The Audacity to Dance
Shortly following the 2016 election I was talking with a friend, a fellow “GVP” (Gun Violence Prevention) activist, and she told me that she was drifting from the movement. She felt that, “with everything going on” she needed to step away from the “gun thing” as we had “bigger fish to fry.” The urgency of resisting the coming Trump administration was the priority and the issue of gun violence, while vital and noble, just didn’t feel as critical and as relevant as at other moments.
This conversation took place approximately 160 days after the Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting in which 49 people were shot and killed, 58 were injured, and countless more will long suffer the psychological damage associated with the trauma of mass shootings. From that night to the day I spoke with my friend in the wake of Trump’s victory, approximately 14,500 Americans had been killed by a bullet. Her ambivalence about GVP work and her perception of the uniquely American crisis that is our gun violence epidemic as less urgent, less essential at a moment when the repeal of the ACA, the construction of the wall, the implementation of a Muslim ban felt imminent was, honestly, somewhat understandable. Those were difficult times. The crushing defeat, the inexplicable victory were more than we on the left could bear. The shock and devastation were still so raw. The to do list never ending but we couldn’t fathom January 20, 2017, never mind contemplate November 2018. The implications for the state of feminism, for the the backfire of identity politics, for the superiority of white supremacy, for the durability of the American electoral system will provide great thinkers to quotidian bloggers a solution to writer’s block for years to come. Meanwhile, there could be no greater test of our democratic institutions and, at the time, we were counting on their longevity and praying that our Founding Fathers were not rolling in their graves but, instead, confident that the union would survive.
Yes. It felt that dire. And it may sound dramatic, elitist, bourgeois, privileged, naive, in the grand scheme of things, silly. I don’t deny it, but, if you didn’t see this coming, those were hard days. So, I get it. I too was confused about what priority number one must be. Where to donate after Hillary? The ACLU. Planned Parenthood. Southern Poverty Law Center. Everytown for Gun Safety. The next Democratic candidate running in a special election against a Trump-backed Republican. All of the above.
It was 160-ish days from that morning when we learned of the then-current, worst mass shooting in modern American history and the shock and horror had indeed worn off. Even I, a dedicated GVP “warrior” who had pounded my fist on podiums, pushed my stroller through lobby days, testified over and over and over against the same inconceivably bad gun bills, cried with survivors, marched with responsible gun owners, had drifted.
I owed this issue, this movement, too much. It had catapulted me from casual political observer too timid to express my opinion on a platform as artificial as Facebook for fear of offending my ignorant uncle or hometown ex to an activist with a voice and with agency and with a community. I owed the survivors unyielding commitment to this. Yet, even I drifted.
It’s not just me or my friend. We collectively forget about last week’s shooting for the same reason that we are no longer focused on Puerto Rico or Houston or Charlottesville. The 24-hour news cycle isn’t conducive to the daily toll that is the 93 dead per day to gun violence so the media won’t be the keeper of the issue at the forefront of the easily distracted American mind.
Meanwhile, the left has failed to seize and dictate the message in a way that the NRA cannot exploit and pervert. No doubt we’ve begun to dismantle their twisted vision of an America armed to its teeth, but it’s still too easy to forget about the shooting last week or the one yesterday before we hear about the one today. And, that is precisely what the NRA is banking on — that the emotion and call to action will subside, a new story will emerge (enter Harvey Weinstein), and the “gun thing” will get back-burnered yet again.
Mainly though, it is the failure of each of each of us to believe and to remember that we could be next. It is our audacity to go to work, to watch a movie in a theater, to pray in our place of worship, to shop at a mall, to drop our kids off at school, to walk through campus at our university with the utmost confidence that we are not next. It is our audacity to live a normal life without perpetual fear or without the determination to make it stop. It is our audacity to live normally and not play a part in preventing the 58 suicides by gun per day or the 50 women shot dead every month in domestic violence disputes. It is our audacity to be in the right places at the right times. Our audacity to go to a night club or to buy concert tickets. It is our audacity to dance. And to dance and live each day as though there is not a sniper several hundred feet away with a bump stock-equipped semi-automatic weapon pointing at our pleasure, our normalcy, as if there is not a victim of domestic violence and a bullet with her name on it a neighborhood away or someone hurting with a revolver pointed at themselves just miles beyond or a child next door living in one of the 1.7 million American homes with an unlocked gun and an “accidental” shooting waiting to happen.
It is our audacity to take our next breath and feel predominantly unscathed by this epidemic even though we are 25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries. It is our audacity to fill our freezers with future meals or to start 529 accounts for our kids when nothing says we are immune to this.
It is our audacity to be human and live normally when to be American means we are vulnerable to gun violence whether we live in an inner city or the suburbs. For those in Vegas and for those in Orlando, it was their audacity to dance, but for the rest of us, it is our audacity to forget.