It only happens in America: Our kids blown away in their classrooms and the rest of us gunned down shopping, worshipping, or going to a nightclub. One hundred Americans are killed each day with guns. Since Sandy Hook in 2012, there have been 950 school shootings, including 27 so far this year.
Sadly, none of us are innocent bystanders, as Roxane Gay points out in the NYT. We are complicit by being too civil.“When politicians talk about civility and public discourse, what they’re really saying is that they would prefer for people to remain silent in the face of injustice. They want marginalized people to accept that the conditions of oppression are unalterable facts of life.”1
The root cause is a tyrannical minority that has seized control of our government, according to Heather Cox Richardson, a history professor at Boston College. Look at the facts: Republicans have won two of the last five elections with a minority of the votes. The Senate is elected by a skewed, white cross-section of America, much more conservative than the average voter. And the Supreme Court is dismantling the Democrat’s political-economic base while helping to strengthen the Republican’s anti-majoritarian hold on power.2
Worse yet, since 2016, the Republican party has morphed into a one-man Trump show: Until now,“I can tell you that at no point in America's history has one of the two main parties literally rejected the rules of the game,”3 Richardson says. We are rapidly sliding into authoritarianism.
The time has come, as Gay says, to become uncivil. But uncivil doesn’t have to be rude and violent: It can be respectful and peaceful – yet still staunchly unbending. The image that comes to mind is our Plott Hound, Coco, now sadly departed. She loved going hiking with us, with one glaring exception: she hated hot weather.
On hot summer days, Coco would hike until she was hot and then stage a sit-down strike. We could neither budge her by leash or doggie treat. We tried walking ahead, hoping she would follow, but she never came. Forced to turn back, we would find her sitting right where we left her. Only then did she stand up to happily escort us home, wagging her tail at our capitulation.
What worked for Coco can work for the rest of us. Nonviolent resistance has an illustrious history: Gandhi's nonviolent campaign liberated India from English colonialism, and Martin Luther King's civil rights campaign empowered blacks. Today, high school students like Maddie Ahmadi from Vermont are showing us how: After the recent Texas shooting, she organized the first of a series of student walkouts that took place around the country: "Our lives are more important than schoolwork," she said.4
We need firm resistance, leavened with theater and humor, like that displayed by the 1960’s generation protesting the Vietnam War. I'm thinking of the 100,000 protestors who marched on Washington to levitate the Pentagon. That's when the iconic photograph was taken of young folks disarming a line of threatening soldiers by putting flowers in their rifle barrels.
Once again, the next generation is leading the way, fueled by Ahmadi's sense of urgency: "This didn't feel like a time to ask for permission.". After the horrific school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018, David Hogg, a survivor of the Sandy Hook shooting, organized one of the biggest protests in U.S. history, involving millions from all around the country.
His organization, March of our Lives, was not a flash-in-the-pan. They have continued to sponsor events like the “Road to Change,” inspired by the Freedom Riders of the 1960s to register young voters. They spurred a historic youth turnout in the 2018 midterm elections, with a 47% increase over the last midterm election.
We need to get behind such movements – and start our own – to counter gun-toting lone rangers who detest not just regulations but our government itself. It's a cruel joke to think we can survive as a nation of antisocial cowboys armed to the teeth – like reliving a Clint Eastwood movie with dead bodies strewn all over the street.
Instead, we are most vital – and fulfilled – when we participate in a democracy composed of a close-knit community of mutual support. That's what will last! As Lincoln proclaimed, such a “government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."
David Hoggs says, "Right now we are … stronger than ever.”5 On June 11th, March of our Lives is planning a massive march in Washington D.C. and around the country, with 100 local protests (and counting).
Let us all be uncivil and join in!