Let’s Demand Homeland Security Help Protect Our Children From Being Slaughtered in Their Schools.

IMG_0227In the aftermath of the shooting deaths of fourteen students and three staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida,  is it finally time we ask what our federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is doing to keep our children and grandchildren “secure” from being shot in the schools we send them to every day?

These are the names and ages of our fellow Americans, the real people shot and killed at their Florida high school: Alyssa Alhadeff (14), Scott Beigel (35), Martin Duque Anguiano (14), Nicholas Dworet (17), Aaron Feis (37), Jamie Gutenberg (14), Chris Hixon (49), Luke Hayer (15), Cara Loughran (14), Gina Montallo (14), Joaquin Oliver (17), Alaina Petty (14), Meadow Pollack (18), Helena Ramsay (17), Alex Schachter (14), Carmen Schentrup (16), and Peter Wang (15).

Our own DHS website touts its “vital mission” as being “to secure the nation from the many threats we face.” Earlier on its website the agency state’s “[t]he vision of homeland security is to ensure a homeland that is safe, secure, and resilient against terrorism and other hazards.” It seems clear  to me that we face the real threat of young white guys with AR-15 assault rifles shooting our children and grandchildren.  If we still want to have an argument whether such madness constitutes “terrorism,” then let’s at least agree it’s “other hazards.”

In 2017, DHS was allocated  a discretionary budget of $40.6 billion. With 240,000 employees, DHS is the third largest cabinet department after the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs. The shooting of our children  with assault rifles by home grown terrorists warrants DHS’s attention and funding. What “other hazards” does the evidence show as any greater?

Republican representatives now in charge of all branches of government need  to think more creatively and realistically about where we actually need “homeland security.” Almost 17 years after 9-11,  with the Trump administration’s flagrant racist attacks on Muslims and people of color, poorly disguised to keep us safe, we are again being told we need to fear Muslims and people of color. Our national security is at stake, we are told. We need to be “vigilant.”

Juxtapose that message of fearing Muslims and people of color with all the senseless slaughtering of our children and grandchildren in the “safety” of their own schools that we continue to allow to happen – without any change in gun laws. All the senseless terrorism being perpetrated by non-Muslim white guys.  The 19 year old confessed shooter who slaughtered 17 people had legally bought an assault rifle (when he was 18). This, as we continue to be vigilant about having a law in place that prevents him from buying alcohol until he’s 21. Other hazards.

The Washington Post recently wrote about misinformation being circulated by Everytown  for Gun Safety, a group working for gun safety that tweeted that there have already been 18 school shootings only 6 weeks into 2018. Everytown for Gun Safety tweeted “[t]his is the 18th school shooting in U.S. in 2018.” The article then lifted up how often that tweet was “liked” or retweeted.

I found it sad and ironic that this needs to be clarified. Some of the shootings allegedly being falsely claimed as school shootings included a 31 year old man reportedly armed and suicidal who shot himself in a school parking lot, where the school had been closed for seven months, and accidental discharges of firearms in schools. The Post article did state that some groups say the correct number of school shootings so far in 2018 is more like eight,  but everyone can agree on, well, six. That’s one school shooting per week. One too many.

The Post suggested that the statistics being touted by Everytown for Gun Safety were problematic because gun rights supporters would  use such misinformation to beat gun safety advocates over the head when they try, yet again, to secure common sense gun control legislation. Maybe. But having such a conversation about the “correct” number of school shootings in 2018  seems both haunting and tragic to me.

The Post article highlighted “that trends are growing more dire.”  That includes a study by the World Health Organization published in the American Journal of Medicine “that found that, among high-income nations, 91 percent of children younger than 15 who were killed by bullets lived in the United States.” The Post article reported that “[o]n average, two dozen children are shot every day in the United States, and in 2016 more youths were killed by gunfire – 1,637 – than during any other year this millennium.”

Whether  it’s six or eight shootings that’s “correct” does not  matter at all to the victims or their loved ones,  whose lives were ripped apart, forever. Let’s comfort victims and their families by telling them, yet again, . . . they’re in our thoughts and prayers. I am crying as I try not to throw up. We’re not just failing our children, our lack of will in passing common sense gun legislation is literally  killing them.

This morning I watched as parents of the Florida high school students murdered in their school, and students who “survived,” literally begged lawmakers to take action by enacting common sense gun control legislation. Florida Senator Marco Rubio, however, was  not going to be rushed into action, stating that gun restrictions would not have prevented the mass shooting and slaughter of children at a high school in his own state. Except, they would have. Preventing the purchase of assault rifles and preventing those under age 21 from purchasing firearms would have saved lives in Florida.

Rubio’s measured response might be influenced by the $3.3 million in contributions he’s received (so far) from the National Rifle Association (NRA).  Of course it was. The NRA and its money doesn’t just talk with politicians, it screams. And Jesus weeps. And we weep. . . again. . .and again. I hope all who call themselves Evangelical  Christians, hyper vigilant in protecting  their man made Second Amendment rights, will ask themselves where the higher commandment of “[t]hou shall not kill” fits into their hearts.

When I was a candidate for the state Senate in North Dakota, and later when I was running for reelection, I received a questionnaire from the NRA regarding my views on gun control and the Second Amendment. In no uncertain terms, the NRA made it clear to me that if I did not return their questionnaire that they would let voters in my legislative district know I was anti Second Amendment rights and I would be given an “F” rating. I received an “F” rating. We need more legislators willing to not care about NRA ratings and say “F” the NRA ratings.

When will our fellow Americans, of all creeds and colors, have seen enough carnage?  When will our hearts let us see that our neighbors’ children and grandchildren being slaughtered in our public schools are all of our children shamelessly being slaughtered?  When will we, as parents and grandparents, as voters, Republican, Democrat or Independent, rise up and use our massive and powerful collective voice and power at the polls to unelect politicians unwilling to pass common sense gun legislation? My hope is in 2018.

It was telling this morning as one of the networks showed footage, “highlights,” of its upcoming Sunday public affairs show. They touted their special guests, members of Congress not running for reelection, who were now voicing their strong concern about the dire need for something to be done to effectuate common sense gun control legislation. Their concern is too little, too late.

Paul Ryan, House Republican Speaker, rejected a call to create a special congressional committee to study gun violence in the aftermath of the Florida shooting that left 17 dead and many others wounded. Ryan noted the House was to observe a moment of silence and flags at the Capitol were at half staff.

Silence. That’s  what’s being offered by Republicans who control the House and Senate. It’s time we end that silence with the noise of fed up Americans actively and intentionally voting such tone deaf politicians out of office when we have the opportunity to do just that in November 2018. Whose in?

Some things have to be worth standing up for and risking a reelection loss, like the lives of our children and grandchildren . . .and our country’s soul.

 

 

 

The President? Congress? America? Is Anybody Listening?

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SONY DSC

The White House touted the State of the Union address as an opportunity the President would use to bring the country together. What did that mean? There had been a year of actions and Tweets by this President that had served to undermine such messaging, so I was more than a bit skeptical of what we might hear. Doesn’t bringing a country or any group together require listening? Understanding?

Unfortunately, this was yet another missed opportunity for this President. The message I heard was one of fear and blaming and not one of listening to others and bringing people together. Fear of immigrants, linking them unfairly as a group with  gangs and violence, and all but ignoring the positive contributions immigrants have made and continue to make to America. How quickly this administration forgets our own immigrant roots. But when your own fear drives the message, it’s convenient and consistent with our country’s history of blaming  people of color.

Our church is doing a “season of listening” this Lenten season. The idea is to have many of us visit our fellow church members and engage in a 45 minute conversation for the purpose of getting to know the other person better. To be able to “go deeper” in our conversations. To actually “see” the other person. Our training intrigued me because there was an emphasis on listening to understand. . . and not just listening to let the other person finish so we can then share our own views and beliefs. How often do any of us listen, generously? We were instructed that we should listen at least 70 percent of the time during these conversations. How often do we do that? How often do our elected leaders do that? Imagine what they could learn.

I was intrigued by the invitation our facilitator (a pastor with years of training) gave to each of us. We were invited to ask “courageous” questions. For example, if someone mentions that after their divorce they started doing a great deal of gardening. Do you take the easy way out and ask them if they were gardening flowers of vegetables? Or, do you seize on the invitation the intentional mentioning of the divorce gave you to go “deeper?” Perhaps you acknowledge how difficult their divorce must have been and ask them how they were able to move forward after that difficult time.

As I reflected on this evening of training to be a more thoughtful listener and courageous questioner, I found myself thinking of the recent government two day shut down, and the conversation about the “brave” U.S. Senators who had gathered in the office of Senator Susan Collins, where they were able to negotiate a path forward (although for just 3 weeks). Many of the Senators involved  in the bipartisan conversation spoke glowingly about the Native American talking stick (apparently a gift from North Dakota Senator Heidi Heitkamp) in Senator Collins’s office that was required to be held by the person talking, requiring others to be quiet. It was designed to create order, deter interruptions, and foster listening.

Rather than shaking my head at how this Senate story highlighted, yet again,  how dysfunctional our House and Senate have become,  it struck me as a wake up call, an opportunity, for each of us to realize and acknowledge how much work everyone has to do, to be a generous listener, to listen to understand. How else do you bring people together? The House and Senate are no different. The talking stick scenario brings that front and center.

While part of me wants to applaud the Senate’s ingenuity to borrow from Native Americans to figure out a practical way to listen to each other and get something done, the other part of me sees a sad irony in the use of a Native American talking stick, used to bring needed order and an opportunity to be listened to,  heard and seen, by an overwhelmingly body of older white men that has, historically,  ignored Native American voices and the voices of those in this country who are not white.

But talk is cheap. Until the actions of the President  and Republican members of the House and Senate, who find themselves in the majority, show a willingness to truly listen, to understand, America is destined to be mired in more of the same dysfunction. We all lose as a result of such dysfunction. The President ostensibly reaching out to the Senate Democrats to unite  a divided country seemed positive on its face. Yet, this must be followed by actual listening and dialogue. That needs to include not only a willingness to listen to understand, but a willingness to actually change one’s mind and modify one’s position as a result of such dialogue.

Fast forward a couple weeks to where President Trump praised the work done by his now former staffer Rob Porter, who was forced to resign after allegations of abuse by Porter’s two ex wives. There were pictures of Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, with a black eye she said she received from his punching her. Holderness reportedly provided these pictures to the FBI during their investigation as part of Porter’s pending security clearance. . . a security clearance he never received. Was the White House or the President listening? Did they even ask why Rob Porter had not been given a security clearance?

Porter’s first wife, Jennie Willoughby,  had filed an emergency protective  order against Porter. CNN has reported White House officials were apparently aware of the allegations made against Porter as early as January of 2017. Did White House officials hear the allegations? Did the men in charge not want to hear them?

How does this President bring people together? He publicly praises Rob Porter, a man on his staff who abuses women. The President said:” We wish him well.. . . He worked very hard. I found out about it recently and was surprised by it. But we certainly wish him well. It’s obviously a tough time for him. He did a very good job when he was in the White House. And we hope he has a wonderful career, and hopefully he will have a great career ahead of him. But it was very sad when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad. Now he also as you probably know, he says he’s innocent. And I think you have to remember that. He said very strongly yesterday that he’s innocent. So you’ll have to talk to him about that. But we absolutely wish him well. Did a very good job while he was at the White House.”

Nothing about the women victims from this President. What does the President wish for the victims of Porter’s abuse, Jennie Willoughby and Colbie Holderness? Does he wish them well? Does he even think about them? Do you suppose he knows they are also “very sad.” The President’s statement tells me he’s not listening. He does not understand. The President does not “get it.” The President stresses Mr. Porter’s denials. The President has a disturbing history of stressing the denials of male abusers, whether Rob Porter, Roy Moore, or himself. What lies ahead for our country,  whose leader lacks the moral integrity and/or skill set necessary to condemn an abuser’s actions and rightly focus his concern on the well being of the real victims?

This is a President who has perpetuated a culture of abusing women and not believing women when they bravely come forward and shine the light on the abusers – whether physically, sexually or psychologically. We don’t just wish our president could and would do the right thing by calling out abusers, we expect them to do it. Those Republican lawmakers who continue to excuse this President’s moral bankruptcy, for any reason, are complicit in the dire consequences and real life carnage that is left in its wake.

This is not what bringing people together looks like. It’s the opposite. Yet this is the President. There is nothing normal about either this White House or this President.

Another wrinkle to this story is that the White House initially sought to circle the wagons and defend Mr. Porter. As part of that process,  the President’s communications director, 29 year old Hope Hicks, helped draft the press release in defense of Mr. Porter. The allegations of abuse made against Mr. Porter by his ex-wives were initially called “vile” by Hicks and the White House.  Oh, did I mention that Ms. Hicks was dating Mr. Porter at the time? Is anybody listening? MeToo?  What’s “vile” is how this was handled by the White House. Ms. Hicks and her boss should be fired –  if anybody was truly listening to understand, to see Jennie Willoughby, Colbie Holderness, and all the women in this country who continue to be abused, not heard, and not seen.

When will we, as Americans who struggle to still claim a country with a moral compass, tell Jennie Willoughby, Colbie Holderness, and all the other brave women in this country who continue to be subjected to tone deaf male dominated systemic abuse,  that we see them, we hear them, we believe them and we understand? When and how do we finally and loudly tell our mostly male elected political leaders that we’re going to hold  the male abusers, and those who support them, accountable come Election Day? How about right now, in 2018, by intentionally electing more women leaders who “get it?”

America, are you listening?