Thursday, March 29, 2018

MARCH 24th - March for Our Lives in Parkland

As I stood under the beautiful South Florida skies of Parkland, listening to the speeches from the stage, a thought crossed my mind. I cannot call these young people children. That was taken away from them. These are young women and young men whose childhood was ripped away in the aftermath of a little more than six minutes on February 14th that would change their life forever; and they now have the will to change the world.

Our community is large and small at the same time. It is large enough to accommodate a certain quasi-urban transactional anonymity in our daily interaction. It is small enough that we are neighbors to each other. We are not a six-degrees kind of place, more like a one or two-degree community. As the owner of a small shop that struggles to earn its keep in the new world of e-commerce, I was deeply impacted by the tragedy in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, two miles and a bit away from where I spend most of my waking hours. The moment I knew of it I feared the worst, which was soon realized. Four of the young fatal victims had been customers in our store, some with more frequency than others. The child of one of the staff members murdered had purchased her ballet slippers here some time ago, a little size 9.5 child shoe. Another fatal victim held a teenage job in the same plaza where we are located and he, as well as one of the critically injured, is from another sub-community close to me, the Venezuelan community.

The survivors have poured their hearts out to us over the last few weeks with harrowing tales of cowering in dark corners and stepping out through pools of blood. Parents told us of their anguish as they dropped everything and headed to meet their children. Our small community had gotten a lot smaller; and our community would now join the growing list of communities across the nation that have to live with the indelible scar of common tragedy. A list that should grow never again.

At the march on Saturday I met my UPS driver, whose daughter was in Washington, DC, as part of the student delegation of Parkland students. She saw one of her best friends die in her classroom; she now sings for her and for so many others. I met a long ago customer who said she could never forgive herself if she did not add her number to the thousands marching that day; her son is an alum from MSD; in her daughter’s middle school yearbook, chills went down their spine as they spotted the killer as a classmate. I met part of the dance team marching for one of their own, a beautiful young soul who had been coming to our store since age six and for whom my eyes swell up every time I see her name handwritten in happy letters in her many fun entries in our collection of guest books.  I heard voices in many accents, Spanish, English, Portuguese, others. I saw diversity, a black man next to me in refrain with the speakers, a woman in a hijab with her children, many Latinos, many, many, many so-called tattooed rednecks that you would cast type in a country western saloon. We were all marching as community. A community in grief, a community in force.

One of the speakers at the rally talked about unity and compromise. His daughter was one of the victims, one of those that walked the same floor I walk on every day; she would be looking for earrings, for tights in the right color. He wants a better world, but recognizes that it is a long path that must be shared by all. As I saw the crowd, there were attempts for political co-opting and divisiveness. If we are to succeed in the goal of making our schools, our movie theaters, our churches, our office parties, our restaurants, our concerts, our crowded streets, our country safe we must first acknowledge that we all bleed the same. Children of Republicans and children of Democrats and children of those who could care less, die often at the end of the barrel of a gun. More young people die yearly from gun violence than from car accidents. People of all ages, backgrounds, and affiliations succumb every day to gun violence; if we know tragedy can happen we must not stand still and do nothing if there is something we can do. We must at least speak out and be part of the conversation; we must surely vote.

When a combination of factors align in the worst of ways these tragedies occur. One of the best deterrents to a bad guy with a gun is making sure that the bad guy does not get a gun in the first place; if he gets a gun, it should not be a weapon of mass murder; and if he uses it, it should be difficult for him to wreak mayhem with it. Three factors that can be addressed in a bipartisan way without compromising our civil rights. The first two of these factors are opposed by those whose interest is ever increasing sales of their deadly wares. In the third, their answer is a greater amount of more powerful arms for everyone. Again, selling more deadly wares.

We must not confuse civil rights organizations with manufacturing associations. Civil rights organizations defend our constitution from abuses of power by the government or others. Civil rights organizations derive most of their funding from membership fees. Manufacturing associations have as their purpose to further the commercial interests of their members and derive most of their funding from fees and/or donations from the manufacturers whose interests are furthered by the association. The behavior and funding of the NRA parallels that of a manufacturing association while it claims to be a civil rights organization, purposefully distorting the meaning and intention of the second amendment and thus debasing the power of our constitution. The young men and women leading the gun regulation movement know this and are doing something about it. They know the straightforward, clear and unencumbered meaning of “well regulated.” They are the ones defending our constitution.

Photo: Carlos J. Rangel



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