In late May of last year thousands of students in Chicago organized a peace demonstration. Prior to the march they staged a sit-in in which they layed down on the street to highlight the 100s of lives lost in their community due to gun violence. These incredible kids channeled their pain into a powerful call for change, but their efforts went largely under-the-radar & unheard. As Chicago activist Ja’mal Green put it in an interview:
“The youth that I mentor every week are going through deppression. I don’t call it PTSD. (post traumatic stress disorder) I call it CTSD. It’s continuous! And then we look to our leaders to actually figure out ways to solve this problem & what do we get? We get the mayor who shut down all the mental health facilities…”
Fast forward almost a year later & the nation has been rocked by the anti-gun violence activism of amazing students in Parkland, Florida who have been raising their voices for change in the wake of the tragic school mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High. Like their Chicago counterparts, they have valiantly fought through their trauma & grief to stage “die-ins”, student walk outs, & are gearing up for a national #MarchForOurLives on the 24th of this month.
The Compassion Deficit
In one sense, America suffers from a lack of compassion & moral will across the board to confront & cure the violence coursing through its national veins. We are the United States of Amnesia & Denial. We quickly move on as if nothing happened once the most recent mass shooting news headlines begin to fade. When powerfully confronted about this reality too many of us slip into delusional displays of denial.
A few weeks back I read an article entitled “Why We’re Underestimating The American Collapse”. Author Umar Haque really seems to get at the very distinct nature of the soul’cial disease ravaging the so called “land of the free & home of the brave”. We are indeed exceptional….just in all the wrong ways. Hague writes:
“Let me give you just five examples of what I’ll call the social pathologies of collapse — strange, weird, and gruesome new diseases, not just ones we don’t usually see in healthy societies, but ones that we have never really seen before in any modern society.
America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days. That’s one every other day, more or less. That statistic is alarming enough — but it is just a number. Perspective asks us for comparison. So let me put that another way. America has had 11 school shootings in the last 23 days, which is more than anywhere else in the world, even Afghanistan or Iraq. In fact, the phenomenon of regular school shootings appears to be a unique feature of American collapse — it just doesn’t happen in any other country — and that is what I mean by “social pathologies of collapse”: a new, bizarre, terrible disease striking society.
Why are American kids killing each other? Why doesn’t their society care enough to intervene? Well, probably because those kids have given up on life — and their elders have given up on them. Or maybe you’re right — and it’s not that simple. Still, what do the kids who aren’t killing each other do? Well, a lot of them are busy killing themselves.”
Given that America has always been & continues to be, “one nation under white supremacy”, these issues tend to have a racialized (and gendered) component to them. White (male) mass shooters enjoy “lone wolf” status while people of color & religous minorities endure the woes of “wolfpack” status when an individual from their ethnic/racial or religious group commits heinous acts. The young man who killed 17 people allegedly had swastikas embedded on his weapons & there are contested reports that he had recently trained with a white nationalist militia group. Still, he is humanized by speculations about how childhood trauma & mental illness contributed to his actions by some of the same people who could not employ similar empathy for black victims of state & vigilante violence like Rekia Boyd, Trayvon Martin, or Mike Brown. Their records & flaws are dug up as they endure what one writer calls “post-mortem media violence” as known white mass shooters & terrorists get post-massacre trips to Burger King. *deep sigh*
Back to the Chicago student movement & the Parkland student movement…….
Quite a few folks have undertaken the task of showing the tragic disparities of how the anti-gun violence work initiated by working class & poor students of color across the nation has been received versus the response & major support garnered by the predominately white middle & upper class students in Parkland Florida. One sad example of this is the full-throated vocal & financial support recently given by the likes of Oprah & Obama. Though mainstream conservative media would have you believe that Obama was the founder & chief supporter of Black Lives Matter, the truth is that both he & Oprah struggled & stumbled in their attempts to respond affirmatively to the young activists leading these charges. There are reasons for this. Assistant professor of African-American Studies at Princeton University, Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, recently wrote:
“Black movements are never popular because they reveal the ugly underbelly of American history and society. Even liberals who recoil from what they perceive to be the “imperfections” of U.S. society often reject the systemic critiques that arise from the struggles of working class and poor Black movements.”
Before I go any further, let me be clear: I am 100% behind & excited about the work that young folks in Parkland are doing & believe they should be getting the support they have received so far and more. (Full stop!)
However, I’d be lying if I told you I didn’t shed a couple tears lamenting the fact that black, brown, & indigenous student-led anti-gun violence efforts have gone unheard for YEARS. This is just another example of America’s severe “compassion deficit” as it relates to people of color. Until we close this deficit the gaping wounds of violence & injustice will go unhealed!
Can’t We All Just Resist Together?
The point of this post is not to challenge readers to a “duel of outrage olympics”. My aim is to provoke people to think about what it would look like for collaboration across these lines. It is to ask the question: “Can’t we all just resist together”? Seriously. What possibilities for change could emerge if students representing the predominant social demographics of Stonewall Mountain High linked arms with movements against gun violence led by socioeconomically marginalized & racially oppressed people? What blindspots in analysis & weaknesses in activism would be addressed?
For too long folks have assumed that their predominately white suburban enclaves could shelter them from the grief, pain, & tragedy that runs amuck in oppressed communities of color. Could this be a moment in which we learn that what “affects one (community) directly, affects all (communities) indirectly” & that “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Metaphorically speaking, sailing bullets flying from AR-15s in socially engineered spaces of deprivation like the hoods of Baltimore, St Louis, Cleveland, Ferguson, East & Northeast Winston-Salem eventually land in the Newtowns, Sandy Hooks, Parklands, & West Winston-Salem’s of our nation. US. predator drone strikes that tragically kill civilians overseas also strike down chances for the poor in our own back yard to experience conditions ripe for human flourishing. (The billions & trillions of dollars spent on militarism could easily be redirected to the uplift of marginalized communities.) There are eerie correlations between the the flooding of Black & Brown communities with guns & drugs by law enforcement agencies and the US’s practice of financing & arming insurgencies in foreign nations. The subsequent destabilization of nations abroad tragically mirrors the post-civil rights era destabilization of oppressed communities in our own nation.
Beyond Binaries, Beyond the 2 Party Duopoly
This moment demands that we center the insights & cries of the most vulnerable & seize the opportunity to create comprehensive solutions for the various forms of both civilian & state violence that run through the very DNA of this nation! We must #demandtheban of semi-automatic weapons like the one used to destroy lives in Parkland, Florida while also demanding resources for the traumatized, economically distressed, & socially oppressed that experience the brunt of the violence in our nation.
Binary thinking & solutions play right into the hands of the 2-party duopoly. Too often Republicans want to demonize & criminalize resistance movements while Democrats want to co-opt & “neoliberalize” them!
Unbound by any party’s platform we must offer holistic solutions that address mental health issues AND gun control, individual evil AND cultural pathologies, personal responsibility AND social justice, anti-domestic violence work AND gang prevention/intervention work, white supremacy AND toxic masculinity, capitalism AND militarism. It’s BOTH and! It’s always been BOTH and! Souls interact with systems & systems interact with souls, individuals interact with cultures & cultures interact with individuals. The world cannot be compartmentalized into neat black & white categories.
Can we resist together? I hope & pray that we can! I wrote the first draft for this article last week but yesterday I hopped on twitter only to find this hopeful sign:
(Written T. Hawkins)