Dr. Benjamin Barber, an American political theorist, believed that communities could be built of trust, connection and cooperation, and that engaged citizens would change the world.
In 2013, he wrote: “…When democracy works, gun control legislation will pass. It’s that simple.”
Barely two weeks after 17 of their schoolmates and teachers were killed in yet another a school shooting just 40 miles south from me, the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida have taken the moral high ground, demanding action on gun control. On the steps of the state house in Tallahassee,
at a CNN town hall, and in a televised meeting at the White House with the President, these kids and their supporters have refused to be satisfied with the standard political reaction: “hopes and prayers” followed by shrugs, excuses and inaction.
We can agree that there should never be another mass shooting. The Parkland students’ cry makes this a demand: #NeverAgain.
When I was the age of the middle school children who were killed in Parkland on February 14, Dad was about halfway through a five-year assignment in Washington, DC. Terrorism hadn’t followed us to America from Colombia, where Bogota was living through La Violencia. My biggest school worry in the Maryland suburbs was Mrs. Meyers’ glare in math class.
While I worked on my A-line shift in Home Economics, the older brothers and sisters of my schoolmates on college campuses across the country created an anti-war movement protesting the Vietnam War. They made a movement, saying: “Hell, no, we won’t go.” These young people, the age of American soldiers, forced an end to the Vietnam War.
#NeverAgain. Hell, no. This is the cry we must all take up from now on.
These kids have made waves, and the waves are washing up more than platitudes. Many elected officials, including Trump, are going on the record for the first time with ideas that might actually reduce school shootings, and maybe even gun violence as a whole. While the talking heads debate the more radical proposals — like arming teachers on the one hand, or taking guns away from law-abiding citizens on the other — there are some middle-ground ideas that may stick.
One that should make sense to both gun-control advocates and Second Amendment advocates is the “gun violence restraining order” which removes guns from those who pose a danger to themselves or others. California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon, and Washington have such a law on the books. Another nineteen states are considering similar legislation. Florida is not among them.
Barber wrote: “Strong democracy … means citizenship as a way of living: an expected element of one’s life. It is a prominent and natural role, such as that of ‘parent’ or ‘neighbor.’”
My parents thought of themselves as ordinary Americans given the extraordinary opportunity of representing their country abroad with the US Information Service. Dad promoted democracy — freedom of the press, fair and open elections, the free exchange of ideas — in his daily dealings with newspaper editors, business leaders and government officials. Mom, whose father ran her small town’s hardware store, grew up as part of the town’s community: in the church, at the library, at the local YMCA. It’s what was expected, but it was not always easy to find opportunities in countries where social status defined behavior.
But in Colombia, volunteerism was at work, and she became part of a group of women engaged in supporting the YMCA and in running a nursery school. Her work was publicly praised by the Ambassador, a rarity for Foreign Service wives. More important to Mom, however, was her relationship to these remarkable Colombian women, who she would have considered friends in any country. Community participation is what a person did. When Dad retired to Boston, Mom volunteered at the United Way, and she was an engaged supporter of the Brewster Ladies Library when they moved to Cape Cod.
I continue to donate to the Library. We raised our daughter in the public schools, at public libraries, in church communities during our 30 years in upstate New York. She helped clean up after Katrina, painted housing in West Virginia, and fed the homeless in Washington, DC. Being with community is how this is all supposed to work.
The Parkland children have called us to March for Our Lives on March 24 in Washington and across the country. If we act like members of a community we value, we will not just march but also work to elect men and women who support gun-control. The November mid-term elections could be our country’s watershed moment, when we voted for our lives.