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America, In Memoriam
A message of mourning on Memorial Day
Where are we going, America? A photo from a Manoomin (wild rice) harvest on Ojibwe land in what we call Minnesosota
There’s a chance you’ve gotten a version of this newsletter I sent out via Puck. I’m bringing a version of Recommentunde to that list, but since you were the first on any email list of mine, you also get a photo!. I’m going to be writing to you more regularly, starting every other Sunday, letting you into my mental queue of thoughts-in-progress and sharing what I consider to be essential media to consume. Because of the holiday, you’re getting this on Monday, but the idea is to kick back, relax with some coffee or mimosas or whatever your Sunday beverage is, and dive in.
Today, as we prepare for, and recover from, barbecues and time with friends and family, I don’t feel much of a sense of ease. I feel rage. In America we are now out-competing ourselves for soul-crushing, emotionally devastating tragedies. We’ve over-programmed the preventable tragedy genre. I was still hurting over the preventable, racist mass shooting in Buffalo when I got news of the preventable elementary school mass shooting in Uvalde. As I let myself feel the weight of those preventable deaths, I also mourned the majority of gun deaths due to suicide as well as the unacceptable levels of homicide. I’ve said this before and will continue to say it. We have more guns than humans in the United States. We are a nation of guns with enough people to reload.
I’m generally a glass-half-full type of person. I’m a let's-roll-up-our-sleeves type of person. I want us to focus on solutions when we’re faced with problems. I made an entire podcast predicated on interpreting “citizen” as a verb. Yet last week, all I could feel was rage. I channeled that into Twitter rants and angry TikToks and text messages with friends. Tired of hearing the loud minority of gun absolutists in this country act like there’s nothing we can do about our grotesque levels of gun violence, I made videos promoting more than 30 tangible actions that Everytown.org has on its website.
Last Thursday, in an effort to process the anger in a healthier way, I took a walk through my neighborhood in Highland Park, Los Angeles. About three-quarters of the way through, I turned right where I usually keep straight. This led me to York Boulevard, and as I reached the street, I could hear chanting. “No Justice! No Peace!” The voices sounded young, and I looked up to see an approaching group of local high school students who had joined the nationwide student walkouts over gun violence. I had a flashback to my own years in high school, and my first walkout in which we too chanted “No Justice! No Peace!” In our case it was to protest the Rodney King verdict. I joined the Highland Park march, pumping my fist, yelling “I’m so proud of you!” along with “I’m so sorry we failed you!”
I teared up then, and now, as I recall the scene. “Take our guns, not our children! Take our guns, not our children!” they repeated as cars honked in support, and police driving their cruisers offered thumbs up. When given the choice, we have decided to get rid of children rather than guns. We’ve absurdly interpreted the Constitution to defend this madness while forgetting that the Constitution can be changed while dead children cannot be brought back to life. We shouldn’t have to live like this. We shouldn’t expect kids to walk out of school because they don’t feel safe in school. But clearly the adults have failed the children, so they must take up their own defense.
In the meantime, we’ll regulate women’s bodies but not weapons of war? We force car owners to take classes and carry insurance but not gun owners? In 2001, a single person tried to detonate a shoe bomb. More than 20 years later, we all take off our shoes at the airport and don’t trust ourselves with more than 3.4 ounces of shampoo. We don’t trust teachers with a curriculum but want to trust them with guns. We attack them for teaching accurate U.S. history and social emotional learning. Yet, we expect a teacher with a handgun to magically be in position to outgun a man with military hardware in ways that trained law enforcement have not been able to. We expect them to be John Wick and ignore the fact that even most police officers never fire their weapon in the line of duty, but when they are on duty too often use excessive force—or in the case of Uvalde, insufficient force. We ignore the fact that putting more guns in schools will likely lead to more gun tragedies than gun heroism. It’s all so fucking stupid.
In the near term, we will continue to fail. The latest polling shows that 88 percent of Americans want universal background checks and even most gun owners want gun safety. But I put the blame on “we” because we don’t vote the way we poll, and even when we vote, the filibuster, Electoral College, and the Senate’s bias toward white, rural populations that allow a minority to hold the majority hostage. We have too much money in our politics and not enough common sense. To fix our gun problem, we need to fix our democracy problem.
This Memorial Day, I’m in mourning. I’m remembering our fallen service members who died in war. I’m remembering George Floyd. I’m remembering our fallen neighbors, conscripted without consent into our perpetual war in which schools, churches, grocery stores, street corners and our homes have become the battlefield. This ends when we decide we’re willing to end it. What are you willing to do to end it? I’m seriously asking, so reply with your ideas. Your responses go right to my inbox.
And now for a few links that I’ve clicked to help further make sense of this world and make it better.
Amanda Gorman has channeled our collective pain into this poem, “Hymn for the Hurting,” that I can’t stop reading. In fewer words than I’m capable of, she captures the despair and remaining hope for our sad predicament. [New York Times]
Remember that “straight, white, Christian, suburban mom” with the red hair who responded forcefully to charges that she was a “groomer”? Well, Michigan State Senator Mallory McMorrow is back with a new drop, this time recording a video which will bring you to a necessary emotional place of imagining what the parents of Uvalde are going through. If every elected official operated with McMorrow’s level of passion and clarity, we’d find our way out of this mess much sooner. [Twitter]
I live in Los Angeles, where I get to vote in a mayoral primary next week. One candidate is a man named Rick Caruso, who’s famous for building Pleasantville-like shopping experiences. Caruso wants to be mayor of a drought-stricken, climate-vulnerable metropolis, but has no climate plan, and I have no patience for this form of “leadership.” After Donald Trump and Elon Musk, I simply have no room for a rich white businessman just “winging it” and assuming we should entrust him with any element of our public square. [LA Times]
Yes, I’m sharing this article about the competent response to climate change in Barcelona. Why am I reading about Spain? Am I researching backup nations? No comment. But for real, check out this idea of “climate shelters” in cities with skyrocketing temperatures. We’re going to need places like this all over the world. I hope we create these havens using the same spirit that led city planners to realize we needed to live close to parks and not just industrial wastelands. [Fast Company]
And finally, spoiler alert if you haven’t seen Everything Everywhere All At Once. This is one of my favorite movies of all time, and this short video from Wired explains how they did the visual and special effects. You’ll feel better, which is something we all need right now. [YouTube]
Thanks for reading to the end. See ya soon.