Tuesday, February 05, 2013

El Poder

I spent the better part of last Monday into Tuesday at the Connecticut State Capital listening to testimony at the Connecticut Gun Violence Prevention Public hearing. I went because it was convenient: I didn't have to work that day. I went because I made a promise to myself to start actually standing up for what I believe, and not just liking pages on Facebook. I went because I was lucky enough to have help with the kids. I went because I don't love guns.

I stayed because I couldn't look away. I stayed because I couldn't believe how many more people were there to lobby for weapons than people trying to decrease violence. I stayed because of the vehemence coming from the gun proponents. I stayed because I needed to be heard.

Everyone marked themselves for the hearing. Those wearing yellow stickers were "responsible gun owners". Those wearing white stickers were "against gun violence". Nearly everyone was wearing a green ribbon for Sandy Hook. And nearly everyone stuck to the script: the yellow stickers railed against any additional legislation limiting guns or ammunition. The white stickers asked for limits on ammunition. I've thought a lot about what was said that day. The lilt of the three minute testimony has played like a bad 80s song on repeat in my head (probably a function of the fatigue, the disbelief, and the 14 long hours I was exposed to the rhetoric). I keep trying to simmer down the testimony into a concise summary and the outcome is always the same: the right to guns is more important than people.

The "right" I think they are demanding, though, is not necessarily the right to guns. I think it's the right to exert power over another. Isn't that, ultimately, what having a gun is? You can kill someone, sure, but almost more importantly, you can threaten to kill someone. Power exists everywhere: between people, among groups, even within ourselves. We use power to convince, to defy, to gain, and to change. We use words, and body position. We exploit information and emotional attachment to change the behavior of other people. From the threat of time out to a 3 year old, to physical violence against one another, we can make change.

The constant refrain from those wearing yellow stickers was that they are powerless without guns. Specifically, they are powerless without high capacity clips. They cannot protect their family without the guns. They could have stopped the violence at any number of mass killings. Despite the data suggesting that it is more likely there will be a gun injury in homes with a gun, the guns are fundamental to their safety.

It was, frankly, hard to listen to.

It can be frightening to have power. Maybe even more so to use that power. But it can be exhilarating. And it's that perceived exhilaration tangled with fear that opens the door to violence. As I've espoused before, I don't mind having some control, which usually means having power over something or someone. It usually scares the hell out of me though. What if I use it poorly? What if I'm responsible for how it all turns out? I can tell you right now I would never survive accidentally hurting or killing someone with a gun. Never. How we garner power, how we negotiate it, how we exert our power over others, these are things that define us. To assume that you will always be rational in a moment of danger, that you will always choose to use your weapon "responsibly", that you are the good guy, is a conceit beyond understanding.

Power, though, isn't always used diametrically. Sometimes, if we wield it well, it can be used collectively to make positive change, to inspire, and to make better the lives of those around us. Debates such as this one on gun control frequently draw a line in the sand and force people to take sides. The two extremes walk twenty paces in opposite directions and draw their weapons. And the group that gets silenced is the one in the middle. I don't know what the answer to decreasing gun violence is. There are so many factors, including but not limited to, mental illness, poverty, and discrimination. But I think it starts with both sides at the table agreeing that accidental or intentional deaths, especially those of children, are unacceptable. That it's too common. That, whatever the root cause, it needs to change. That as a society, we are unwilling to tolerate power exerted as violence.

We all make decisions about when and how to stand up for what we believe. Sometimes we can't. Sometimes it's more important to stay home. Sometimes it's not safe. But sometimes you just have to get out there. The ministers at our church took a chance one Sunday and did a reading of "For Sweet Honey in the Rock" by Sonia Sanchez. If you've never heard Sonia Sanchez read her own work, it's worth seeking out.
but we kept on organizing we kept on teaching believing
loving doing what was holy moving to a higher ground
even though our hands were full of slaughtered teeth
but we held out our eyes delirious with grace
but we held out our eyes delirious with grace
Hearing our ministers read with fervor and strength was one of those moments when there was no stopping the pinprick of tears behind my eyes. For every person that has stood up and fought for my rights, I gave a silent thank you. And then I resolved to get on the battlefield. I resolved to get on the battlefield with my hands. With my words. With my muscles. With my actions. With my friends.

I will get on the battlefield, but I will choose to go with people instead of guns.


Adam Hirsch said...

Beautifully said, and you articulate something about the mixed nature of power -- one needs it to make change in the world, but too much of it, or too much of a certain type, turns poisonous or addictive.

As usual, you impress the hell out of me.

Jan Nielsen said...

With love and deep gratitude for your voices and your souls-- and those beautiful boys.

Rev. Jan

Lauren Kellnhauser said...

I just joined google+ so I could tell you I love this! Well said!