Cautious Optimism, and the Need for a Meaningful Boot

You know, I didn’t expect anything. I figured a few random Democrats would poke their heads up and make some noise before getting the only-protruding-nails treatment and pounded back down, but we have a President with no reelection campaign and two young daughters, and he appears to be eyeing his hip waders and giving the Rubicon some meaningful looks.

Once stripped of the religious treacle, which was slathered on good and thick for the religious folk and gave not a single thought to the possibility that one or two of the bereaved may be nonbelievers, Obama proved that he has good words.

This is our first task, caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right. That’s how, as a society, we will be judged.

And by that measure, can we truly say, as a nation, that we’re meeting our obligations?

Can we honestly say that we’re doing enough to keep our children, all of them, safe from harm?

Can we claim, as a nation, that we’re all together there, letting them know they are loved and teaching them to love in return?

Can we say that we’re truly doing enough to give all the children of this country the chance they deserve to live out their lives in happiness and with purpose?

I’ve been reflecting on this the last few days, and if we’re honest with ourselves, the answer’s no. We’re not doing enough. And we will have to change.

Since I’ve been president, this is the fourth time we have come together to comfort a grieving community torn apart by mass shootings, fourth time we’ve hugged survivors, the fourth time we’ve consoled the families of victims.

And in between, there have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and in big cities all across America, victims whose – much of the time their only fault was being at the wrong place at the wrong time.

We can’t tolerate this anymore. These tragedies must end. And to end them, we must change.

We will be told that the causes of such violence are complex, and that is true. No single law, no set of laws can eliminate evil from the world or prevent every senseless act of violence in our society, but that can’t be an excuse for inaction. Surely we can do better than this.

If there’s even one step we can take to save another child or another parent or another town from the grief that’s visited Tucson and Aurora and Oak Creek and Newtown and communities from Columbine to Blacksburg before that, then surely we have an obligation to try.

In the coming weeks, I’ll use whatever power this office holds to engage my fellow citizens, from law enforcement, to mental health professionals, to parents and educators, in an effort aimed at preventing more tragedies like this, because what choice do we have? We can’t accept events like this as routine.

Are we really prepared to say that we’re powerless in the face of such carnage, that the politics are too hard?

Are we prepared to say that such violence visited on our children year after year after year is somehow the price of our freedom?

[Emphasis added]

Those are good words, strong words. Vague, but this was a memorial service and not a purely political speech, so this time, I will give him a pass on vague. There are power words in here. There is plenty of signaling that a band-aid measure won’t be pushed and passed and then the issue forgotten. And there is an awareness that no single action will prevent gun violence in this country, nor can we only address mass shootings and forget the rest.  There is awareness that we don’t have all of the answers, and will have to seek them.

These are the right words. These are good words.

Now he needs to back them with actions, and that, my fellow Americans (and allies throughout the world) is where we and our meaningful boots come in.

We will need to be applying the meaningful boot to reluctant backsides, giving them a gentle but firm prod, and using that meaningful boot to push those who refuse to try out of the way. We will have to get our meaningful boots on the ground: to walk in to polling places to vote, to stump for good candidates, to march for measures. We will have to apply our metaphorical meaningful boot to petitions, contacting politicians, working for our various causes.

I said various, because we’ll need a multifaceted approach to fixing this country. It’s not a matter of gun control alone: we can’t just work to get assault rifles off the streets and locked safely away in gun clubs (where enthusiasts can still have their fun, and far-right fanatics can practice to take on the gubmint with nothing but an assault rifle and an attitude). We can’t get a regulation or two passed and call it a day.

We also have to fix our broken systems.

We need to address the root causes of violence. We can start with what we know helps: reducing domestic violence. Empowering women to get themselves and their kids out of bad situations. Reducing economic and political inequality. Giving kids far better schools, with good free meals and smaller class sizes and a better education. Giving teachers the support and resources they need to do a great job with these kids. We need campaigns to reduce bullying, and campaigns for diversity (the real thing, not the window-dressing thing). We will need to listen to minority communities when they tell us what we need, and work for it with them. We will have to listen to the experts when they complete their well-designed studies and tell us what’s broken and the best ways to fix those things, and fix them. We will have to do an incredible amount of hard work, and we will have to be in this for the long haul.

And it will be expensive. Tough. This country can avoid a war or two and pour that money into these efforts instead.

It will be difficult. Tough. So was ending slavery. So was the Civil Rights Movement. Everything we have that’s worth having was difficult to achieve. We’re just going to have to suck it up and deal.

We will be faced with loud, oftentimes vicious, and sometimes violent opposition. So has every other movement for social change been. Together, we can face the opposition down. We must.

We were already working for many of these things, my friends. It’s what A+, it’s what social justice, is about. We will never eradicate violence completely, but we know we can make this society more peaceful, more just, more equitable, and we know it will take time and tears and massive effort, but we now have a President and at least part of a Congress galvanized by too many good people and innocent kids dead. We have their attention. We might just be able, with enough applications of the meaningful boot, to get them to stay focused long enough to get good things done.

There will be setbacks. We won’t always win. And there’s no real finish line, no Utopia waiting, but if in the end we can say that we left this world a little better than we found it, if we’ve bent the arc of history as far towards justice as we could, then we’ve done good.

“Surely, we have an obligation to try.”

Here are a few places to start:


Call and write your Congresspeople. Contact your governor; rattle the cages of your state representatives.


Here is one on Immediately address the issue of gun control through the introduction of legislation in Congress. And, for good measure: Today IS the day: Sponsor strict gun control laws in the wake of the CT school massacre. Also, since you’re already there and because so much violence starts in the home: Change Domestic Violence Awareness month form October to May so that it can rise from the shadows of Breast Cancer.

Avaaz would like us to Tell the NRA: ENOUGH! I couldn’t agree more.

SignOn has this excellent petition: Newtown, today we tell our leaders “No more!”


Donate to Newtown Youth and Family Services. They have set up a fund for the Sandy Hook victims, and are providing desperately needed mental health services in the wake of this travesty.

Donate to the Red Cross, which responds in disasters like these, too.

If you’re a crafty sort, some A+ folks are gearing up to send comforting handmade items to the community.

(Tell me about your favorite secular charities, and I’ll add them to the list. Newtown needs some immediate assistance, but other organizations across the country and world will need ongoing support.)


Brady Campaign

Ceasefire Oregon

(Let me know of local, state, federal, or international groups addressing issues of social justice and gun control. I’ll begin compiling a master list.)

Share awe, and wonder, and love, and science, and great books, and good movies, and beautiful music, and fun, and all of those things that make life worth living.

And remember.

Photo released by the family of Emilie Parker,  6, of President Obama's visit. Image via @WestWingReport.
Photo released by the family of Emilie Parker, 6, of President Obama’s visit. Image via @WestWingReport.
Cautious Optimism, and the Need for a Meaningful Boot

5 thoughts on “Cautious Optimism, and the Need for a Meaningful Boot

  1. rq

    *heaps of long-distance moral support in the application of the boot*
    Which makes me ask, what can we, non-Americans, over-seas, do to help in any way?

  2. 2

    We USians do, indeed, have an obligation to try…to make cultural changes on a breathtaking scale. Our culture has been one of violence, one of conquest since its inception. Taking other people’s land; conquering nature and taming it to our own uses; taking over foreign lands and installing governments that might be more amenable to our own purposes — on a national scale, on a regional scale, on a local scale, we have a strong subculture of violence and the intense need to prove our own mightiness.

    Along the way we’ve gotten more sophisticated about our methods, and disputes are more often than not sorted out by courts rather than personal violence. But that’s only “more often than not”. Dana has listed lots of ways in which the culture of violence permeates our everyday lives.

    There’s a lot to work on. It will get discouraging, but we must not let ourselves give up. We need to accept that we may push and push and push, and make only a little headway. But we have an undeniable obligation to try to make a better society. It’s an obligation that stems from the time when our pre-human ancestors first established a society.

    At the moment, I’m feeling discouraged personally. Some of that stems from a conversation at a family gathering yesterday, where even relatives who are not rabidly into gun culture were doing “can you top this” macho talk about guns. Where another family member was very annoyed that the Newtown memorial service, where the president was speaking, took precedence over a football game. None of these people are violent personally, they’re just living in a culture of violence.

    But discouraged or not, there’s work to be done, and I have an obligation to try for change.

  3. 3

    I commented on Mano’s blog just a few minutes ago.

    This terrible reminder of what lurks below the surface of humanity is not something that can be legislated out of existence. We must raise our children with an awareness that has been lacking. We must teach them to actually, not biblicaly, but actually, be their brother’s and sister’s keepers. We must learn to be sensitive, observant and vigilant concerning the welfare of them and society and impress upon them the necessity of continuing to do so in the future.

    This is not an ability that is common today. Perhaps, if we teach our children well, the time will come when such horrors are rare if not gone.

    I see no other rational alternative. Laws do not prevent lawless behavior. Police do not prevent crime. Shrill scoldings do not make children “behave”.

    And it’s going to be very complicated and hard.

  4. 4

    President Obama is very good at giving pretty-sounding speeches. His follow-up really needs a lot of work, though. As always with him, I remain pessimistically hopeful.

    And anyway, the President has very little power with regards to gun control, or any legislation for that matter. He can advocate, but the heavy lifting must be done by Congress and I have no hope whatsoever that anything meaningful will be done there. And even if there was an honest-to-FSM miracle, the courts would have to ignore quite a lot of precedent and allow gun restrictions to remain in place.

    What we need is an amendment to clarify the Second Amendment. And getting something like that ratified has even less chance than getting federal laws passed.

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