After sharing my story of a recent experience with public gun violence I’ve organized this #gunsense gathering in downtown Los Angeles- I’ve stopped short of calling it a protest, though I suppose that’s what it is. I was asked why we’re not marching and told- “this doesn’t really sound fun” and I hear that. I don’t have one answer, but there are some things that have informed the way I’m approaching this, the intention and language used, that bear expansion.
I’ve marched before: in Boston with thousands of others in the days after 9/11- when sadness and confusion brought us together and we didn’t know what else to do; later as the invasion of Iraq began, and then again as the chaos in Iraq and Afghanistan erupted. I marched again when the Democratic National Convention came to Boston and militarized police formed a perimeter around Government Center and fenced-off pens called “freedom zones” were designated as “official” protest areas. I marched here in LA too — alongside the staff of the restaurant where I worked, with 500,000 others, shutting down Wilshire Blvd and marching into downtown to protest increased penalties for immigrants and undocumented workers.
I’ve walked out of classes in solidarity with Books Not Bombs and organized group meditations at Occupy LA. I’ve signed petitions, made donations, written about the injustices of systemic racism, police brutality, income inequality, and on and on. I’ve tried to center my meditation teaching and my parenting around the ideals of cultivating peace within, so that it can be spread outward- and to be open about the issues of the world — their complexity and interconnectedness, our mutual responsibility. Even so, it feels like almost nothing — certainly in respect to those whose lives are dedicated fully to the work of social justice, what I can do, have done, seems like so little.
Another friend asked, “Why guns? When there’s so much to take on: racism, war, violence, sexism, income inequality? How do you even begin?” And it’s true. There is so much that demands our attention. And it’s just so much that it can overwhelm us into paralysis. I’ve felt the bone-chilling terror when another school shooting happens and then rage that isn’t different from what I feel when a hospital is bombed in Afghanistan or a boat of Syrian refugees is turned away from safety. The sense of futility has numbed me too. I’ve tried to write in the past from a perspective of looking for unity, trying to find the space in the anger and grief and incomprehension where empathy abides and strengthens- to find value in that when no other action seems possible. We do what we can when we can.
But I feel now an un-ignorable need for action and my sense is that this action needs to come from a new space. Yes, we’ve marched before, we’ve protested. Yes, there are so many things we could take on together, but for me, today, finding ways to stop the wanton gun violence in our schools, malls, movie theatres, and streets- this is where we begin together. This is immediate and urgent and we are all affected and at risk. We are all the children of someone and many of us have our own children. We include total pacifists alongside responsible gun owners, veterans of both combat and non-violent protest. We represent the full spectrum of political and social ideals and we share one thing: we don’t want to see our children, anyone’s children recklessly and randomly gunned down.
We know change is possible, but we don’t know exactly how to begin.
A march is one possible action. Massive rallies in every major city, too. A walk across the country, led by vocal celebrities, gathering force in numbers as we travel… We have examples from history: the civil rights movement, Ghandi’s peaceful protests, the Orange revolution, Tahrir square. But we have to build on history, not simply emulate. And my feeling is that we have to SEE each other first, feel the energy of coming together in one space, watch our children play together in a beautiful open public park, BE together in our uncertainty and our fear and our love. We have to push past the stasis of being overwhelmed, prepare to do more than share a link or sign an electronic petition (though those actions are not without value). In that space, from these perspectives, we can create something new, something powerful. We have to be willing to not know exactly, but to be open to each other and to facing together the vast and complex systems that we want to change.
So this is day one. We may not yet have the focus of a march, but we’ll plan one. We may not yet know what our protest is meant to look like, but we’ll create it. We may still feel uncertain and scared and unclear, but we’ll find something together around the beauty of the fountains in the plaza of Grand Park. In this city that often feels vast and disconnected, let our presence, attention, and connection create a center, a still point from which our energy and action build- until our sense of hopelessness dissolves and we cannot be dismissed.
Join us today at 2pm at Grand Park. Bring friends and kids, music, art supplies, experience, wisdom, questions, doubts, love and courage.