On June 12, 2016, 49 innocent people were killed and another 58 wounded from an lgbtq/latinx hate crime inside Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
On June 12, 2016, I experienced true heartache for the first time. The Pulse shooting was the first incidence of domestic terrorism, and first national tragedy, that I was old enough, mature enough, and empathetic enough to fully grasp. As a queer person of color, these beautiful people shared a community with me, and knowing their lives were violated in what was meant to be the safest of spaces left me with an all-consuming combination of grief and anger. I woke up the next day knowing the conversation that came next would be one of the most important ones I would ever participate in.
Two days later, like many others around the world, I tuned into C-Span to watch the Democratic filibuster for common-sense gun control unfold. With the hashtag #enough, I tweeted my outrage and voiced encouragement and support for the tired, aching senators taking a stand. 38 democratic senators took the floor to argue on behalf of gun violence victims, but no testimony over the course of those 15 hours was more significant and impactful to me than that of Wisconsin’s Tammy Baldwin. Accompanied by a poster with all of their pictures, Senator Baldwin said the names and told the stories of every single victim from the Pulse nightclub shooting. Say every name, tell every story. That phrase became a mantra for me as the discussion over gun rights continued, and less than two months later would become more meaningful than I could have ever imagined.
On July 30, 2016, I woke to multiple missed calls from one of my best friends and a text message that urgently read: “Please call me. I need to know if you’re awake.” I woke up at seven o’clock that morning; she had called me at five. Confused and groggy, I did as she asked, and minutes later was wide-awake with the knowledge that one of our dearest friends had been shot and killed at a party in our hometown of Mukilteo, Washington. Two other classmates died that night and another rushed to Harborview Medical Center with life-threatening wounds.
Anna Bui was only 19 years old when her life was cut short. She had one of the loudest, most infectious laughs I had ever come across, and she exuded a lightness that would fill the room and put you at ease as soon as she entered. A second-year student at the University of Washington Bothell, she dreamed of becoming a pediatric nurse and traveling the world. She had just returned from a backpacking trip around Europe when she died and was the happiest she had ever been. Following the Pulse shooting and a string of other heartbreaking events around the world, Anna tweeted, “Praying for people to have kind hearts, for justice, and for healing. Love is powerful, love is kind, love can conquer if we let it.” I am forever thankful that she shared her heart and time with me, and a year later feel empowered and lucky to say her name and tell her story in this piece.
For this project, we were to design a poster featuring any amendment in the United States Constitution and were given the audience of our fellow students at the University of Washington. The choice was a no-brainer for me. I designed my poster around the Second Amendment: the right to keep and bear arms. This poster would be a memorial of sorts, saying the names and telling the stories of mass shooting victims across the United States. I immediately ruled out imagery that would be polarizing and prevent viewers from coming close enough to the poster to actually read those names: no guns and no bullets. Rather than projecting my personal views at my fellow students, I wanted the poster to provoke meaningful reflection. I wanted the audience to consider how they felt about gun rights in the US after reading about mothers and teachers and infants and officers who lost their lives to gun violence. I wanted them to learn about Anna, a fellow husky, whose life could have been spared if her ex-boyfriend wasn’t so easily able to obtain a gun.
The poster’s final form was an edge to edge documentation of the names, ages, and, to the best of my ability, stories of the deceased victims of mass shootings in the United States. It begins with Pulse, then the deadliest mass shooting in modern history, and ends with the tragedy in Las Vegas on October 1, 2017, now the deadliest mass shooting in modern history. The audience is first drawn to the poster from afar by the hook that makes up the background: “THEY HAD HOPES AND DREAMS”. The phrase, set in a highly legible, bold Proxima Nova, is meant to be vague yet intriguing, so the audience must look closer for context and meaning. The words are printed in semi-transparent white against a black page, so while clear from afar, as the viewer approaches the poster, it becomes less and less legible and fades into the background. The smaller type on the page then comes to foreground. The names and stories are set in Optima, and each victim is separated by a dot, a nod to Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial and its everlasting ability to make audiences reflect on our nation’s history of violence. Included amongst the names is the definition of a mass shooting used by the national Gun Violence Archive and this poster: four or more shot and/or killed in a single incident, not including the shooter. I highlight Anna’s name and story. The poster culminates with a definition of the second amendment and a question that reads: “The Second Amendment protects your right to have and bear arms, but when 570 people with so much life left to live have been killed from 254 mass shootings over the past 18 months… When do we decide enough is enough?” The reader is then provided with a link to Everytown.org to learn more about gun safety in America and how they can act if they so wish.
The diverse group of people and their undeniably human stories that fill this poster made its creation and consumption an emotional and challenging experience. It is also the most rewarding piece of communication design I have made to date. I paid tribute to my beautiful friend, and on a small scale, I got to do what Tammy Baldwin did, say the names and tell the stories of those who can no longer do so themselves. The making of this poster reminded me of the power of storytelling and the importance of purpose in design. I look forward to a career where I can continue to tell stories and make work that moves myself and others to be more conscious, understanding, involved, and most importantly compassionate.
Love is powerful, love is kind, love can conquer if we let it. — Anna Bui