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Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Courage, dear heart

In my travels abroad I’ve often been asked what I think about the frequent shootings in the U.S.A. Days after the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Valentine’s Day, I was asked, “Don’t Americans love their children more than their guns?” I was also told that, given their contrasting experience here, Australians are becoming afraid to travel to the U.S.

I was tempted to say that most Americans have probably never met an Australian and this will make no dent in America’s image of itself. But that’s the cynical response. I was tempted to cynicism because, like most of what the tax authorities call “U.S. persons,” I expected the response to this massacre to be like the many others:

Public figures offer thoughts and prayers
Outraged people mock “thoughts and prayers” as empty words
Fatalists say that these tragedies are unavoidable because even if we got rid of every gun, there would still be people with evil in their hearts, who would find a way to kill
Cynics say it’s not that nothing can be done, but that nothing will be done
And we wait for the next body to drop.

As the week unfolded, however, even from the other side of the world it was possible to observe that the response was different. Some young survivors of the attack were refusing to perform the choreographed roles that we adults have been guilty of. And, like generations of young people before them, they are threatening to change history.

Since we traveled to Vietnam I’ve been reading a lot about the American war there (in which Australia also participated). As we know, young people in that time pushed for change in public opinion on the war, because they, being of draft age but not yet old enough to vote, were most affected by it. Leaders of the Vietnam era should have known better, but were too locked in to their ideologies, and beholden to what became known as the military-industrial complex. 

People back then also drove drunk and smoked at their work desks. We can’t do those things anymore because of social change.

The young people of the present moment have correctly identified the problem, and it’s not convincing Americans with one interpretation of the Second Amendment to adopt a different interpretation. That won’t work, and in any case would only involve about 3% of the U.S. population. The problem is politicians, of whatever party, who are bought by the gun lobby. These young people weren't born in George Bush, Sr.’s time, when he was a member of a National Rifle Association that represented responsible gun owners and could conceivably have been associated with gun safety. The students today have identified the N.R.A. as being less a concern for gun safety and more a front for the gun manufacturing industry.

It is in the interest of gun manufacturers to sell as many guns as possible. Obscenely, even mass shootings are in their interest—as long as the response is status quo. Part of the status quo response is for those who already own a lot of guns to go out and buy more. But these young consumers, soon to be voters, have a goal: Make it politically toxic to take money from the gun lobby.

You can tell that the young students have changed the status quo response, because we are talking about children’s lives, and we are talking to each other. To be sure, some suggestions being made do not appeal to my ideological bent, while other ideas being proposed do not appeal to other people’s biases. But at least we are talking about them.

Personally, I am not willing to rule out any idea my fellow U.S. persons have for preventing more gun deaths, whether it comes from a 17-year-old or a 71-year-old like the president. No one will mistake me for a fan of his, but one thing we know about him is that he likes winning. One of my senators from Tennessee, Lamar Alexander, has flattered him that he could be “Nixon to China” on another issue. This aspect of his personality can be used, but we have to be a little Machiavellian. If he thinks he can trump Obama by doing something, and the result is kids are safer, I’d support that. 

Here are some other ways we can help keep these inspiring young people’s momentum going:

Let them lead. With a wisdom that has eluded their elders, they are taking a bold nonpartisan stand. They are correct that no political party has served them well and they are interested in results, not who achieves them. Follow their lead.

Let them focus. Do not co-opt these young people for their ethnicity, gender, sexual identity or anything else. “March for our lives” is a hard message to oppose. Keep it clear.

Support them by being what they are: consistent and rational. Don’t f*ck up this moment on social media by posting things that will invite “libtard” or “Europe blows” comments. If you’re not sure whether a quote or article is accurate, follow it to its source. If you can’t remember the facts of what happened at Fort Hood, don’t share that meme. There is no room for trolls in this movement, Russian or otherwise.

In fact, let’s follow these suggestions 100% of the time. Think (before posting) and pray—then act. Do you remember when companies stopped discriminating against gay people because it wasn't good business? These students are too young to remember, but they are using their economic power in the same way as boycotters past. If the next generation of consumers want to make a brand toxic, you can bet they will.

In The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, there is a scene in which Lucy, in her fear, is comforted by words from Aslan: “Courage, dear heart.” C.S. Lewis writes:

“The darkness did not grow any less, but she began to feel a little—a very, very little—better.”

I feel that way now. We are being led by young people who are marching for their lives. They believe it’s still possible to change their country.

Courage, dear heart.

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