“Scary” is the word that I hear too often from people describing the times in which we live. And it's no wonder. We are living in unprecedented times - when once inconceivable incidents of social upheaval, technological advances, climate change, and man's ability to inflict massive destruction and death are converging, along with shifts in global economics and religions.
The resulting tectonic and global shifts of humanity, power, and wealth are causing a rise in fear and instability that unsettles societies and polarizes governments. Individual reactions range from optimism, hope, and compassion, to cynicism, fear, and anger.
Among the global upheavals, we are seeing massive numbers of displaced refugees - victims of war and economic devastation - be treated with suspicion and enmity; the radicalization of Muslim youth who emerge from war-ravaged Middle East countries; the rise of economic and sexual slavery through globalized human trafficking; and weather “events” of historic proportions.
On a national level we have seen voters respond in great numbers to presidential candidates on both sides who are tapping into feelings of fear, anger, and injustice with promises of leveling the field and making American great again. The reality of a demagogue rising to alarming power by appealing to the basest instincts of man is very real.
It can all be overwhelming. Some people “opt out” because they believe that their voices and votes don't matter; nothing will ever change; all politicians are the same; and the system is corrupt and rigged against people like them. Others become more informed and engaged and try to work for change either within the system or by changing the system itself.
Periodically, a single incident will motivate a person to take action. Occasionally, there is an incident that provides a spark that starts the momentum for enough change to break through the collective inertia of complacency and the gridlock of partisan politics.
The tragedy of Orlando may be one of those seminal moments. The largest mass murder in recent American history has left us angry, sad, frustrated, and confused about how and why this could happen. Again. While the media and authorities busy themselves investigating whether the shooter was a radical Muslim terrorist, a homophobe, a violent domestic abuser, a bi-polar mentally unstable young man who also may have been troubled by his sexuality and religion; the son of immigrants who may harbor ill-will against those who waged war in their homeland; or all the above - it almost doesn't matter. The fact that the shooter seemed to embody a tangled web of hate, anger, and instability doesn't diminish the real issue of why and how this was allowed to happen and what, if anything will change.
We have already seen both predictable and surprising reactions. Within the LGBT community, this was a startling reminder that there is always a risk that they may be targeted as individuals and as a community by those who do not know or accept them. Even more powerful than this reminder was the public reassurance that times have changed, and members of the LGBT community are no longer alone when facing hatred and bigotry. The outpouring of support from President Obama, church and civic leaders, and the tens of thousands of supporters who attended public vigils, sent a powerful message of unity and solidarity to drown out those who preach hate and bigotry.
Yet Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and the Governor of Florida offered only prayers. We say, that's not enough. In fact, it has never been enough. But it is all they have been willing to offer despite the epidemic of mass shootings in this country. Some say that if the tragic massacre of children in Newtown, CT was not enough to break the stranglehold of the NRA, why would the massacre in Orlando change anything?
Perhaps the combined strength of the LGBT, Latino, and Muslim communities standing with the 95% of Americans who support common sense gun safety laws will be enough to make a difference in the middle of an unprecedented election year. Americans will be voting in a few months for representatives at all levels of government. They have a real choice to make about this.
In response to the massacre in Orlando, Senator Chris Murphy led dozens of Democratic Senators in a filibuster to stop business as usual until they can bring a vote to the floor on legislation to deny suspected terrorists the right to purchase arms. Let us hope that Senator Murphy, his colleagues and the American people can convince Republican senators to finally do the right thing. If not, Americans have the opportunity stand up for what’s right at the ballot box in November.
We are not powerless. We are not helpless. We have the means to deal with this. What we lack is the collective will to force change.
More than just hoping for change, we must work for change. We will work to elect legislators who support common sense gun safety legislation. We will support organizations that educate the public about the ravages of out-of-control gun violence in our nation. We will stand with victims and their families to say “Enough!” We will stand in unity with people of all colors, nationalities, religions, sexual orientations, genders, and ages for the core values of this country that we love against the fear, prejudice, discrimination, anger, and hate that threaten to divide and weaken us.