What Are You Willing To Do?

We all know what happened. Now what?

You don’t need me to tell you what happened, you know what happened in Texas. And what happened in Buffalo, and what happened in Laguna Woods, and what happened in 27 schools this year, and what happened to one million Americans in the last two years, and what is still happening to more than three hundred every day, and what happened to Roe, and what’s about to happen to even the feeblest efforts to hold back the tide of slaughter in New York or any other state. You know what happened when we voted, and voted, and voted, and voted, and voted.

So, what are you willing to do?

That’s the question James Meek asks in his LRB review of Barbara F. Walter’s book ”How Civil Wars Start – And How to Stop Them.” It’s a long article but if you click nothing else in Tabs today (or ever again), please make a little time to read this and think about it.

If civil war hadn’t begun in America in 1861 hundreds of thousands of people wouldn’t have died, and Atlanta would have gone unburned. But the Confederacy would have gone on slaving, and tried to spread slavery to a new, wider empire. As in Walter’s scenario for the next civil war, the rebels were the patriarchal white supremacists, the federal government the (marginally more) progressive side. But these roles could switch. This is an imaginative realm progressive America seems reluctant to enter, where Albany or Sacramento audition as the future Richmond, and a future Fort Sumter must be triggered by liberals, or not at all… the real danger might be that Trump and Republicans loyal to him cheat and lie their way to a victory that is accepted by Congress, federal power passes to an autocrat, and, after a period of mass protest, most liberals just put up with it, judging it not worth the blood and damage to fight for democracy. If it is a real danger that civil war may threaten democracy, it is also a real danger that democracy may die because its defenders refuse to start one. 

In 2015, Alex Pareene wrote in Gawker that “The Gun Control Movement Needs Its Own Pro-Life Fanatics.” Seven years later, we are about to add the repeal of Roe to his list of:

…the political victories, again, of a tiny movement that does not actually have public opinion on its side. But they fight harder than almost any other political movement in the United States, because it is, for them, a moral crusade. If you believe, as this small core of anti-abortion crusaders do, that a fetus is a human infant, then unwavering fanaticism absolutely makes sense.

Meanwhile, a first-grader is self-evidently a human being. Yet when it comes to the slaughter of walking, talking persons, cut down helplessly by weapons specifically designed for killing, we behave as if nothing can really be done. When it comes to protecting the lives of actual children from gun violence, fanaticism seems to be in order.

I’ve thought about this post over and over, but still nowhere in America is anyone “very publicly making a scene at as many gun shops as possible, and personally attacking—verbally, but bordering on physically—people trying to enter those stores to legally purchase guns.” We still hide the pictures of murdered children, over 100 more of them since 2015, even while parents in Uvalde are undergoing DNA swabs to match them to the otherwise unidentifiable remains of their third graders. In 2018, a radiologist from Florida named Heather Sher described what wounds from an AR-15-type rifle look like:

The bullet from an AR-15 passes through the body like a cigarette boat traveling at maximum speed through a tiny canal. The tissue next to the bullet is elastic—moving away from the bullet like waves of water displaced by the boat—and then returns and settles back. This process is called cavitation; it leaves the displaced tissue damaged or killed. The high-velocity bullet causes a swath of tissue damage that extends several inches from its path. It does not have to actually hit an artery to damage it and cause catastrophic bleeding. Exit wounds can be the size of an orange.

Got a kid at home? Give them an orange, and then try to keep your shit together while you remember that last line.

Alex Pareene isn’t talking about protesting at gun stores much anymore. Yesterday in his newsletter he looked at polls that claim Americans are losing faith in “democracy” but which actually “are measuring support for our political order,” and asked American political leadership “What are you going to do about the fact that we all know you can’t do anything?” Culture writer Anne Helen Petersen, not usually a revolutionary firebrand, wrote that the excruciating cycle of murder and political helplessness we find ourselves stuck in is “American democracy—the senate, the electoral college, the Supreme Court and its lifetime appointees—functioning as intended.” She concluded that “Voting, on its own, will not be enough to change that. We have to decide: what will be?” What, in other words, are you willing to do?

In 2020, guns became the leading cause of death for American children and adolescents, surpassing car crashes for the first time. The gun used in Uvalde yesterday was reportedly made by a Georgia company called Daniel Defense. Here’s a since-deleted ad the company posted on Twitter a week ago, which was still up late last night:

Daniel Defense is a U.S. company with a web page and an address, and owners with names and addresses. The NRA will hold its annual convention in Houston this weekend at the George R. Brown Convention Center, starting Friday. Insider reports that “NRA members will not be able to bring their firearms to the Houston meeting.”

What Am I Willing To Do?

Since at least 2016, I’ve been asking myself: what am I willing to do? So far the answer is protest, when there’s a protest happening. I quit my job, and I encourage others to quit their jobs when I get a chance. I vote, for all the good that does. So in total: I’ve done nothing.

If I were a teacher, would I refuse to go to work? If I were anyone whose professional absence would be noticed, would I join a general strike? If everyone did that, it would matter a lot. If a few people did, maybe more would join them? If one person sat down and refused to participate, would anyone care? Just a month ago a man “set himself on fire in front of the Supreme Court… in an apparent Earth Day protest against climate change.” Nothing happened. In June the Supreme Court may rule that the EPA can’t regulate greenhouse gas emissions.

The truth is, I don’t know what to do. I hugged my own third grader goodbye this morning and sent her off to school. The middle school she’ll attend in three years is remote today because they discovered “threats” in a bathroom. We live in a country where statistically, until age 19, she is most likely to die of a gunshot wound. So what am I willing to do? Anything.

Tell me what to do.

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