Dear Congress: Get Your Shit Together

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Dear Congress,

I assume you you didn’t get around to reading this article I wrote last week in the immediate aftermath of the Pulse Nightclub massacre. I don’t blame you, I guess. You have had a lot on your plate lately, what with working to ensure that senseless gun violence is finally addressed in this country and that the victims didn’t die in vain. Oh,wait. What’s that? You failed, yet again, to make any progress whatsoever?  The Senate couldn’t agree on even the most basic steps toward legitimate change, you say? I guess the only thing you are committed to working hard for is retaining that dismal 11% approval rating.

Well, since you missed it, I thought you should know that the very predictable chain of events I outlined has come to pass. No, I’m not a soothsayer, just a very tired American citizen who has seen this exact situation play out over and over again.

In the 10 days since 49 people – real people – were gunned down, this has happened: The media outlets have run the story on loop, complete with fancy graphics and foreboding music. Loads of incomplete and as yet misunderstood details have saturated the air waves. Was the shooter a closeted homosexual? Did he actually use gay dating apps? Did he have legitimate ties to ISIS? We don’t yet have a thorough enough understanding of this situation to definitively answer these questions but you’d better believe plenty of people think they do; because, for them, accuracy takes a backseat to answers when trying to make sense of a tragedy. And can we even blame them at this point?

Here’s what else happened: some of your most prominent members, like Senators Mitch McConnell (R-KY), Rob Portman (R-OH), and Jeff Sessions (R-AL), quickly tweeted “thoughts and prayers” for the victims before promptly spitting all over them with votes against sensible gun reform. Fox News contributor Stacey Dash immediately blamed President Obama and presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, for politicizing the tragedy. It’s not surprising, of course, as it happens in the wake of every mass shooting in this country but what does that even mean? What good are you politicians anyway if using your position to effect change is seen as a gross impropriety?

And while the Senate certainly bears the brunt of my ire at the moment, the House of Representatives has done its damnedest to compete. Last Monday, when Assistant Democratic Leader Jim Clyburn (D-SC) implored House Leader Paul Ryan to consider legislation that had been filed in the wake of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church murders last year, Ryan proclaimed the request to be out of order. Really? REALLY?! To add insult to injury, Ryan’s spokeswoman later said, “It’s shameful that anyone would try to use a moment of silence honoring victims of a brutal terrorist attack to advance their own agenda.”

Look, it’s one thing for an actress turned “political commentator” to confuse action for politicalization but the Speaker of the House? Come on Congress, what exactly do you think your job entails? What in God’s name do you think the people of this country elected you to do?

As a direct result of your double-speak, fear-mongering, and political self-preservation, justice for the victims has been thwarted. In the very midst of their funerals, you dared to disregard their memories and tow party lines, intent on currying favor with the very lobbyists who dug their graves. You shame this nation and yourselves. History will look upon you with disgust.

At the moment though, our country is once again, predictably, mired in political conflagrations. Thanks, Congress! All over social media, I see people adamant that this tragedy is simple enough to be appropriately conveyed in a meme. One friend proudly proclaims his right to concealed carry, while another swears Islam is inherently hostile and dangerous. The former doesn’t understand that reform is not code for confiscation. The latter almost certainly lacks a theology degree and is apparently content to forget the Crusades.

But you see, I can look past their posts and rants because it’s not their responsibility to be the voice of reason – it’s yours. Or have you forgotten?

It is absolutely your responsibility to step up, speak out, and set the record straight. It is your job to recognize the multi-faceted nature of this situation and convey it to your constituents. It is your duty to take proactive measures to protect the people of this country.

And you know what? You have failed. Again. Most of you, at least.

The thing is, you are smart enough to know that this isn’t just about terrorism, guns, mental health, or civil rights. It is about every single one of them; and I’d like to think you are competent enough to develop and agree upon solutions that deal with each of these issues. I would like to believe you are adult enough to acknowledge nuance and encourage understanding among those who respect you and your authority. There must be some left out there. So do the right thing and tell them.

Tell them that all of these issues are important and that we will work together to solve them. Tell them that you are committed to making change a reality. Tell them that while you understand radical Islamic terrorism is a real threat, you also understand that it does not reflect true Islam or the 3 million Muslims peaceably living in this country. Tell them that nobody is coming for their guns, their carry permits, or their second amendment. Tell them that focusing on any one of these issues does not mean you have forgotten about the rest. Be honest, and tell them that you don’t actually represent them – you represent yourselves. Tell them the truth!

Now, I know exactly what you are going to say – those of you who voted against sensible gun reform, that is. You are going to to say that you did vote for positive changes. Well, let’s unpack that, shall we? Sure, you voted to give more money to the agency that oversees background checks but that very same amendment also served to make it easier for people with mental health problems to access weapons and, notably, wouldn’t have done anything to actually expand background checks. How exactly does that help us, again? Haven’t I heard you proclaim over and over again that mass shootings are a mental health issue and not a gun issue? Your votes defy logic.

Those of you shackled to the long arm of the National Rifle Association also supported a measure (which – shock! – the NRA also supported) that would have delayed gun sales to anyone on a watch list for a grand total of 3 days… excuse me? Is that it?

The point, you claim, is to allow law enforcement to successfully argue probable cause in front of a judge. Look, I understand that due process is important in this country. Really. But if probable cause was that easy to establish, the person flagged by the watch list would have been arrested already. It’s important to note, by the way, that the competing (and largely Democratic backed) amendment does not indefinitely restrict access to firearms and also allows for one to petition the courts to review the decision. Requiring convictions to bar potential terrorists from purchasing firearms is so flagrantly impractical that it reeks of blatant obstruction. Are you familiar with that term? I thought so.

But here’s the really crazy part, the part that you’re hoping nobody notices. You voted for that amendment based on the oft-peddled fiction that the second amendment is a constitutional right for every American citizen. Of course, you know that’s not true. You know that because you are familiar with District of Columbia vs Heller, in which  Justice Scalia unequivocally states that the powers of the second amendment are not unlimited and provides ample leeway for regulation, though not an outright ban. Yes, that Justice Scalia. Remember him?  Is it uncomfortable having to acknowledge him when he doesn’t serve to advance your political posturing? Just wondering.

But hey, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the majority of you voted against two measures for which the American public has overwhelmingly voiced support: barring gun sales to anyone who has been on a watch list in the last 5 years and requiring universal background checks, effectively closing the gun show loophole. You shamelessly ignored the will of the people – about 90% of the American people, actually.

So tell me again, who do you really serve?

Come on, Congress. Do me a favor and just get your shit together.

I would apologize for offending your delicate sensibilities but I doubt a lowly curse word does much to rattle those with blood on their hands anyway.

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Prove Me Wrong: Why the Orlando Nightclub Shooting Changes Nothing

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In the wake of today’s horrifying news that a domestic terrorist mercilessly shot 103 people, killing 49, a familiar sequence of events has begun to unfold. We’ve been here before. Whether it’s a movie theater, a classroom, a house of worship, or- now, a nightclub, the story is never substantially changed; because at its core, innocent lives are lost and our inefficient response to their deaths always shame this country.

Here’s how it will go down:

First, the media will begin covering every sliver of detail they can get their hands on. They will dissect it. They will reiterate it. They will cite sources, some named and some not. All the while, bright red banners proclaiming “Breaking News” will light up our television screens.

Misinformation will be reported, as is inevitable in the early moments of investigations when any answer is better than the right answer. Those flawed pieces of information will continue to blur the facts for weeks to come because they will immediately be shared, tweeted, and tagged into an ever growing snowball of confusion.

Within hours, politicians around the country will weigh in on the situation. Some will rightfully ask what we can do to keep people safe in the future. Their opponents will swiftly condemn their responses as politicizing a tragedy.

From there, we each step in line as we have done a multitude of times before. We will align ourselves with whatever preconceived idea we have regarding gun control. We will make all the same arguments we have always made. We will share articles and screen shots that align with our own world view and scoff at friends who do the same with their contrary opinions.

Out of anguish, some will lash out at the wrong people simply because they are easy targets. There will be frenzied cries of faux-outrage that the President is out to steal our guns. Rest assured, rampant Islamophobia will be made as evident as ever. And the LGBT community will undoubtedly feel a sharp pang of fear as pride events nationwide become a target for copycat criminals.

For a time, we will be pitted against one another on a political front, forgetting the human lives at the center of our fiery debates. Their names will be invoked, their stories may be told; but their humanity will be lost. Because it’s not them we are fighting for – it’s ourselves.

And then, after several weeks, the chorus of voices will begin to fade. There will be calls for reform from the passionate few who remain but, in the end, obstruction will win out over justice because pride no longer yields to reflection in this country; at least not for those whom we have elected to be our collective voice.

And, perhaps, that is as it should be; because, as a whole, we have grown ever jaded, ever entrenched in our beliefs. We have been lead to believe that ‘compromise’ is a dirty word and that refusing to budge is an act of principled disobedience.

Nothing will change. Nothing. Because this is the America in which we live.

When the blood of innocent school children is not enough to wake up this country to the threat that continues to assault our loved ones with alarming regularity, we have proclaimed-loud and clear-that we simply aren’t ready for discussion. If we didn’t act on their behalf, what rationale is there to believe we would act now? We are not adult enough to ask the hard questions, let alone work to solve them. We have failed our children and one another. It’s been made exceptionally clear.

So in this, the worst mass shooting in American history, I expect no real change; for this situation requires an abundance of tempered response and a strong ability to analyze its multi-faceted realities. This situation requires us to synthesize our understanding of LGBT rights, history, and threats, along with radical terrorism and the gun debate. All three explosive issues, loaded with emotional attachments and knee-jerk reactions; the depths of which feel impossibly out of reach.

We have consistently proven our inability to work together on a single one of these issues independent of another, so I won’t be holding my breath for a giant cultural maturation in the coming months. My heart longs for it but my head sighs with pessimism.

Today is hard. It is heavy. And, unfortunately, it brings out the cynic in me. But if there’s one thing you can do today to honor the lives of those lost, it’s this:

Prove me wrong.

Be a voice for the maligned and an advocate for the oppressed. Stand with the LGBT community in a visible way, no matter how uncomfortable it may feel. Encourage rational discussion about gun safety and educate yourself on its history. Do not be content to spread the misinformation that halts these discussions at each and every turn. Step aside from whatever political affiliation you adhere to and listen without reservation. Decide today to be an ally of every person in this country, no matter who or what they worship. Recognize that religious conviction is meaningless when devoid of good acts. And be kind to one another.

Don’t lose sight of the fact that we are all fighting for freedom: the freedom to love, the freedom to worship, the freedom to live out our constitutional rights, and the freedom to be safe. Ensuring these freedoms requires thoughtful consideration and meaningful discussion.

Make it happen.

 

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