A March for Our Lives in March

I went to my first March last Saturday. It wasn’t the one in Washington but there was a local one that I decided I wanted to go to at the last minute. I didn’t have a sign so I wasn’t sure if it would be appropriate for me to go but I asked about it on Facebook and was assured that marchers without signs were welcome.

The crowd was large and parking was hard to find. People of all ages were there from babies to senior citizens. The bottom of one kid’s sign said “Babies against guns”. The top said “My right to live is above all rights.” His brother’s sign said “NRA go away.”

Other signs carried by children said “I can’t have peanut butter in school but you can have guns?”, “Arms are for hugging”, “School is to get an education not murdered”, “My life is more important than your gun” and “No guns, for safe schools.”

Adolescents and young adults held signs that said Protect kids, not guns, One life is worth more than all the guns on earth” “Students call BS”, and “18th century laws can’t regulate 21st century weapons.”

I took a picture of a “No more school shootings” sign perched atop an empty stroller. A woman commented that it was a good picture and I asked if I could take a picture of her sign, which read “I’m a ballet teacher. Should I carry a gun too?” with a picture of little girls in tu- tus next to a picture of a pink gun. Other signs that commented on the ridiculousness of arming teachers included “Bullets are not school supplies” and “Arm teachers with pencils not guns.”

A middle aged woman held up a sign with a picture of Maria from The Sound of Music that said”The Schools are alive with the sound of bullets.” A woman standing on the remnants of a dirty snow bank held a bright red sign that said “SOS save our schools from gun violence.” A man held up a sign that said “Taught not Shot.”  A woman standing next to him held up a sign that said “Finally a pro-life rally I can attend.” Then there was the woman whose sign had a list of things that were regulated more than guns: Alcohol, Sudafed, lawn darts, Roquefort cheese, Kindereggs, cars, fireworks and her uterus.

Older adults held up signs that said “Guns kill. Period”, “We are the majority”, “Choose life. Tighten gun laws” and “Resist, insist, persist, vote.”

There were signs calling out the NRA. One sign had NRA standing for national recall of arms. Another sign had it standing for no responsibility for arms (or children.)  There was a sign that said Ditch NRA or ditch office, a sign that said NRA, let go of my country  and a sign that said “The NRA can kiss my ass. Your blood money ends now. ” The most darkly funny sign said “Who’s afraid of the NRA? with the NRA as the big bad wolf and Donald Trump, Mitch Mcconnell and Paul Ryan as the three little pigs.

There were several signs pointing out that what we need is action and change, not thoughts and prayers. There were signs that stressed the importance of voting.  A woman wearing a shirt with the word Change beneath Obama’s picture was carrying a sign that said “I demand gun control and I vote!” I saw a sign laying on a table that said “We’re with the teens.  Get out and vote!” There was a sign that simply said “Vote, vote, vote” over and over again.

Some signs kept their messages simple but powerful.  There was a sign that said Disarm Hate.  There were signs that consisted of one word : Enough.

Another one-word sign simply said Love. And in the midst of all the anger and indignation at that rally there was a lot of love. People hugged, held hands, draped their arms around each other, carried one another on their backs.

There were signs that listed the names of the Parkland victims and signs that displayed the pictures of the Parkland survivors who are acting as advocates for gun control. While I was participating in a local march, those survivors were participating in the national march in Washington D.C. where they gave moving and eloquent speeches. They were mostly lauded for their bravery but some rabid defenders of the second amendment had a real problem with them exercising their first amendment rights.  I never would have thought anyone would have a problem with survivors of a horrific tragedy taking action to prevent such a tragedy from happening again, much less target those survivors in a cruel manner but these are interesting times we’re living in.

In addition to the signs, there were also powerful speakers at this rally. One young man described his terrifying experience as a student in a school that had an active shooter.  He sat huddled under a desk wondering if he was going to die. He pointed out that the shooter was not a bullied social outcast as the media stereotype would have you believe. Another young man discussed an aspect of gun violence that doesn’t get as much media attention: suicide. He described a friend of his who died of suicide by gun. He argued that although it’s commonly believed that people who commit suicide want to die, the truth is most of them don’t want to die. It is an impulsive act of desperation, as evidenced by the fact that most suicide attempt survivors do not try again. I’ve often felt depressed and thought about wanting to die but I’ve never attempted suicide or formulated a plan. I wonder if things would have been different had I had access to a gun.

When the talk became about the politicians who bow to the NRA, the crowd chanted “Vote them out! Vote them out!” Acknowledging that he felt awkward taking the stage amidst those cries, a New Jersey state representative explained that although he owns a gun, he supports gun control laws and will not bow to the NRA. I have no interest in owning or using a gun myself but I appreciate the voice of reasonable gun owners in the gun control debate. I’m annoyed that it’s even a debate to begin with. Gun control just seems like common sense to me and those feelings were obviously shared by a woman carrying a sign that said “Pass common sense gun control laws”. Another sign that sums up my feelings well said “Sensible gun laws!  Save lives. Don’t violate the second amendment. Worth the “hassle”. Arrrrgh.”

As the speaker portion of the march drew to a close we were reminded that we shouldn’t just go home, feel good that we participated in a march and then do nothing else. We need to take other actions as well, such as writing to our representatives and voting in upcoming elections. About a month before the march I wrote a letter to one of my representatives about the gun problem and a few weeks later I was pleasantly surprised to get a response, outlining the steps he was taking to address it.

“Do you want to visit your brother? He’s here” my father said as we left the march.  At first I had no idea what he was talking about. Then I realized we were walking by the cemetery where my stepbrother is buried. My stepbrother did not die of a gunshot wound but he did die tragically and unexpectedly at a young age, as did the kids whose lives were ended by bullets ringing out in the hallways of their schools-in Parkland, in Columbine, in Sandy Hook and in so many other schools throughout our nation. As did those whose lives were ended by guns shot by madmen at a concert in Las Vegas, at a club in Orlando, or at a movie theater in Colorado. As did those who were shot in their church or in their own home by a relative, by a friend, by an enemy or by their own hand. My stepbrother was a victim of another poorly handled and hotly debated epidemic that is sweeping this nation-the opioid epidemic.

Afterwards I discovered that several of my friends also attended the march but I did not see any of them them there, probably because the crowd was so large. Although I could not kid myself in to thinking I had made a big difference in my country’s gun violence problem, I allowed myself to feel good about the fact that I had participated in my local March for Life. It was an energizing, valuable and worthwhile experience. I look forward to my next march.

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The 2017 Solar Eclipse

I’d been hearing about the eclipse that was to strike on August 21st for months beforehand but I’d only been half paying attention to the information that was released about it (okay, probably more like a quarter paying attention) and I hadn’t bothered to read about the details. The day before the eclipse was to strike, I was under the impression that it would be a lunar eclipse, that it would not be visible in New Jersey and that solar eclipse glasses were just an accessory for enhanced viewing, rather than a necessity.

On the night of August 20th I found out that all these ideas I had about the eclipse were wrong.  It would be a solar eclipse, it would be visible in New Jersey and the eclipse glasses were needed to protect the eclipse viewer from blindness. One of my earliest memories is of watching a lunar eclipse in the parking lot of the elementary school across from my childhood home but I had never seen a solar eclipse. It would be several years until another solar eclipse became visible and given the current state of the world, I wasn’t sure I’d get to see that one so this could be a once in a lifetime opportunity.

As eager as I was to see the solar eclipse, I wasn’t willing to go blind for it. Unfortunately my characteristic poor planning and lack of attention to detail meant I had not obtained eclipse glasses.  As these characteristics are genetic, my mother had not obtained eclipse glasses either.  However, all hope was not lost.  The Princeton Library had 400 pairs of glasses to hand out the next day and if we were lucky we might obtain a pair of glasses to share between us.

The next morning my father’s girlfriend Gabrielle called to ask if I wanted to come see the eclipse with her and her daughter in Princeton. I told her that I was already planning on going there with my mother and asked if she had eclipse glasses.  She said she did not but she had put together a shoe box contraption for eclipse viewing.  When I told her that the library was handing out glasses, she told me she’d called the library but they’d informed her they were out of them. Since the library’s website said they wouldn’t start handing out classes until 1 p.m., I figured the language barrier had caused Gabrielle to misunderstand what the library employee said to her.

When we arrived in Princeton we learned that it was no misunderstanding . The library had decided to start handing out the glasses at  9 am and they were now long gone. Those bastards.

At that point I wanted to just go home rather than be tempted and blinded by the eclipse but my mother had brought a colander and paper for eclipse viewing. I’d also heard that the eclipse could be safely viewed using the selfie mode on your iPhone. We tried viewing the eclipse through my iPhone, my mother’s colander and Gabrielle’s shoe box but were unable to see a thing. I jealously watched the people who had had the foresight or the luck to obtain eclipse glasses. Then I learned that there was a woman who was generous enough to allow strangers to view the eclipse through her glasses. I got in line behind a few children and took my turn.

When I first put on the eclipse glasses I saw nothing but darkness and said so. The generous woman said that I was supposed to just see darkness when looking through the glasses as I was and that I needed to look up at the sky to see anything. When I looked up at the sky I saw the eclipse. A black circle was moving across a white circle . The former was the moon and the latter was the sun but the moon was covering the sun in a way that made the sun look like a crescent moon.

Shortly after I took off the glasses the crowd let out a collective gasp. I thought they were witnessing an amazing sight but it turned out they were just frustrated that a cloud was passing over the sky during peak eclipse viewing time. Shortly after that we headed home.  I said to my mom “I’m kind of disappointed in the eclipse but if you expect something to be disappointing and it ends up being disappointing, is it truly a disappointment?” She said that it wasn’t.

My Facebook feed soon filled up with amazing pictures of the eclipse. It also included a picture of 45 staring directly at the eclipse with no glasses.  I laughed, not just because it was yet another example of 45’s extreme idiocy but because that morning I’d posted a Facebook status that read:

“It’s well known that no matter how much you warn people that a certain action is stupid and will result in disastrous consequences, a significant number of people will ignore the warning and engage in that action anyway. I predict that today a bunch of people will be blinded by looking at the eclipse with the naked eye. I predict there will be a significant overlap between people who were blinded by the eclipse and people who voted for Trump. Yes, I did just make a status about the eclipse political.”

So, thank you, 45, for proving me right and if I’m fortunate enough to view the solar eclipse in 2024, I hope I’m also fortunate enough to do so without you as my president.