There was a time not that long ago when stories about America were stories of discovery, of exploration, of destiny. There was a time when stories about America were of the land: the rich, fertile soil of the Great Plains, the snow-capped peaks of mountain ranges in the west, the sun-kissed steel of skyscraper girders rising in the East. There was a time when stories about America were filled with characters who tilled and toiled, not just the land, but the ideals that grew alongside those amber waves of grain. There was a time when stories about America were filled with great American heroes: heroes who nurtured those ideals, who watched over them, let them lay fallow when they needed time to replenish, recognized when they were ripe for harvesting.
What stories do we tell now?
Yesterday the story was of a high school near Portland, Oregon. A few days before the story was of a Wal-Mart in Las Vegas. Two weeks ago the story was about a university in Santa Barbara. The stories are of shopping malls, of office buildings, of schools. The stories are of the dead, of the injured, of the scarred. The stories are of communities devastated, yet divided. The stories have the same refrain: it is inevitable, it is the norm, it is the new way of life.
We, the people. We, Americans. We have been duped. We have been lulled and shushed and lied to. We have been bamboozled into believing in the impenetrability of a long ago written sentence. By forgoing all else in order to perpetuate that sentence, we have been systematically and quietly tricked into surrendering the keystone of the American Dream. We have been swindled into giving up hope.
Blame who you like. The gun lobby, the NRA, the Christian right, the Tea Party. Blame homosexuals, or Muslims or aliens. The time is long past for blame. When schools are being shot up on a regular basis, it is too late for blame. The truth is, no lobby, no association, no one fraction of a political party or percentage of religious group is that strong. We have been made to think they are. We have been made to think there is nothing to be done, no compromise to be reached. We have been made to give up hope, accept things as they are, adjust to the new status quo. We have stopped seeking a solution because it is too hard, too improbable, too impossible. But the truth is, there is nothing strong enough to stand up to the sound of 365 million voices. But only if they want to be heard.
We are a country at war. Not with another country, not even with each other. We are not at war with terrorists or drugs or the economy. We are not at war over a health care system or gay rights or a welfare state. We are at war with our own ideals; our ideals of a bucolic American life where it is possible for each and every citizen to achieve the American Dream if only they work hard enough.We have been tricked into protecting that ideal at any cost, even if that cost is the lives of our children, our fathers, our mothers, our teachers. We have been led astray, told that those ideals are worth dying for, worth watching our children die for.
They are wrong.
If school children in a country across the globe were being routinely slaughtered, if the citizens of that country looked on in helplessness and said “it is inevitable”, we would demand action. Yet it is happening on our doorstep, time and time again. In our schools, in our shops, in our places of business, on our streets and in our homes.
Guns don’t kill people. It’s not guns that are the problem, it’s mental illness. The only way to protect yourself from gun violence is to arm yourself with a gun. Arm your teacher, arm your principal. Arm your guards. Bullet proof blankets for school children. And yet we do not see ourselves as a country at war?
This is not a way of life to be protected. This is a way of death: death of a dream, of that great ideal. It is the death of hope.
Every man, woman and child needs to stand up and shout. Every mother and father and teacher and social worker needs to stand up and shout. Every, single citizen who believes that this lie, this lie that we need to sacrifice our citizens to an outdated and misconstrued ideal must stand up and shout.
We can sleep at night because it won’t happen to us. It won’t happen in our town, in our school, in our shopping mall or church or mosque. Perhaps they thought that in Oregon a few days ago, or in Sandy Hook eighteen months ago. Do not be placated, patted on the head and sent to bed. Stand up. Scream. Shout. Demand a change.
Gun control, gun regulations, the banning of assault weapons is not the magic answer. But it is a start. It is a tourniquet to staunch the flow of blood until you find and fix the wound.
The time has come for stories about America to once again be about dreams, about destiny, about hope. The time has come for a Great American heroes. You do not need a cape to be a hero, or a letter on your chest. You only need to make sure you are loud enough to be are heard. The greatest American hero is you.
But only if you stand up for what is right.