When there’s a mass shooting around the corner from your house, you want to think that people will remember. You’ve seen shootings happen over and over again, but something in your gut thinks that this will be it. Things will finally change. You know, consciously, that this is how everyone must feel in the aftermath, that every act of gun violence crackles through a community like shattered glass. But when you live there, when you recognize the names printed on message boards and drive past the fenced-off building at the end of your street, it’s unfathomable that it will be forgotten.
I get it. The world is so messed up right now that if we truly cared about everything that’s going wrong, every tragedy, every act of hatred and violence, we could never get through a single day. It’s hard enough to deal with the immediate stress of the things we can directly control: our classes, our relationships, all the general responsibilities of functioning as a semi-adult.
As someone who’s been trying to organize around this issue for years now, I know it’s frustrating. Even the nationwide organizations don’t know what to do. Our government is so deadlocked that no matter how much common sense our legislation might have, or how many calls we make, we know nothing will get through the Senate. Guns have become a dirty word, and the NRA is so powerful, even as it bankrupts itself, that politicians fear its lobbying power more than the blood on their hands.
I remember when the shooting at Sandy Hook happened. I remember everyone’s outrage, and then, gradually, everyone’s forgetfulness. I can still feel that shock, as a naïve ninth grader, realizing that something that horrible could happen with no federal response.
I spent this summer at home, and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard. My relationship to home has forever shifted. There’s a specter over my community, a few “Stronger than Hate” signs still up in shop windows, a small but constant shrine in front of the building. Palm-sized crocheted Stars of David flutter from trees, faded from months of snow and rain. And there’s the quiet fog of my own disconnect, having been at school when it happened, the sense that I somehow missed a communal mourning period and can never quite re-enter my community.
I feel like there’s a break in my personal timeline. That anyone who’s met me since last October hasn’t seen me outside of trauma. Someone told me afterwards that when trauma happens, it colors your whole life up to that point, like a circle that’s suddenly red. She said that you keep growing, widening your circle beyond it, until it gradually doesn’t fill your entire life. But it will always be there. I remember I wasn’t happy to hear this.
I talked to friends over the summer who had also been away at school when it happened. Each of us talked about the week afterwards, when there were no more vigils or Facebook posts, when we realized everyone around us had moved forward, but we were all stuck. A new kind of alone, swimming in a sea of people who could continue with their lives as usual while our circles were still colored red.
I think I organize because I don’t know how else to process. When something horrific happens, you don’t want it to fade into the background. You hope that if you scream loud enough, everyone will finally listen, that in some twisted way, tragedy can be a catalyst for action. We feel our own pain so acutely that we can’t imagine others don’t pick it up, as if it is something that radiates and transmits.
This week, my mayor headed to DC to lobby for gun sense legislation alongside mayors from other cities that have experienced mass shootings. Company executives are beginning to lobby for legislation as well, taking corporate stances on the issue. There is hope, even if it can’t come from this Senate. The rallying cry immediately following the shooting in my hometown, just a week before the midterm elections, was to effect political change. Even in an off-election year, it’s what we have to hold onto. That empathy will be enough to put an end to this, before every community has to experience it personally. That if we don’t give into apathy, if we keep pushing, something will finally change. That somehow, despite how difficult it is to keep thinking about this, we can’t forget.
Carrie Mannino | firstname.lastname@example.org