiet, no-tent-required ways. I can’t wait to see where you go from here.