Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Do Not Engage

It was a lovely, sunny, Saturday morning at Ft. Lowell Park.  Daniel Hernandez and I were together two and a half years ago on a similar morning, he taking names at the registration table, Christina-Taylor Green and I chatting him up as she filled in the form.  I don't think there's been a cloudy Saturday since then.  I know that because I find myself saying "a day just like this one" more often than you'd imagine.

This past Saturday, we were creating paper flowers as a reminder of that other Saturday, the one that took Christina from us and catapulted Daniel to national prominence.  It's easy to forget that he's only 23 years old; everyone from Mayors Against Illegal Guns to AIPAC has him on their short list of favored participants as he manages a position on a contentious school board here in town.  Mostly, he's a gentle giant of a man, who's always willing to hold a crying baby, or help a child fold and cut a paper flower.
It was a "kid and mom friendly event."  There were name tags and bottles of water and snacks under Ramada #1.  There were, inevitably, some spills, but the flowers didn't mind.
The issue attracts all sorts of helpers, including this young man who admitted to seeing Daniel as a man to be emulated.  He's interested in politics and government and making the world a better place, just like Daniel.  Don't tell me there is no hope in this world.  I sat across from some of it on Saturday morning.
It didn't matter how old or how young you were; making the flowers was seriously hard work. taping the rolled up scrolls of fringed paper to the straws was no easier than unfurling it to resemble something vaguely reminiscent of a flower.
There was no reason to take pictures of the finished products; they were not photo-worthy.  Megan was right, when she commented last week.  This was not an easy project.

Still, we persevered.  We accordion folded and cut fringes and wrapped, often even remembering to put the bended piece of the straw inside the paper.  We taped and we unfurled and we laughed at our efforts.  It was a lovely, sunny, Saturday morning.

And then a man came by and wondered if we were "protesting gun violence."  Yes, we were.  I was about to ask him if he wanted to join us when he continued, wondering "if any of you have been shot by a gun."  Yes, I have, said I as I showed him the exit wound on my back, clearly exposed by the sleeveless blouse I wore.  "By a gun?" he inquired.  "Yes, three times," I replied.

By that time I was up from the table and standing across the sidewalk from him, and his two young boys.  I didn't notice the event organizer, but she noticed us.  She'd made her way to my side as my interlocutor went on, surprising me with the intensity of his next comment.  "No, not a gun.  Guns don't shoot people, people shoot people."

That's true, just as flames don't burn people, fools who put their hands in the fire burn themselves. But not all people should have guns, and our system is not set up to weed them out.  I was prepared to continue the conversation, albeit with my heart pounding in my chest, when the organizer stepped between us.

"This is a family friendly space.  We are working on a project.  Please, leave us in peace."

That may not be it exactly, but it covers her intention.  She wrapped her arm around me as, quaking, I returned to my bench next to Daniel.  "The police advised us not to engage in conversation outside our group," she said.

I'd skipped most of the local Moms Demand Action events here in town because I was worried about the security surrounding them.  This one, set in the middle of a busy park, with Little Leaguer's and swing swingers in every direction, under a covered ramada far from the main street, felt safe enough to entice me to join the fun.  And then, as the organizer noted, I engaged in conversation and the whole atmosphere turned.

The man and his two boys walked away and I went back to folding and cutting and wrapping. My soul was hurting.  I shouldn't argue ... I should stick to the task ... I should stay safe.  I can't find fault with any of that, but the missed opportunity rankled.

Not that I would have changed his mind.  He was spouting platitudes, not asking questions.  I have some answers (lunatics and terrorists should be precluded from owning weaponry, our laws exist but are broken, do you really need a gun to buy a burger?) .  It probably wouldn't have gone anywhere.  But still....

When the police tell you to call if ignoring the outside world still makes you feel vulnerable, is that a good thing?  They didn't send an officer to keep us safe. They told us to keep our mouths shut and not make waves and we'd be okay.  The organizers wanted a family friendly event.  They were not seeking tumult or immediate change.  They are looking to grow the organization, and that requires much preaching to the choir, it seems.  Getting people involved and keeping them involved is not an easy task. Fierce argumentation is not a part of that plan.

And yet, we were out in public, making a statement that we exist.  Would it have been better to do it at my house, and avoid the issue of interacting with strangers entirely?  Was there a way to communicate our goals without endangering our safety or the sanctity of the event itself?  Was there something else I could have said or done?

I'm not sure.  I am learning as I go, bringing my scarred psyche along with me. That which used to leave me nonplussed now sends me spiraling, my head exploding.  I have to figure out a way to meld the activist with the shootee.  It's an interesting challenge.


  1. What a jerk!
    That's about all I can think of to say about this episode.

    1. And his little boys were listening as he creates another generation of non-thinkers.

  2. Have you noticed how the gun nuts use that stupid quote about guns don't kill people, people kill people a lot?. It's the most idiotic thing I've ever heard. There are people that should not drive a car because they cannot handle the responsibility and there are people that should not have a gun--again, because they cannot handle the responsibility.

    A woman on Saturday shot her friend in the leg at a Starbucks because she dropped her purse and her gun went off. First of all, who the heck keeps a loaded, unlocked gun in their purse? http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/13/gun-in-purse-starbucks_n_3268652.html

    I loved the response from a friend that said, "Guns don't kill people. Purses kill ... uh, oh wait." Made me chuckle, but I loved how she turned that stupid quote into something else.

    I'm sorry you STILL have to deal with these jackasses. I mean really... what kind of question is have you been shot? Once you said that, the guy should have moved on. I'm sorry, but I have no tolerance for these people. It's probably good that I wasn't there. I'm not good at keeping my mouth shut and not engaging--especially if it's something I feel so passionately about. Hubby knows this about me and sometimes will put his hand on my arm and encourage me to be quiet. It's a learning process.

    Love all the photos and you looked gorgeous--as always! You are beautiful on the inside and out!

    Sending hugs.

    Megan xxx

    1. Which one of those young women did you mistake for me, Megan? I was behind the camera this time... but wil accept the flattery nonetheless.

      LOVE "purses kill people" but really, that woman should lose her permit. What if a baby in a stroller had been beside her. ANOTHER reason to ban weapons from Starbucks.

      I'm not sure that I should have to stay quiet in order to stay safe. I'm working on it...

    2. I saw some of the MDA Tucson ones and you looked gorgeous! I always LOVE your dangling earrings.

  3. It's really hard not to engage. How dare those heartless people comment. But keep in mind these people have some sort of mental illness. You are right in that you will not change their mind. Your presence is enough to speak volumes.

    1. That's the point of the group, Anon. I was informed, enlightened and made whole by a better explanation. See Thursday's post for the explication.

  4. You should NOT have to be quiet to stay safe. I am so sorry that you might need to. What a screwed up country we live in when advocating gun safety makes you a target.

  5. Some decades ago, I was lying on a blanket at a public park with a big lake. It was a sunny day and I'm sure I was wearing sunglasses to read; in particular, I was reading Walden. (Hey, I was still young enough to not be afraid of showing off.) Eventually I realized I was in shadow; I'd been bracketed by a handful of younger (but not that much younger) folks wearing big clunky wooden crosses around their necks. (Hey, they were still young enough etc.) Had I ever, they wondered, thought about [fill in the blank]?

    Wish that this story had some great dramatic arc or at least a punchline. But it doesn't. I can't remember what I said. I can remember only that they left me alone after a minute or two and I continued reading for a little while longer than that. That is, my heart wasn't pounding and I wasn't gulping in breaths a mouth- or lung-ful at a time. I know I said something, but it must not have been too (or at all) fiery because neither they (as far as I know) nor I left the conversation as though with our backs hunched over and fists clenched for battle, and neither they (ditto) nor I seemed to feel that we'd abandoned principles in order to avoid disagreement. Knowing me, though, I probably didn't even try to point out their fundamental error(s): I probably ignored the question (maybe feigning convenient tinnitus) and said something impossible to disagree with, like "Isn't the sky beautiful today? Are you having as good a day as I am?"

    Forgive me if you've used the term before and I've just missed it, but "shootee" is a keeper. Anyhow, I do think you can afford to cut yourself some slack -- as a shootee -- and demand neither perfect reasonableness nor perfect zeal.

    1. Perfect has never been my goal, JES. I have "I am very comfortable in my relationship with God" for Jehovah's Witnesses at my door. I have more to say on this... read The Burrow on Thursday for the follow-up.

      Shootee has been here before... .glad you like it, my favorite wordsmith.

  6. I realize that expecting the mouth-breathers who disagree with me to present arguments that are logically consistent is probably asking too much, but come on. I mean, the mindless platitude of "guns don't *kill* people, people *kill* people," while requiring a unique caput-in-rectum inversion can be a non-self-negating sentence. But "guns don't *shoot* people, people *shoot* people," fails on every possible level. Maybe if you'd shown him an arrow exit wound, but it's pretty hard to have a bullet wound without a gun somehow involved.

    As for non-engaging, I think it's fair to not try to change the minds of morons, but educating them to the point that they can at least make their moronic arguments properly, that I think would be a valid amount of "engagement". But then I've always been a fan of shaming stupidity.


    1. Loved how you followed up on this last night on the phone. I'm keeping it in my arsenal. "The person didn't throw the bullet through me. He needed a gun."

      Love your moral outrage on my behalf, and glad you share your "shaming stupidity" mantra with the world.


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