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The Politics of Gun Reform: A Woke & Winning Youth Action Summer Series Topic

At the Woke & Winning Youth Action Workshop series event on Thursday held at the WasteShed, a creative reuse center in Humboldt Park, there was a lot of good conversation about the politics of gun reform and the impact of the divisiveness of the gun debate in America.

In our group, which ranged in age from 16 to 55 and had a racial mix of black, white, and Latino participants, there was a strong feeling that the root of the issue is tied up in people's ideas of patriotism — What America should be or should look like. For us, this is where the divide lives. In a contingent of people who believe that guns = patriotism and that guns = freedom. These folks are diametrically opposed to the contingent of people who are dumbfounded by this belief because patriotism and freedom for them has nothing to do with guns. Freedom for them lives in the aspirational possibilities of the American dream. Not in an object, but in the power of hope.

The guest speaker, Lauren Tucker, Director of Marketing and Community Relations for Indivisible Chicago, dropped several knowledge bombs during that conversation. Although not necessarily the most salient of them, the one I’m pointing out, surprisingly became national news the day after our group discussion. Lauren noted that after the Parkland shooting where 17 students were shot in a high school there was an uprising, a battle cry, a flare shot in the sky —that said we MUST take a long look at this because it makes no sense that this our America. The Parkland youth at their beleaguered American high school defiantly stood up and said —this is bullshit. This is not MY America.

In contrast, Lauren then pointed to how interesting it is that there was no pushback from Country Music celebrities after the Las Vegas massacre where 58 people died and 489 were injured. That after the initial outrage —there was a deafening silence. A dark void of complacency. Why? Fear? of What?

Instead of social and political activism, the major action that followed the Las Vegas shooting was a precipitous rise in gun sales. Who is familiar with the term arms race? Its definition is “a competition between nations for superiority in the development and accumulation of weapons.” Like countries prepare themselves for war against other nations, individuals in America are preparing themselves for war against their neighbors and their neighbors children. It seems America has re-defined the definition of “arms race” based on an entrenched belief that the solution to our internal problems is more guns.

It was incredibly serendipitous to wake up the morning after our group discussion and find staring back at me, after all the time that’s past since the incident, a news article on Country singer Eric Church speaking out against the Las Vegas shooting and blaming the NRA for the complacency with which that massacre was handled. Eric Church, a man who calls himself “a Second Amendment guy” decided he wanted to bridge the divide, which is what we desperately need if the solution we are all actually seeking is a way to saves lives. Pointing fingers -- or guns – has only proven thus far to be a strategy for dissonance and death.

The National Youth Art Movement Against Gun Violence and The WasteShed received a grant from the Chicago Fund for Safe & Peaceful Communities to develop and deliver the 2018 Woke & Winning Youth Action Summer Workshop series. The goal of the workshop series is to give youth and emerging artists, between the ages of 16 and 25 years old (with a focus specifically on youth who live in the Humboldt Park, Garfield Park, and Austin communities), the opportunity to learn from local and national political activists and to transform their new knowledge into art projects for social justice on the issue of gun violence.

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