Our country has once again failed to provide us with what the Founders promised. Another mass massacre at Highland Park, Illinois proves that. Innocents mowed down with an AR-15 at random, any age, gender, religion, sexual persuasion, nationality. Just people, like you and me. Kids, their parents, grandparents, just enjoying a Fourth of July parade. It’s now a national version of Russian Roulette. When I now take my daily walk around the neighborhood, I do not know if a person in a car will shoot me just because I’m a person. Like the Highland Park shooter, he or she will have no other reason to shoot me. I’ve lived a long, productive life so I am OK with dying. But my death will bring much suffering and change the lives of my wife, my step children, my friends, and my extended family back East and elsewhere. The two books I have started to write will not get written. My care packages for the homeless will no longer be distributed. Others who have read my previous books will lament and grieve my death, and perhaps reflect on how vulnerable they themselves are.
That’s the thing, really. All of us American residents (one of those killed at Highland Park was a Mexican grandfather visiting his family) will realize that none of us are safe from mass and/or random shootings. And to answer Republican deniers, the shooter in Highland Park, a peaceful, idyllic suburb a few miles north of Chicago, did not have a diagnosis of mental illness, and had never before been arrested. The police did confiscate a number of knives and a sword from his home a few years ago since he had threatened to “kill everyone” in his immediate family. He was on a red flag list nationally but was sold five guns/semi-automatic rifles after passing a background check which apparently highlighted that red flag. So in spite of GOP lies and apologies around gun control that “guns don’t kill people, bad people kill people,” in this case, as with many others, if gun restrictions were tighter, this bad man would never have been able to legally purchase these weapons of war. But they have no ear for such common sense, for the GOP has become a fringe party with a coterie of disingenuous Fox “news” commentators, violent and Fascist White Supremacists/Nationalists, hypocritical Christian evangelicals, wacko QAnon adherents, vaccine deniers, Trump election deniers, Trump death threat cultists, and extremist Trump Supreme Court appointees. And that’s just the top eight!
So without guarantees for our life, liberties, and happiness, what do septuagenarians like my wife and I do/go? Good question, as many today would respond as they take a minute to breathe and let the question rattle around their brains for their neurons to recover and get up from the floor. Do we write or call our representatives in government most of whom are scratching their own heads over such a question? Do we write letters to our local papers which are themselves struggling to survive decreased advertising revenue and often haven’t the staff to field such letters anyway? Do we join a Zoom therapy group that might get photobombed by an aforementioned extremist? Do we say or do nothing and allow anxiety and depression to invade our psyches? Or do we leave our lovely home in the Pacific Northwest and emigrate to, let’s say Portugal where house mold, roaches, mosquitoes, tiny apartments, language barriers, and unusual toilet procedures may await us?
My Zen practice tells me “Don’t know! No thinking! Only go straight!” Which is fine when a stray thought enters my pristine meditation. But instructions for real life? I’m afraid not.
So seriously, what do you and I do in response to this attack on our way of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness? I mean we are rapidly moving in the direction of a fascist dictatorship with Trump or a Trump clone as “Dear Leader.” I have advised voting as the answer, but we can’t be sure our vote is what it used to be: One person, One vote, under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all. I mean SCOTUS is on the verge of allowing state legislatures to change the vote to a result they’d rather see, and do this legally. Look it up: That is not democracy. And even without such a SCOTUS decision, 19 states have already enacted laws that make it easier to do just that, along with making it more difficult to vote!
Each of us has to decide individually or as a couple or as a family what to do. One thing that Zen has taught me is that the problem is not the figurative flat tire that hits every so often, but how we relate to it. Do we get an ulcer over it, or do we calmly respond to the problem, do what needs to be done, and move on with our lives? Many years ago, many of my relatives in Eastern Europe decided to stay put when the Czar or Hitler endangered their lives. Most of them died. But some left and, well… here I am. We are now confronted with something very similar to what they encountered. History is repeating itself, and we have yet another opportunity to learn from it.
Human beings very often do not learn from history and continually ignore what it tries to teach us. Will you? Will I? Each of us must access what is happening to our country and decide for ourselves and our families what to do about it.
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Stan Altschuler says
Well-written, sensible, articulate, but lacking an effective call to action. The only way to stop the senselessness in American life today, be it guns, abortion rights, the right to be different, and all the other issues the MAGA Republicans want to take away from us is to vote overwhelmingly Democrat this fall. The 81 million voters who cast ballots for Joe Biden in 2020 need to ignore inflation, the war in Ukraine, Biden’s age and any other reasons for abandoning the Democratic Party and vote en masse this fall. And recruit at least one unregistered voter to go to the polls with them. It’s a one-issue election – the fate of our democracy and our lifestyle versus the demagoguery and the self-glorification of the right wing of the Republican Party and their lackeys. We need to say it loud and often the rest of the year – Vote Democratic!
Stephen Altschuler says
Thanks for your astute comment, Stan. You’ve summed up my position well. As for my lack of an effective call to action, my hope was to present the facts, as I saw them, and leave it to the reader to come up with effective actions–actions which are different for different people. Voting Democratic, absolutely, but some will add volunteering, sending money, putting up lawn posters, attending political gatherings, giving talks, letters to the editor, or supporting (or writing) blogs like this one. I was providing room for varied choices. Your choice, of course, is the sine qua non of them all: Voting Democratic up and down the ballot. Here, here.
All the best, Stephen
P.S. Wondering if we’re related. There aren’t too many Altschulers out there!
Stan Altschuler says
My sister, JoAnn Green, who lives in Hawi, HI, introduced me to your columns a few years ago. At that time, she said she had checked with you and there was no direct or even clearly indirect lineage. She also told me after I had sent my response to you that you had made a similar “call to action” a few blogs earlier, and I just had not seen it. Regardless, keep up the good messages. And thanks for responding to me.
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Stephen Altschuler says
Ah, got it. Maybe a distant connection but nothing direct. Thanks for clarifying. Yes, I will keep up the good fight!
Thanks for the encouragement.