March 23, 2018

GUEST ROOM | A Call To March

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Gun violence is something that has never directly impacted me. It was only through the Virginia Tech shooting, in which a gunman killed over twenty people on a snowy morning in Blacksburg, that I have any concrete connection to gun violence at all; one of my best friends from kindergarten lost a cousin that day. The evening of that massacre, as I sat in my living room with CNN’s emotional coverage on in the background while I copied my spelling words, I remember thinking about how big a deal it was.

It’s not like this anymore though. Nearly eleven years and thousands of deaths from gun violence later, even our overused tropes and platitudes, our vapid thoughts and prayers, feel overbearing, much less meaningless. Even when it was clear that there had been a non-zero chance that Ithaca itself would join one of America’s most infamous lists, I’m sure many on campus let the news wash over them, unable to invest any emotion in a tragedy that didn’t end up occurring even thought it was on the campus’ doorstep.

There are a lot of things wrong with this new societal feature of the mass shooting response; the way we plaster the name and analyze the life of murderers on TV, reaching for an explanation so as to absolve ourselves of any emotional burden for the wrongdoing; the way that the complexity of covering the emotional aftermath for the survivors is too difficult for us to deal with; the way that we hear nothing about gun violence when it manifests itself as a slow-moving tragedy in places like Southeast D.C., as if violence being a part of everyday life is a burden that the predominantly-minority children who live there bear so that their counterparts in the suburbs can get through childhood without having to experience the painful shocks of reality, much less have to confront their, their teachers’, their friends’ and their families’ mortality.

The most sickening aspect of this societal paralysis, however, is the complicit complacency of our leaders. On the infrequent occasion that they are not pandering to potential donors, our leaders from both sides of the aisle fail us in ways that would be seen as difficult to grasp. Republican gun-enthusiasts cower in the shadow of the NRA. Opposite them, Democrats quake at the thought of losing one moderate vote, one election, one class of elected officials for taking a concrete position and holding it. I don’t intend to imply an equivalency between these positions, but it must be pointed out that if you’re willing to sacrifice enough of your own political capital, you can get anything done in D.C. Clearly, both parties are more invested in saving their political capital than they are saving lives.

Herein, though, lies the greatest sin of our leaders. No matter the public will, our elected officials are incapable of so much as having amongst themselves, much less promoting amongst those of us who they work on behalf of, a meaningful discussion with those whom they disagree with. They deviate little from their talking points, with no intention other than to incite a loyal political base into ever less-nuanced action. With few exceptions, our elected officials cannot so much as engage in a civilized discussion that may, just may, lead to the kind of broad consensus that might prevent people that we don’t allow to drive from being shot as they huddle with their friends in a classroom-turned-death-trap. They can’t even have one discussion, when I bet you that any parent of a child killed in any form of gun violence would do anything, short of subjecting another parent to their purgatory, to get just one more discussion with their child who looks down on them now.

It is with this knowledge, with these observations from Parkland, Las Vegas, Orlando, Newtown, Blacksburg, Columbine, and so many more without names, that we must act. The high schoolers have already taken to the streets more than once, their cries being heard in rallies across the country just last week and in the galley of the Florida statehouse a month before that, as a ban on the weapon that has so often been used to murder them was voted down. In an ancestral home of revolutionary thoughts and ideas, it is time that we, the students of Cornell and the progeny of that intellectual tradition, carry this intellectual tradition forward into the action stage, following our high school counterparts to the congressional offices and the Capitol, to the statehouses and the streets, to ensure our representatives know that we’ve had enough.

This country was founded with a call to arms. Two centuries, two score, and two years later, this Saturday at 12:30 on the Arts Quad it is time for a different call, one that has been used time and time again throughout our history for those seeking justice: a call to march. A call to march for discussion, for the gun control that should follow it, for all those felled by a bullet from sea to shining sea; a call to march for our lives.

Giancarlo Valdetaro is a freshman in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Guest Room runs periodically. Comments can be sent to opinion@cornell.edu.