Note: This is a guest post by Molly Sterns. She is a member of my Toastmasters group and will be graduating from MIIS on Saturday. She gave the below speech at our most recent meeting. In the speech, she asked us to do one thing to add to the conversation, and hopefully help find an answer to the mass shooting problem we’re facing. I asked to share her speech here on my blog, to which request she graciously agreed. The following is the text of her speech:
Two weeks ago when I was Toastmaster I got up here and spoke about resilience.
I talked about people in Europe who have been targeted and terrorized, and have come together in various ways to get through a dark and awful time.
Resilience still seems to me like the quality you need after an attack like we saw in Paris. Resilience means calling upon your deepest reserves of inner strength to keep going, keep believing, keep doing, keep being – even when life is at its most devastating, as surely it was that night in the Bataclan theater and elsewhere. That’s what I think the people of Paris and Beirut and Brussels needed, and that’s what they showed.
Then we had a mass shooting in California. Fourteen people gunned down at an office holiday party. It looks like it’s linked to terrorism, at least aspirationally, if I can use that word to describe the connection between the couple responsible and their extremist influencers, but somehow the situation does not feel anything like the carnage of ISIS across the sea.
We have a threat here that doesn’t require resilience. It isn’t a nebulous evil that we don’t know how to fight, even if we wanted to. It’s not a faceless enemy who unites us in opposition. It’s not an unpredictable force of destruction that we cannot understand or control.
No. What we are facing here is very different. More dangerous, in some ways, for its insidious nature. It’s a threat that feels less like an unknown menace from the outside and more like something rotten deep within ourselves that we don’t quite want to confront.
In this country, in addition to terrorist threats and global warming and all the massive problems we barely know how to begin to solve, we are also facing a relatively simple one, of our own making, of our own choice.
We are facing unbelievable gun violence. Or more precisely: we are facing unbelievable acceptance of gun violence.
And we don’t need resilience to fight it. We don’t need to simply steel ourselves to the grimness of the world and refuse to change anything about our daily lives, picking up after yet another tragedy and decreeing that we will not be made to live in fear.
What nonsense all that is. Let’s admit it: by going on as before, by living our lives in blissful defiance of this risk – a constant risk that will strike again – we’re not being strong, or hopeful, or brave.
We’re being submissive. We’re being accomplices. We’re being fools.
Mass shootings are a complete insanity in this country, a fatal flaw that lives like a cancer alongside the healthier parts of our society. Gun violence is a choice we make every day, by tolerating it. By agreeing to a system where you can be on the no-fly list and still buy a gun without any problem. Where a man in South Carolina can amass a stash of 5,000 guns for no good reason, because he wants to, and it’s just not hard. A system where weapons of war are turned against civilians – not rarely, not just a few times, but often. A system where even the slaughter of almost 2 dozen children does not shake us from our catatonic complacency.
This is my last speech to this group. It’s supposed to be inspiring. I’m supposed to fill you with hope and a noble sense of purpose. I’m supposed to say something uplifting. You are all probably wondering when that part is going to start. Knowing what my time limits are for this speech, you’re probably getting a little worried…
The truth is this is not an uplifting conversation to have. But the reason I’m talking about it anyway is that, if nothing else, we just need to be having this conversation. We need to find ways to stand up and say no, actually, this isn’t ok. No, this doesn’t feel like the world I want to live in.
We cannot spend the weekend watching news reports of horrific violence a few hours from our campus and walk into class on Monday ready to talk about trade policy. We need to stop pretending this is normal, by at least saying so out loud.
Because this is not normal. This is horrifying.
And I don’t think that resilience is going to solve this one. It’s not about resilience. It’s actually more about resistance. It’s about waking ourselves up from this nightmare and refusing to go back to sleep until we get the change we need. And, to be clear, I’m not talking about getting rid of all guns everywhere. I don’t care if you want to own a hunting rifle. I don’t even mind if you feel the need to have some little pistol in your house in case of intruders, or whatever scenario you concoct in your mind in which the gun somehow does more good than harm. I can live in a world in which my fellow countrymen feel the need to own guns.
But the current proliferation of heavy weaponry? It’s completely outrageous, and we need to rethink it. We need walk back the provisions of our laws that let people build arsenals. That make it possible for mass shootings to happen as often as they do here. As I saw in a recent headline: The most dangerous belief is not believing in gun control. We know how to put limits on this insanity. We have just waited far too long to start.
So here is what I am asking you, fellow Toastmasters, today: do one thing. Do one thing to register your opposition to this reality. Do one thing. I don’t care what it is. Call your representative, if you’re a US citizen. Ask your American friends to do so, if you’re not. Ask them why they haven’t before, if they haven’t. Make time in your classes to acknowledge these tragedies. Give money to some of the groups trying to compete with the NRA for spending and influence among our Congressional leaders. Do whatever you want to do.
I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do, but I don’t want to hide from it anymore. I don’t want to ignore the insanity just because I feel powerless to stop it. I want to name it, recognize it, register my outrage to someone. You are probably the most sympathetic audience I’m going to get, so I’m starting with you.
We are all lucky to be part of this campus and this community, where we feel safe and connected. Let’s not treat that as a luxury. Let’s make it the norm to live without gun violence. Let’s do it now, before the next attack forces us to have this conversation all over again.
Got an opinion? Let me know, either in the comments or through this anonymous form.
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