I must have been 10 or 11 years old, the same age as many of the victims of the Robb Elementary School shooting. I remember being herded with my classmates into the combination gymnasium/cafeteria at Saffell Street Elementary in Small Town, Ky. Metal folding chairs were set up in long rows in front of the elevated stage. There might have been some jostling or some goofing around, but students were largely respectful and well-mannered in that era. We took our seats and waited to see what was next.
A man appeared on the stage and walked us through a presentation about safely handling guns. I had never held a gun or seen anyone else handle a gun. Nonetheless, I remember paying careful attention, because I evidently knew there would be a test at the end. And I always wanted to do well on every test.
I learned the importance of keeping all guns and ammunition locked away when not in use. I learned how to carry a gun safely if I were ever hunting with others. What I remember most, perhaps because it concocted an image of traipsing across fields and farmland and crawling over obstacles—something I loved to do—were the detailed instructions on the importance of unloading a gun before climbing over a fence, handing the empty gun to someone on the other side (or, I suppose, shoving it under the fence), and then climbing over the fence unencumbered before retrieving the gun and reloading it, if necessary.
The presenter represented the NRA. He was there to ensure that children living in a rural area where there were certainly many guns available knew about basic gun safety. His job was to keep us safe, to preserve our lives.
This was the role of the NRA in 1970.
Heather Cox Richardson, in her Letters from an American post on May 26, 2022, reminded me of that. She wrote, “By the 1980s, the National Rifle Association had abandoned its traditional stance promoting gun safety and was defending ‘gun rights.’”
Today, the NRA opened its annual convention in Houston, despite the recent slaughter in Uvalde, Texas, five hours due west. The organization has a very different purpose and different goals than it did 50 years ago. Its lobbying efforts have clearly led to the proliferation of guns in American society, where there are more guns than people. Their efforts have also convinced legislators to refuse to back even the most moderate, and widely supported, gun legislation.
This week, after the senseless murders at Robb Elementary, Republican office holders have proposed arming teachers and eliminating doors in school buildings rather than raising the age for lawful purchase of a military-style weapon or expanding background checks. Because of the work of the modern NRA, more children will die in mass shootings.
As I’ve watched the transformation of the NRA over recent decades, I have frequently recalled the hour or so I spent as a youngster learning about guns. I have to smile at my earnest interest in a lesson that now makes me cringe. Contrasting that innocent hour to the hour of terror endured by the few surviving 10-year-olds in that Robb Elementary classroom spotlights where the NRA has taken this country.
I suppose I did OK on the test. I imagine we all were rewarded with the same wallet-size card indicating we had successfully completed a course on gun safety. I was immensely proud of that card and kept it in my billfold for many years. I probably still have it somewhere.
I’ve still never held a gun in my hands. I never intend to. I hope I never need to. (As I type that, I am reminded of numerous Ukrainians who have reported they shared my aversion to guns before they felt compelled to learn how to use one.) And the NRA better know that my abhorrence of weapons of mass killing will propel me to the polls every time I have the opportunity to vote against an NRA-endorsed candidate. We cannot let them get away with killing our babies.
I’ve resisted writing about the mass shooting in Buffalo, N.Y., all week. I seriously doubted that you wanted to hear me rail again about white people slaughtering innocent Black people. But then President Biden reminded us all that “Silence is complicity…. This is work that requires all of us—presidents and politicians, commentators, citizens. None of us can stay on the sidelines.”
Well, I’m a citizen. And there are a few people who read what I write. I imagine you all agree with me on this truly black and white issue, or you wouldn’t keep reading. So as much as I wanted to leave this one alone and try to go on with my life, knocking off chores on my long to-do list, I finally had to stop and say something, however banal and however repetitive.
First it was Rev. Al Sharpton’s words on “Deadline: White House” with Nicolle Wallace. He said, and I’m paraphrasing here, “We can’t stand around while we’re being livestream lynched.” (Those last two words are a direct quote.) The “we” in his emphatic statement I assume to be African Americans. His dragging the term “lynched” out of our nation’s dusty history and into the 21st century with the modifier “livestream” sent a chill up my spine.
That, of course, is exactly what the shooter did. White Americans may be too busy right now going to graduations and attending children’s soccer games and planning sunny vacations to pack a picnic basket and sit on a hillside for hours anticipating a live lynching, as many of our forebears did. But those in our midst so inclined certainly could muster a few seconds to watch a murderous rampage inside a neighborhood grocery store that took the lives of 10 innocents, including an 86-year-old, who was clearly a threat to that white 18-year-old’s opportunities in the good ol’ U.S.A.
Then I reread Eugene Robinson’s column from the Washington Post, which started:
“Do not dare look away from the bloody horror that left 10 dead in Buffalo. Do not dare write off the shooter as somehow uniquely ‘troubled.’ Those Black victims were murdered by white supremacy, which grows today in fertile soil nourished not just by fringe-dwelling racists but by politicians and other opportunists who call themselves mainstream.”
Over the last seven years, many have looked the other way as those embracing white supremacy have been emboldened by powerful voices and by the sometimes covert, sometimes overt, complicity of an entire political party drunk on the promise of power. There are no boundaries. There is no shame. The only human life of value is that of the unborn. And as soon as that infant has hurled its first cry, it can be sacrificed at the altar of mammon if doing so would garner one more vote, one more donation, one more sound bite, one more ego-burnishing story to tell the guys down at the local watering hole.
The Buffalo Massacre. As I typed those words, I thought of the glorious bison who roamed huge swaths of our nation before being slaughtered indiscriminately, largely by the greedy White Man. I couldn’t help but acknowledge the parallels. I have to think that most modern Americans regret that bloodshed. Will we ever muster the fortitude to end the senseless slaughter of our fellow Americans? Or will we look away, despite Eugene Robinson’s entreaty, and allow a tiny minority to continue a reign of terror across this great land?
Cathy Eads, of Atlanta, felt compelled to write about Justice Samuel Alito’s preliminary opinion overturning Roe v. Wade that circulated earlier this week. If you would like to submit a post to Clearing the Fog, please contact us here.
“And the little screaming fact that sounds through all history: repression works only to strengthen and knit the repressed.”
― John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
I have other things to do. I’m trying to sell a house, complete a career training course, parent a young adult child who needs more attention right now, finalize a divorce that’s dragging on longer than expected, work out, and just get around to cleaning my toilets. I’d like to be free to exercise my right to the pursuit of happiness, but as I write this, tears sting my eyes and I’m putting all those things on the shelf to write about the latest attempt to repress freedom in the United States.
It is surreal to consider that what has been a right of women in the USA since I was a chubby-faced little toddler is now at risk of being ripped away. I am experiencing feelings of fury, sadness, broken heartedness, and a fiery motivation to rage against the machine, again.
And so, I write, because exercising my voice is one way I can contribute to the defense of my and my sisters’, my daughter’s, my cousins’, my nieces’, my friends’, and all girls’ and women’s rights to reproductive health care. I’ll also march, protest, knock doors, and drive people who need rides to vote, to get health care, or to join me in marching and protesting.
Because you, you who are trying to erase us and have power over us, our bodies, and our rights, you will not win. You will not win this battle. You do not own the majority of the U.S. population. We are still free. We see what you are trying to do. When you try to scare us into submission, it emboldens us. We will work persistently to maintain our freedoms, and to gain more equity and more of the power that is absolutely our right to have and to hold. We will not sit down and be quiet.
Freedom does not belong only to the white males (and females) who wish to have power over the people in this country at all costs—the ones who are so afraid of sharing the world, sharing power with females, people of color, and people of various religious backgrounds and sexual orientations. Freedom and autonomy over our lives, our bodies, where we live, and who we love are inalienable rights. We know this, and you do, too. We see that it is you who are scared. People who are afraid and feel weak try to gaslight, manipulate, trick, and control others. We don’t want to take your power; we simply want to share the power. This is not a zero-sum game.
When we all share in the power and privilege, we can work cooperatively to bring broader access to healthcare, greater wealth, better education, a more secure planet, a more peaceful existence for all people—because that’s what we want. Leaving us out, trying to silence us, attempting to take away our rights means that fewer of the brilliant, creative ideas available to solve our shared problems are being brought to the table. We want a safer more secure life for everyone—even you who are trying to intimidate us. And believe it or not, as ragingly mad as we are at you for the idiot moves you’ve made to squash us into boxes and pretend that we don’t matter, most of us would forgive you and choose to cooperate with you to bring about a better life for us all. Because in truth, we are all part of the human race, just like you, wanting to make the most of the precious time we have here on this planet.
Which is why I probably won’t bother cleaning those toilets today either.
I should have seen it coming.
I suppose I expected a more gradual transition to my pre-pandemic activity level. You may recall that I confessed to being quite comfortable with quarantining. Professional obligations over the last four decades had pushed me out into the world and forced me to learn to interact fairly successfully with other people. But it was always hard. And always immensely exhausting.
It wasn’t until we were all forced to withdraw from society that I realized just how heavenly that mandate was for me. I retreated into my little cocoon, taking walks with the dog and a friend or two, and being quite content with that abnormal state of things. I learned to talk on the phone more, which I had never particularly enjoyed, and I celebrated how infrequently my car left the garage.
But now, I suppose, it’s over. Or at least the majority of people in my neck of the woods have decided the pandemic is behind us. The dictate now is that we must all return to our normal activities, sans masks, or risk being branded as pathetic snowflakes.
I will admit that I have been one of the last to walk into a restaurant without a mask or accept an invitation to a gathering with more than a couple of people. I haven’t traveled since 2019. I haven’t been to an event since early 2020. All my socializing has been outdoors, usually on a hiking trail.
And, quite frankly, I didn’t really want to leave the cozy little womb I had created. So I fretted about what to do. How should I respond to the onslaught of invitations landing in my inbox and on my phone? The rest of the world was moving on, and some—perhaps foolishly—seemed to think they wanted to bring me along.
Thinking I was dipping my toe in the uninviting water, on April 20 I took a deep breath and met a friend for lunch…indoors. On April 22, I got my second Covid booster. And then, somehow, the floodgates opened.
Was it just spring, and people wanting to get out from under our long winter? Was it the cyclical celebrations this season brings? Or perhaps it was the perceived freedom from the threat of the virus that resulted in an eruption of social invitations?
I said yes. I put each one on my calendar. Maybe I really could do this. Maybe I could be in public among large groups of people without worrying about infecting some vulnerable soul near me. I managed a bridal shower. A concert.
And then things started snowballing. I felt besieged by invitations. I couldn’t get sufficient air in-between them. My eating became erratic and sleeping was impossible. Even my daily calming rituals were upended. One evening, after two other events, I was walking Lucy and stumbled into a spontaneous retirement party at a neighbor’s firepit. The humans and canines in attendance were favorites of my dog. We got swallowed up. I couldn’t leave.
Late last night I finally had to put the brakes on. I canceled a date I had made with a friend. I pushed breathing and exercising and quiet chores around the house to the top of my priority list. Clearly I will have to find a way to better manage these emerging social obligations and my friendships.
If you are reading this, I hope you won’t take offense. I hope you won’t feel snubbed if I simply can’t add another activity to my calendar. I realize now I need to do this gradually, on my own terms. I need to get a grip. Avoid spontaneous combustion.
I hope you will be patient with me. For my part, I will continue to fight the urge to disappear to a remote cabin in the woods without leaving a forwarding address.
Coming Up Next: One final installment of the Richard the Terrible saga!