Hey there my precious Pulsars,
I had this whole beautiful note of inspiring solipsism entitled “Why I Occupy” planned for yesterday as part of a lead-up to (#)M1 Actions, but then I just had to open up Gawker and discover that this happened. Don’t they say that the worst news always comes from Ohio or Florida?
I’m not entirely sure if what I’m about to write is appropriate, given that the incident happened only this morning. Though I love and care about Ohio, I also understand that I have the luxury of 2,500 miles of distance to think more analytically about what happened. If you have any personal ties, or good friends with personal ties, to Chardon or Chardon High School, you may want to stop reading now because I imagine it’s been kind of a raw 24 hours for you.
We can go back and forth about the importance of gun rights, but I think it deserves to be said that the recurrence of shootings in this country most likely would not happen without a highly profitable arms manufacturing industry with a powerful political lobby that defends that industry’s right to produce as many guns as it wants. There may be a black market for arms sales, but there is not a black market for arms manufacturing. America (you know, 4% of the world’s population) owns 31% of all known guns in the world. We have a guns-to-people ratio of 88:100. 270 million guns already with an additional 4.5 million purchased each year, almost all of them manufactured legally, and it only takes one to do what Thomas Lane did today. I can understand that sometimes the citizenry may need to be armed, particularly in the case of defending itself against the government, but I cannot understand any argument that says the amount of guns in America is an appropriate amount. It is a result of the laissez-faire ethos applied to an industry of “defense.”
The FBI, and more disturbingly the DEA, were on the scene yesterday. In the initial aftermath, I felt tempted to say that a situation like this could make me understand how the increased militarization of the police force might actually serve a function; my mind even drifted dangerously toward the phrase “might be necessary,” but no. Reading through the news reports, it’s hard to see how the FBI’s presence actually helped anything (looks like you were right all along, cop shows). All the students were safe by the time they showed up, thanks to the courage of some teachers who chased Lane out of the building. He was caught by Chardon police. The presence of the FBI worries me because even if Lane was a violent threat, he’s still just a kid. I feel like their presence could be antagonistic to our nation’s troubled teens watching at home. But you know, I’m sure the Department of Justice can’t be bothered with anybody’s feelings. And why is the DEA there? What evidence could there possibly be that relates this to the War on Drugs? Every now and then I understand what conservatives are talking about when they say “less federal government is the answer.”
I’m not going to make any claims about the caringness of the people of Chardon or the quality of the school’s counseling services, but look at these death statistics. As a nation we haven’t learned any lessons from Columbine. We tried to blame heavy metal (pray to the abstract unknowable metaphysical life force that Lane doesn’t have Foster the People on his iTunes), then we tried to blame video games, then we just wrote the kids off as psychos and forgot about it, and then wondered what went wrong when it happened again a month later. Look at that list, and tell me that this is not a systemic problem, and it is not a problem whose solution is increased police presence in schools or arming the teachers, or anything that gun violence is schools is just a fact of life, because it’s not. In almost all of these situations, where kids bring guns to school with the express of killing their classmates, they told somebody what they wanted to do beforehand. Thomas Lane is no exception. He posted that a month ago, to the public. And nobody fucking did anything.
Anything that I do that is related to anything I call the progressive movement is done with one end goal in mind: the creation of community, on a global scale, on a local scale, in a racial sense, in an environmental sense, in any and all ways. Creating community is the most important thing we can do on this earth; indeed, it might be the only important thing we do. And you know what communities do more than anything else? They do not let people go. I remember my time in Columbus Public Schools. In retrospect, none of it was really that terrible, but at the time I hated it, especially middle school. If I remember clearly, my angst came from the fact that I had to take math a level higher than everyone else and from the fact that I was shorter than every boy my age and almost every girl (and just possibly because of the totalitarian system that I was forced to be a part of). I’m not going to trivialize these struggles, because trivializing kids’ emotions is part of the problem. In the mental echo chamber of the bus ride home or my independent study time, my mind would drift toward those same thoughts that Thomas Lane and Dylan Klebold had. I even told people about them (though it’s not like anyone did anything). It was always with the tone of “I’m totally not serious but if I ever shot up the school…” Nobody thinks that those kids are serious, including them sometimes. Anyway, what saved me (other than grunge music) was the discovery of a real community through regional gatherings through my church, one that that affirmed me for who I was, one that I knew would actually listen if I said something dangerous, and most importantly, one I would never dream of harming, something that public school (and these shootings almost always happen at public schools) often does a piss-poor job of doing.
In my youth group, we would sometimes get into the real shit, the shit nobody told anyone else. You have to if you want to have a true community. This sharing was possible because of the trust and confidentiality of the setting, but even in that setting, there was a line. In most UU churches, ministers and youth advisors have an obligation to take action if they learn of a person’s plan to harm his/her/perself or others. When I had this explained to me, the lesson was powerful: words compel action (I think that lesson was part of what drew me to writing). This lesson needs to be reaffirmed because in Chardon, like in so many other places, the shooter told somebody or posted something on the Internet, but nobody thought he (it’s almost always a “he”) was serious. Everyone, including the troubled kids, needs to understand that those words, no matter how overwrought the sentiment or contorted the rhyme scheme, are serious. Often times, kids will say violent things just to see if anyone’s actually listening to them (It’s like that scene in American Psycho where Patrick tells women he’s into murders and executions instead of mergers and acquisitions. Nobody blinks an eye.). Above all else, real communities listen. Everyone always says they never saw this coming, but that’s because they had blinders on, because they were convinced that it could never happen here. Essentialism, not the best at promoting inclusive awareness.
It’s hard to have all my painful memories of public education come flooding back as I gear up for an 80-mile march to advocate for it, but I think the timing is important. We need to remember that education, especially public education, is equal parts education and socialization and that socialization can be a violent process and that violent processes can spawn violent resistance. My inner Marxist wonders if anything that mandates attendance and is overseen by anything with the word “state” can ever foster a real community, but I don’t think it’s impossible. It exists in some schools. School may suck, but communities are based around shared experience, and going to a certain school is usually the predominant experience shared by all the kids that attend that school. However, as hard as that task may be, I can tell you what’s not going to help: 2,000 kid conglomerate schools filled with advertising, the use of test scores to threaten a school’s existence, eliminating arts programs, in short: not properly funding public education. All of these problems are interconnected, and all these problems are solvable just as soon as we decide that they can be, have to be solved.
P.S. Fadi Quran update: He Out. Now if only every Palestinian activist got that kind of justice.