A memorable evening for a great cause + mourning Mr. Cummings

“When we’re dancing with the angels,
the question will be asked,
in 2019, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?
Did we stand on the sidelines and say nothing?”
-Elijah Cummings, February 27, 2019

This past Thursday, I had the pleasure of hosting a fundraiser on behalf of Marylanders to Prevent Gun Violence. MPGV is a great organization about which I’ve told you before, if memory serves. It is helping lead the charge to confront gun violence, keep us safer, tend communities ravaged by guns, inspire other states to follow Maryland’s lead in sensible gun regulation, and stand up to the NRA and lobbyists who attempt to block all legislation concerning firearms. It does all that with a small, unpaid staff, dedicated volunteers, and funding from donations and grants, and it does it effectively.

One of MPGV’s legislative priorities for the upcoming session is to get passed a Child Access Prevention bill so that gun owners must responsibly store their firearms and are responsible for injuries, deaths, or thefts if they don’t. This seems infinitely fair, not least to the many children who are harmed and killed every month by improperly stored guns.

I am a regular volunteer, primarily by aggregating gun injury and death data in Maryland on a weekly basis, but wanted to do more. And since I have kids and know lots of people with kids, an evening focused on child access seemed just right. MPGV’s Executive Director, Liz, and I started planning, and I challenged myself to go beyond my comfort zone by asking pretty much everyone I know to attend and/or donate. By Wednesday night, nearly 60 people were registered. I made extra cupcakes, upped the catering, put out more chairs, and got excited. Perhaps most exciting was our roster of speakers:

  • Senator Chris Van Hollen

  • former Secretary of Education (under Obama) John King

  • Congressman Jamie Raskin

  • Drs. Monika Goyal and Kavita Parikh, pediatric emergency room physicians, prominent researchers in the field of firearm safety, and most lovely, my friends

Thursday morning dawned and the heartbreaking news of Elijah Cummings’ death spread rapidly. This piece is such a lovely tribute to the incredible human he was. A palpable sorrow spread outwards from both Maryland and Capitol Hill, and we soon learned that even in his last few hours, he was signing subpoenas to USCIS and ICE in his continued march toward justice.

I suspected that Senator Van Hollen and/or Congressman Raskin might not come to our event, and I certainly wouldn’t have blamed their absence, for both were longtime friends, colleagues, and admirers of Congressman Cummings. But come everyone did, and memories and appreciations of Mr. Cummings pervaded the night.

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Liz told everyone about MPGV and its accomplishments and goals before introducing Secretary King who had flown in from Atlanta and come straight to my house from the airport. He is MPGV’s newest board member, and he is a seriously wonderful human. He talked about the impacts of gun violence in terms of the legal loopholes that must be closed in order to keep people safe. In early 2018, Great Mills, a high school in Maryland suffered a mass shooting by a boy who’d stolen his father’s Glock, killing one and injuring several before killing himself. You can read more here, but that event, like so many others, wouldn’t have happened if the gun had been safely stored. Secretary King pointed out that the impacts of gun violence spread far beyond the victims: their families, friends, and fellow citizens reel from the trauma and loss, but the same is also true of the perpetrator’s family and peers.

Secretary King

Secretary King

Liz and Senator Van Hollen have worked together for years on gun-safety legislation

Liz and Senator Van Hollen have worked together for years on gun-safety legislation

Senator Van Hollen then arrived and discussed the many (!) years he’s attempted to enact and enforce sensible gun rules in Maryland and what a vociferous foe the NRA is. He helped pass the gun licensing bill— which has been enormously effective in reducing violence because guns are kept out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them—and the Maryland assault weapons ban.

Drs. Goyal and Parikh then described what they see in the aftermath of shootings: dead and injured children, increased school safety drills which often result in worrying children beyond their years (one mother, who they talked to in the course of research, shared that she gave her child a glow-in-the-dark shirt that he’d wanted only to find that he wouldn’t wear it to school because in the case of an active shooter, the glowing T-rex might get him found and killed), forever changed families and communities.

And then Congressman Raskin arrived. Y’all might know that I am an enormous fan of his and immensely grateful to live in his district. He is a constitutional law scholar, progressive and kind, unafraid, and in the thick of things impeachment right now as he sits on the House Committees of Rules, Judiciary, AND Oversight and Reform; the latter committee was that which Elijah Cummings chaired.

Almost immediately, he choked up. He and Mr. Cummings were close and I am certain he was struggling mightily with the loss of friend and mentor. But I also found myself wondering if this upset was also expressive of all the rest of the upset he and so many of us are holding: worry, fear, disgust, rage, shock. Everyone is so tired, so exhausted by the lies, ugliness, staggering corruption, and desecration of our democracy. And people like Rep Raskin are especially without recess from all that, as they seek to keep our nation intact. I offered him a tissue and thanked him profusely for his leadership and moral compass, and he told us about the importance of gun regulation, and about the importance of the rule of law, and about Mr. Cummings who once told him, “You always have time to do what you are supposed to be doing.”

It was such a moving, inspiring, memorable evening, and I am thankful. Stand up, my friends! Fight!

Tom, me, Congressman Raskin

Tom, me, Congressman Raskin

Ol loved meeting Rep Raskin too!

Ol loved meeting Rep Raskin too!

Hope kinetic

I am slowly recovering from Roger’s wrenching loss on Sunday. In all seriousness, I was just crushed. What an incredible match, a fact that in some ways made the tiebreaks that much harder to swallow. Amidst all the ugly news of late (the past couple years), R’s being in the finals was such pure joy, and I so wanted to see him hold that trophy aloft for the ninth time. Alas.

Last night, I had the profound fortune and pleasure of attending a rally sponsored by my House rep, Jamie Raskin (he is awesome), and co-hosted by none other than Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. AOC! It was in support of Rep Raskin’s organization, Democracy Summer, which he started a decade ago, and the importance and spirit of political organizing. I love that there’s an historic educational component too- political science, change, and so forth.

The event was held at a local civic building and was to start at 7, so I got in line at 6 and was about 50 deep. The crowd was wonderfully diverse: young, old, in the middle, straight, gay, black, white, Latinx, immigrant, American born. Our energy and anticipation were palpable despite the pro-life protesters moving ever closer with their six-foot tall graphic signs and false claims that women who chose to have an abortion are likely to end up drug addicted and/or suicidal. Most of us simply ignored them and talked with one another instead. One man tried mightily to have a real discussion; his irritated wife kept dragging him up in line and encouraging him to stop because he was making zero headway.

When the doors opened, people scurried in to get spots as near the stage as possible. Finally, at 7:30, Jamie and AOC emerged, and the crowd of 700+ went nuts. I am an enormous fan of Jamie’s intellect, passion for representing and supporting his constituents, and belief in what good politics can do. Same for AOC, and her magnetism is undeniable, y’all. She is smart, engaging, gorgeous, and absolutely what politics needs more of.

Also in attendance were Bob Moses, THE Bob Moses of SNCC and Civil Rights activism renown, he who helped pull back the Cotton Curtain of racial apartheid in American, who coined the phrase “one person, one vote,” and Danny Glover who I think is Bob’s friend and supporter. Bob is a legend, and as a complete aside, both men have the dearest of faces. Seeing them was like getting two hugs.

Jamie gave a wonderful opening speech about his family history of political involvement and activism and then introduced AOC not only as a colleague but also as his vice chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform’s Subcommittee on Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.

AOC gave a thoughtful, rousing address about where we are as a country right now. It is her belief that we are picking up where the Civil Rights movement left off. “America has always been the story of the efforts of some to advance the rights of others while others work to advance the rights of a few.” It is the duality, the many-the few, that essentially defines us and our history.

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In referencing the last book Dr. King wrote before his assassination, Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, she said that the only way to move from chaos (our present) to community (hopefully our future) is to move forward via organization. If there is no struggle, there is no progress. This is hope kinetic. “We are characters in America’s story- who do you want to be? What side do you want to be on, now and when history looks back?”

I urge all of you to ask yourselves those questions. It is my dearest hope that most of us are decent people who don’t hate different others as vehemently as it seems. Who won’t throw our pluralism and democratic promise under the bus because you really can’t accept who others love, what color they are, what choices they make when it concerns their OWN bodies and not yours. Does it really matter who a person in another state is sleeping with? Why must you demand that everyone live within the singular, small worldview that you prefer? Isn’t the pursuit of happiness a virtue that our founding fathers enshrined? Are not most of us immigrants to these shores? People who came in search of better?

For the first time in a while last night, I felt hope. Not from the hateful things being said to those of us waiting patiently in line by those who’d come to evangelize and demean. But from the efforts of a man whose family has fought the good fight for generations and from a member of The Squad whose mother cleaned houses and whose father died at just 48 and who worked 18 hours a day organizing and bartending to help keep the family home and STILL wore through her shoes canvassing in the Bronx. Who did what everyone said she couldn’t and wouldn’t. Who once here has been celebrated, yes. But also treated with such racist, bigoted disdain and cruelty yet who still rises with hope and determination every day.

Those two represent our future. Those in favor of LGBTQ rights and Black Lives Matter and Choice and ending Citizens United. That is our future.

What character do you play in our nation’s story?

March For Our Lives

I don't even know where the twelve days since I returned from Louisiana have gone but they've involved moving out of our house for a week so that our floors could be refinished, a school day, some delays, Tom being out of town for three days, Oliver's birthday and parties, moving back into our house, the kitchen being largely completed, my parents coming, and, today, participating in the huge and extraordinarily moving March For Our Lives here in DC. So please, apologies for any lack of coherence and polish in this post.

Last night, as Mom, a dear family friend from Louisiana, and I made our protest signs, Oliver eagerly joined us to help with coloring and duct tape application. Earnestly, and almost as an aside, he said, "I don't want to die." Our hearts just broke. THIS is why we marched today, because too many children die or fear dying by guns. Too many people do. Every day. Gun violence is a public health crisis, a detestable scourge in this country. We can do something, and that something is NOT arming teachers.

Mom, Dad, Susan, and I started today by attending a pre-March rally in Silver Spring hosted by Jamie Raskin, state senator from Maryland's 8th. Rep Raskin is such a fine leader, one of the many reasons I'm proud to call MD home. At the rally, we heard and were fired up by the Reverend William Barber (amazing orator and person; listen to his speech to us here), MD's wonderful Attorney General, Brian Frosh, former MD governor, Martin O'Malley, some student leaders from Montgomery County (MoCo) Students for Gun Control, and Mr. Raskin himself. It should be noted that Maryland has enacted some of the strictest gun control measures in the country!

Barber speaking against the theological malpractice of those "who say so much about what God says so little, and so little about what God says so much."

Barber speaking against the theological malpractice of those "who say so much about what God says so little, and so little about what God says so much."

We then boarded buses to Union Station and from there walked toward the chants and cheers of an ever-growing crowd blanketing Pennsylvania and Constitution Avenues from 3rd to 12th Streets (with much spilling over). 

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I think each of us felt repeated waves of emotion wash over us for hours on end. Listening to young leaders like Edna Chavez, Emma Gonzalez, eleven-year-old Naomi Wadler, Matt Post (a MoCo Students for Gun Control leader), and so many inspiring others was profound. I urge you to click on each of their names and watch or read the clips I've shared. 

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We appreciated others' signs, we marveled at the number of attendees (some estimates put the DC march at 800,000), and I considered how this March felt similar to and different from all the others I've attended. Most essentially, we hoped that today and what today represents marks the start of real change for a safer, saner tomorrow. 

Preach!

Preach!

Check out this compilation of photos from marches around the country and world! I'm so grateful for the students leading this charge and for all who marched today.

photo by my friend, Dorothy

photo by my friend, Dorothy