What options do ordinary people have to express their opinions about national issues? In a democracy like the United States, where free speech is a valued right, we don’t worry about being jailed or even killed for speaking out. In fact, it is our duty to speak out when there are unjust systems or treatment of people. As quoted in Occupy Spirituality: A Radical Vision for a New Generation, Chris Hedges protesting the militarization of our country, gave a speech called, “Real Hope Is About Doing Something.” He believes that hope is an action “which is always nonviolent, knows that an injustice visited on our neighbor is an injustice visited on us all… If we resist and carry out acts, no matter how small, of open defiance, hope will not be extinguished.” (Nook Book, p. 35) This is why I choose to participate in protests and sit-ins.
The most recent attack on the liberty of the people of the U.S. comes from those denying the need for gun safety. This includes the many actions by gun lobbies and organizations to weaken already existing laws or prevent law enforcement from adequately performing their jobs. There are three areas in the gun laws that need to be strengthened:
- Universal background checks closing the loophole of gun show and internet purchases.
- No fly – no buy. Prohibiting individuals on the no fly watch list from purchasing guns.
- Preventing individuals with mental illness from purchasing guns.
Changing the laws in Congress has proven impossible even after the tragedies of Sandy Hook, San Bernardino, and Orlando. Interestingly, a poll conduced by the Pew Research Organization after Orlando found that gun owners and non-owners alike favor these changes by as much as 85%. Yet our representatives, both state and national, fail to hear this message and act.
Hope then intervenes with small actions all over our nation protesting the lack of listening by our elected officials. Senator Chris Murphy from Connecticut filibustered the Senate to force a vote on these changes. Members of Congress participated in a sit-in on the floor of the Congressional meeting room to force leadership to allow votes on gun safety legislation.
Ordinary citizens wore orange on June 2nd to remind us that it is not safe on the streets of many American cities. In Columbus, Moms Demand Action on Gun Safety and Ohio Coalition for Gun Safety called for protests and sit-ins at the offices of Ohio legislators who refuse to hear us. Sister Robin Richard and I participated in one at Representative Pat Tiberi’s office. About thirty people spent 45 minutes on the street outside his office with signs saying #DisarmHate, Enough, and Freedom from Gun Violence. Fifteen additional minutes were spent inside his office filling the waiting room with sitters.
I don’t particularly like doing this, but it is necessary to be a visible presence of the message. Those who saw us responded in a variety of ways. Some supported us with a wave or a honk. Others called us names or gave us the finger. Most looked at us curiously or simply ignored us. The news channels interviewed many protesters, including one woman who stated that our protests are about the dignity of life – ensuring that every child has the right to grow up and live safe, fruitful lives. I’m glad that I could do this and hope to do more. I’m also proud of the many sisters and associates who also stand, sit, or march against injustice. We do this because we hope – for a world of peace. Hope, is not an idea, it’s an action, and using our right of free speech is how we carry it out.