Every time there is a mass shooting, the nation mourns and rails against the horror. News reporters solemnly recite names and ages. Columnists complain and explain. Clergy give serious sermons. Politicians point fingers at everyone but themselves. And we all become frustrated, heartbroken, and hopeless.
Then, after the initial shock wears off, something else pushes the tragedy below the fold and off the front page. Soon there will be another mass shooting and another and another, because nothing changed.
And that is the most heartbreaking part.
Since the Buffalo and Uvalde shootings, people have been confiding in me that they’re tired. They’ve done all the right things; called the governor and our congresspeople and our senators. They signed petitions, donated money, went to vigils, sent emails, called again.
My answer? I say, “I hear you. Me too.” Then I begin my pep talk. They know what I’m going to say, but they listen politely. “We cannot stop and we cannot give up. We must not throw our hands up and say, I’m tired, I’ve tried, it’s someone else’s turn. No. We must hold each other up and we must speak our truth.”
I pray that they hear my words, and not just the drone of my voice repeating platitudes.
My tradition has a teaching: “Silence is assent.” If we do not speak out about injustice – whether the subject is gun violence, book banning, or telling teenagers that they can’t say gay – we are giving tacit assent. Our silence, our inaction, indicates that we are OK with what’s happening.
But we are not OK. We are heartbroken.
Let me be perfectly clear. The issue of gun violence is only a political issue because politicians control the outcome. It is not a political issue. It is a human issue.
Our national and state-wide elected officials have failed us. When polls show that the vast majority of Americans support background checks and regulating assault-style weapons, I’d rather skip the politicians entirely and let the people makes the rules.
That is not possible in our democracy. We elect people who we hope will represent and protect us. When they don’t do as we ask we tell them how we feel. We call, email, sign petitions, march, write letters to the editor, go to candlelight vigils, hope they listen. Hope they do something. Anything.
There has been an understandable backlash against the phrase “thoughts and prayers.” There is nothing inherently wrong with thoughts and prayers. We need moments to collect ourselves, and those who believe in God need moments of prayer to center ourselves.
But then, I remind people to pick themselves up and take their thoughts and prayers to the ballot box.
Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer tweeted that the only way to stop a bad politician with a vote is a good citizen with a vote. But I think she’s wrong. It takes a lot of citizens to stop a bad politician.
We can’t vote right now. So I suggest an old fashioned strategy that has proven to be far more effective than calls and emails to politicians. The secret tool for influencing a politician? Writing letters. On paper. Handwritten or typed, but definitely hand-signed.
Why? Because a politician might receive thousands of phone messages and emails. They are easily overlooked, ignored. A bag of letters gets their attention in a tangible way. Lots of bags of letters freaks them out. It means that people are serious about communicating directly with them.
My advice is to choose a politician, and write a letter. An old fashioned letter, on a real piece of paper. Put it in an envelope, ask Google for the guy’s address, stick a stamp on it, and put it in a mailbox.
You can even do what I did. At a gun violence vigil at Five Points Park on Memorial Day weekend, I gave away 150 stamped envelopes. You don’t have to go that far. Just buy a booklet of 20 stamps (grocery store clerks will happily sell them to you; it will add $11.60 to your bill). Grab some envelopes and give them to friends, family, neighbors.
Give one to a six year old; he or she will know exactly what to do with it. School kids of all ages will be happy for the opportunity to express themselves. Tell their parents to add a postscript, or even better, write their own letters. (And put them in a separate envelope. Numbers matter.)
Just don’t let your heartbreak silence you. You may be heartbroken, but you are not helpless.
May you be blessed to have the courage and strength to stand strong, to follow your heart and speak your truth, and never stop.
This essay is based on a speech I gave at a rally and vigil on Saturday, May 28th in downtown Sarasota, sponsored by the Brady Campaign Against Gun Violence and Moms Demand Action.