How Many Have to Drop Before it Stops?

There was not a school shooting in my hometown. But, there was reason to believe there could have been. The other day, a student in the high school that I attended made a threat to “shoot up” the school. Another student reported the threat, police and other law enforcement agencies came in, the student was arrested. No shots were fired, although a gun was found at his house during an investigation. This happened about two weeks after the latest mass shooting at a school that got national attention.

Guns are a problem. I’m not going to sugarcoat my opinion on that. Some of you may stop reading this after that last sentence.

Mental illness is a problem. Do I still have your attention?

Are we allowed to discuss both issues in conjunction with one another? Or are the abundance of mass shootings in America only due to mentally ill people that happen to have illegal guns? The gun used in the Florida shooting was legally purchased. What now? How can we debate that? Oh right, the shooter was sick in the head, and that was the only issue. Let’s offer “thoughts and prayers” and go about business as usual.

The United States of America is THE ONLY COUNTRY in the “developed world” that has a gun violence issue like this. We continue to ignore the issue and claim that the 2nd Amendment is under attack if changes to gun laws are proposed. Well, how about we think about things this way. We are allowing people to be killed because we’ve done NOTHING TO STOP IT.

Metal detectors at schools are not going to solve this. Armed guards at schools is not the answer. Giving guns to teachers is not the answer. To be honest, I don’t know what the answer is. I just know that whatever we’ve done so far, which is nothing, isn’t working.

Last year there was a mass shooting in Las Vegas. It was from a window or a hotel. People were gunned down while they were enjoying an outdoor concert. If more people had guns there, do you really think it would have solved anything? No, it wouldn’t have. It would have been more chaotic and more deadly. That, I’m sure of.
What action did we take with this incident? I know, we offered more “thoughts and prayers.”

We need help. We need help from Congress. We need help.
We need access to mental health care.
We need less access to guns. I’m not arguing pistols and hunting rifles. That’s a different topic for a different time. There is no reason for any person at all to own a machine gun caliber weapon. Nothing anybody ever says to attempt to justify that one will work.

We hear the slogans “America First,” “Americans First,” and “Make America Great Again” from the President. I don’t like him. I never will. I think he’s going have disastrous long-term effects on the economy, race relations, diplomatic relations with other countries, and so many other issues. However, if decent gun regulations are put into place that make it more difficult to buy a gun while he’s in office, I will not only support the move, I will praise him (if he is indeed a part of the process), and I will say that he’s put “American First” and taken a step to “Make America Great Again.”

I’m not looking for the removal of guns from law-abiding citizens. That’s not what this debate is about. And first of all, if you’re a law-abiding citizen, what are you worried about? Continue to abide by the law and you’ll be fine. But, buying a gun should not be so simple. There NEEDS TO BE more tests to determine if someone can handle it. This needs to be universal.

This is not about race or religion. Although, it’s obvious that some pundits try to turn it a discussion about that. I’ve heard people bring up inner-city violence. I’ve heard them talk about “black on black” crime as evidence that minorities are more likely to use guns. That’s a load of garbage. It’s a distraction method used by people that don’t want to discuss what the real issues are.

I can go on and on about how this isn’t just about an abundance of guns, it’s not just about a mental health issue, how (in some cases) it’s about economics, but what am I doing other than ranting? What good will come of it? Well, that depends on you. It depends on me. What are we going to do about it to make sure the mass shootings stop?

We talk about protection. How about we focus on prevention. No more empty talk. No more “thoughts and prayers.” It’s time for action. It’s time for us to realize causes. It’s time for us to realize that there’s more than one factor. It’s time for us to do something. Innocent people, sometimes children, are being killed. They’re being killed by people that society has failed. They’re being killed by outcasts that have been pushed too far without getting help. Instead of saying that someone is acting out because he or she “just wants attention,” how about we GIVE THEM SOME ATTENTION. Just sitting with someone for a few minutes and listening to what they have to say can make a world of difference.

Yes, I know this entry has gone in various directions. And I know that what I’ve written in a bit of a ramble. I was going to write about this topic a few days ago, but I wanted to clear my head and not be too emotional when I wrote it. That concept didn’t work. I’m full of emotions as I’m writing this. This is a serious topic. Actually, it’s various serious topics. We’re not doing enough to talk about them. And we’re definitely not doing enough to address them.

If you think it’s only a mental health issue, there’s nothing I can do to change your mind. But, I do implore you to do something about it. Do whatever you can to make healthcare more available and affordable to those that need it.

If you think it’s only a gun issue, then doing something about it.

If you think it’s both, do something about it.

“Thoughts and prayers” are meaningless without action.

And no actual action is killing us…

in mass.

Because, the next time something happens in my town (or yours), maybe we won’t be so lucky.

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Can’t you see? All circuits are busy. Please try back again.

I had a blog entry ready to go. I just had to put the finishing touches on it. That usually means I would scrap it and start over, but keep with the theme. But instead, I’m saving it for later and writing this one. This will be a jumbled mess of random thoughts. I know that already. It’s just the mood I’m in.

Originally, I was going to write an entire entry about the three 5k races I ran this year and while I completed all of them, I was disappointed in the race results. The last one I did this year was the fastest of the three, but the 2nd one was my 2nd slowest ever. Somehow I thought I could stretch that story out into an entire blog. It was too whiny and that’s not the tone I wanted.

Then I thought about writing about the slew of sexual harassment allegations coming from Hollywood and TV. I was going to say how incredibly normal this type of thing seems to be in their bubble. How things that are being alleged now had apparently been talked about behind closed doors within their community for years and nobody did anything about it.

Maybe I would write a full entry about gun violence and how every single time a mass shooting happens we (as a society) say “now isn’t the time to discuss the issue of gun control” and it then fades from our memory until it happens again and we say “now isn’t the time to discuss the issue of gun control.”

I could talk about how the President of the United States says outrageous, slanderous, childish, and often untrue statements on Twitter on a daily basis. I was going to say how I’m not surprised, shocked, or even phased by that any more. I could have stated how I’m really bothered that this has become our normal.

I considered writing a blog about how bad my blogs had become, in my view. I felt even stronger about that one after reading one I published on year ago today, which you can read by clicking HERE if you want to. That one was actually one of my better ones.

As I’m living paycheck to paycheck, I thought about another financial rant. But what’s the point of that? Writing about that again isn’t going to help my financial situation. Well, maybe it could if someone with influence reads it and publishes my work and I get to be a famous author. Wouldn’t that be nice?

I almost wrote a blog about complacency and depression and I thought I was straddling the line between the two. At one point in that entry I was going to say that I was depressed about how complacent I am about certain aspects of my life, but also how the complacency almost keeps me away from a full depression, so maybe it’s good.

There was also a chance of me talking about relationships. I haven’t been in one for a few months. When the last one ended I didn’t get nearly as depressed as I thought I would. I was bothered by that. I was also bothered by being bothered by it. It didn’t make sense to me. None of that does. But, it made perfect sense to me at the same time. How messed up is my head that a lack of depression upsets me? Seriously. Think about that. Was it because my expectations weren’t met?

As far as relationships go, I could talk about how I’m cautiously optimistic about things right now. Maybe something is going well, maybe I’m delusional, maybe nothing is there.  Maybe I’m working myself up worrying about it as I’m writing this paragraph.

I could write about the news in Manhattan today. There was a mass murder. I don’t know more details, because they aren’t available yet. However, I’ve already seen a drastic difference in how it’s being covered depending on the ideology of who is talking about it.

Or maybe, just maybe I could tie all of these unrelated topics into a tight little knot. I could say if we took better care of each other, if we provided for each other, if we made sure that people on the lower end of the economic system were helped up, maybe just maybe a lot of the issues I could have talked about today wouldn’t exist.

I could write about that, but who would read it? My audience is small. Who among the few readers I have would, or could, do something that can truly help the world? Could I be the one by writing this? Could you be the one that reads this and gets inspired? Of course, that all depends on if you can navigate your way through this maze of randomness.

It’s possible I could just write about how I doubt myself so much that I don’t know how to end this entry. It really bothers me that I don’t know how to end on a high note. I’m almost comforted by knowing that I don’t expect this entry to be read by that many people. What does that say?

 

Proud to Serve the Country that Served him Weak.

Just a little bit more than one year ago, I was having a conversation with a celebrity. He had just finished talking to a group about some of his issues with depression. I thanked him for speaking out and told him that his voice holds a lot of weight because of his fame. I also told him about my blog and how I don’t believe my voice is as impactful as his. He made it a point to let me know how I was underestimating myself and even if I’m not reaching as many people as he may be, I may still be reaching somebody. I thanked him again for speaking out and for saying that to me. It stuck with me.

While, the celebrity was right, I may reach someone, the power of a celebrity voice IS powerful. As of the time I’m writing this, I have 225 followers on Twitter. I have barely more followers/friends on another site. The amount of people that could see my writing is not that large, and the amount that actually do read it is pretty small. But, that doesn’t stop me from sitting down (at least) once per month and writing something. I have something to say and if ONE person gets something from it, I’ve done well.

Celebrities often get criticized for expressing their opinions on social issues. I don’t understand why. As I said, their voice has more relative weight than mine based on the size of the audience they can reach. And that is exactly why I’m proud of the players in the NFL and MLB that took a knee during the National Anthem recently. This goes back to last year and Colin Kaepernick not standing during the anthem. I wrote something about it then, and I’m writing about it again because the issue is quite newsworthy and it needs to be discussed.

Kaepernick started kneeling during the national anthem to draw attention to social injustice. At no point was his protest designed to do anything but that. That’s what the issue was about and that’s what it is still about. It was never a protest of America or a protest of the anthem. It’s a Constitutionally allowed gesture that he did to get attention on himself so he could get attention an issue he felt strongly about.

A flag is just a flag. An anthem is just a song. Saluting them is not a mandatory thing in a country that prides itself on freedom. It’s not a mandatory thing in a country that allows freedom of expression and assembly. It’s not a mandatory thing in a country that was founded on and prides itself on peaceful protest. It will never be a mandatory thing as long as the founding documents are upheld.

The NFL stars that did not stand are not protesting the United States. They are not anti-America. They are not anti-police. They are not anti-soldier. They are anti-injustice. I’ve seen pictures go around recently of Rosa Parks with the caption “Thinking NFL players are ‘protesting the flag’ is like thinking Rosa Parks was protesting public transportation.” I’m not going to explain to you who Rosa Parks was. Quite frankly, you’re a lost cause if you don’t know already. But, I brought up the thing about her because of how relevant it is. Don’t let the story be something it isn’t. This is about social and racial injustice. It always has been and it shows how while we’ve made some progress, we still have miles to go.

Some critics of the NFL protests are saying that the players should be proud of the flag and what it stands for. I agree, they should be. But the flag is just a symbol of the country. It’s a symbol of a country that brags about being #1. It’s a symbol of a country that says it’s the “land of the free and home of the brave.” It’s also the symbol of a country is which minorities are treated like they don’t matter. The middle class is treated like they don’t matter. The poor are treated like a burden. The flag represents those people being held down. It doesn’t currently represent them being lifted up.

Donald Trump ran his campaign last year talking about the “forgotten men and women” in the United States. What about the people that aren’t forgotten, but barely acknowledged? What about the ones that are ignored? What about the ones that don’t have a fighting chance? What about the ones in which the American Dream is just that, only a dream? That is what the protests are about.

People need to be more offended by policies that allow the Middle Class and minorities to be driven into poverty. People need to be more offended by government officials that won’t properly condemn true racism. People need to be more offended by racial and ethnic profiling that exists in the country. People need to be more offended by people being oppressed and suppressed by a system that isn’t designed for them to succeed.

I’m a 41 year old white male. Some of you think I’ve had all the chances in the world to make something for myself. But have I? I’m a 41 year old white male that lives paycheck to paycheck. Any time I come close to getting ahead financially, I face a setback. I admit that I made a lot of mistakes along the way, and yes I am aware that I do have certain advantages because I’m white. That isn’t a good thing, by the way. It’s part of the problem. Why should the color of my skin matter? But, this entry is not about me. I’m not trying to make it about me. I’m going to keep struggling, but I’m going to keep fighting. If you’ve read my other entries, you know I’m a survivor. But, I digress…

The main point of this entry is this: The celebrities and athletes speaking out are the voices of the voiceless.

I know some people stopped reading this entry the second they saw Colin Kaepernick’s name. They have their pre-conceived notions about him, his protest, and his reasons. They won’t pay attention to any facts about the protests. They just believe what they’re told to believe about who and what the protest is offending.

But, a song is just a song and a flag is just a flag. They both stand for something, but until every single one of the citizen of this country are given truly equal rights, equal freedoms, and equal opportunities, the flag and song don’t stand for much. And if I were a celebrity with a bigger audience then the small amount I reach, I wouldn’t stand for the anthem either. I don’t stand for injustice. I don’t stand for inequality.
You shouldn’t stand for it either.

It Must Sound Too Far Fetched, but You Can Bet Your Bottom Dollar I Ain’t Going like the Rest.

I’m 40 years old. I’ve spent much of my adult life struggling with my esteem, my self worth, and my financial worth. I keep trying to crawl up to be above the Poverty Line. I’ve also spent a great deal of my life being told how awful the place I lived was. I was told how bad my house is. I was told how my interests and beliefs don’t matter. I was taught to believe I would never amount to anything. I was taught to believe the place I lived was no good. I was taught not to like my surroundings. I was taught to believe there isn’t any hope. And much of these teachings came from inside my own house.

I’m one person. I’m only one person. I’m one person that’s been in a holding pattern in life. Sometimes I say I’m rebuilding. Sometimes I just think I’m building. But, I’m just one person. I’m one person that has the same opportunity as everyone else in the United States of America has. I’m one person that has the same chances and the same rights as everyone else has, right? In theory, yes, but in practice?

Imagine the story I just told about myself from a different perspective. Imagine you came from a family in a much more economically challenged area than I live in. Imagine you came from a family of people that weren’t granted equal rights as everyone else until 50 years ago. Imagine, while you were able to go to school and get a job like everyone else, you weren’t paid the same. Now imagine that it’s now illegal for you to not have the same opportunities as everyone else, but you’ve been behind the curve for so long that it’s more difficult to catch up. Now imagine just after you’ve been granted these opportunities, the economic system in the country you live in drastically changes and doesn’t seem to help out the people on the bottom and in the middle as much as it does the people at top. And imagine you’re told by the people in your community that there’s no hope and the people outside your community always look down upon you and let you know it. Just imagine how frustrated and angry you may be?

As I said, I’m just one person. Imagine it’s an entire race, or ethnicity, of people. It’s not hard to imagine, because it’s what’s been happening for years. I know people will read this and immediately start talking about how there’s welfare and other social safety net solutions to help the poor communities, but do you know what would help them a lot more? A reversal of fortune due to a reversal of economic policies currently in place designed to help very few.

When discussing something with a former co-worker, I mentioned towns like Paterson, Newark, and Camden. They’re all in New Jersey and they’re all predominantly minority in demographics. They’re all crime ridden areas. And they were all once thriving areas. When I said something about those towns being bad areas, the reply was “what do they all have in common?” Yes, the implication was they’re all bad because they’re minorities. Well, how about they’re all bad areas because society has left them behind. They’re bad areas because for 35 years, this country has catered to the rich and has left the poor behind. In a cause/effect scenario, they’re not the initial cause. The places they live and the conditions they live in are the effect.

In 1981, the “Trickle Down Economic” plan was put into place. It lowered taxes on the wealthy and raised taxes on the middle class (multiple times). The idea was if the rich had more money, they would create more businesses. More businesses would mean more jobs. More jobs would mean more people would make more money. More money would boost a somewhat stagnant economy. It’s been 35 years. The trickle never happened. The rich got richer. The poor got poorer. And the hopes of many people, communities, and cities diminished.

I have been working multiple jobs for a few years now. I have been spending more money in that time period than I had since I used credit cards. I’ve also been saving money. Of course, I have almost no free time now. Just imagine if I was able to make the amount of money I make per week, working one job, and only 40 hours. And imagine if everyone else had the same opportunity. We would have a thriving economy. It’s a simple concept.

And before anyone states that if I had better jobs or a better education, let me state that I have worked full-time jobs for over 20 years. I’m currently working multiple part-time jobs due to circumstances beyond my control. But while working full-time jobs, I was still under the poverty line. 32-40 hours per week and needing a second job just to be able to afford enough enough gas in my car to get to the grocery store to buy enough food to last until my next paycheck, but I’m just one person. I don’t have children or anyone else relying on my income. I’m just one person.

I’m just one person that has read a lot about history and politics. I’ve read enough to know that after all of the social programs that were put into place in the 1930s by President Franklin Roosevelt after the Great Depression, our country thrived. People had jobs. They had protections in place to make sure they had job security. People earned enough money working one 40 hour per week job that it wasn’t necessary for two parents to work in one household. In many cases, the father worked and the mother stayed home with the kids. That simple trait isn’t an option for most people now.

Our country’s infrastructure was built in the 1940s and 1950s. Our Interstate Highway system was constructed and paid for by tax dollars and tolls. The country’s highways and bridges have fallen into disrepair over the past few years as less and less tax dollars have come in.

Is it a coincidence that we don’t see as many “one bread winner” households now? Is it a coincidence that our roads look the way they do now? No, it’s not. The Trickle didn’t happen. And it never will.

Our inner cities are failing. The people in those places are not to blame. Many of the people in those cities have never been given the chances that their somewhat recently acquired rights have granted them. Those cities don’t have tax revenue. They don’t have anything in place to keep them going.

I admit this entry is a bit disjointed. But, I’m trying to cram in as much as I can into as short of an entry as I can because I actually want people to read it. With more time to commit to the entry, I could probably load it with quotes, statistics, and other researched facts. But, as I’ve said a few times, I’m just one person.  I’m one person that has read a lot about social and economic issues. And I’m one person whose voice has often been silenced.But I’m one person that based on skin tone, many of you think has had a better chance than people that look differently than me. To some degree, I have had more chances, but that doesn’t mean the system is set up to be in my favor. The chances granted to me often come from how I look and who I know. It’s not necessarily due to anything else.

I’m just one person. But, I’m one person that knows how the system is played. I’m one person that knows the game needs to change. I’m one person that has a voice, even if it’s only really heard here, and only by a handful of people.

Change is needed. And change often starts with just one person.

Sophistry and Chicanery.

I had been thinking of writing about this particular topic for a while. I’ve actually been writing down ideas and concepts for it for a few weeks. And then luckily for me, an event happened in the news and it made my idea even more timely and relevant.

A few days ago, a player for the San Francisco 49ers, Colin Kaepernick chose to not stand up for the National Anthem out of protest. The outrage displayed towards him on social media sites and on talk radio is exactly as expected. People are saying he’s a disgrace. They’re saying he’s unpatriotic. They’re saying he’s un-American. They’re also saying he doesn’t respect his freedoms and liberties given to him by being an American. I think the people saying that are missing the point. The point is the freedoms given to him by being an American allow him to protest the National Anthem by not standing up for it. And let’s be honest about it, in a country that allows such freedoms, standing for an anthem is not a mandatory thing to do.

Before you go off and crucify me for writing the above paragraph, please keep reading this entry. If you feel the need to call me names afterwards, go ahead, but try to let some of my points make an impact first.

I really believe that we, as a society, put too much emphasis on symbolism and certain ideologies. Since this is a Presidential election year, we’re getting a lot of that. The Republicans and Democrats held their respective conventions last month to name their nominee for the Presidency. The Republicans chanted “USA” more than the Democrats and waved more American flags than the Democrats, or so it’s been reported. Does that make the Republicans like America more than the Democrats? Does that mean that Republicans are more patriotic?

Simply put, NO. It doesn’t. It’s just the narrative created about it.

As a (mostly) independent voter, I don’t look at who waves flags or who sings “God Bless America” louder than the other person. I don’t really care who has a bigger flag. And that’s really what it’s come down to, who has the bigger flag. I look at who has the ideas, concepts, plans, and the platform to put into place a system that will benefit me and the American people the best. Who speaks about loving the country more than the opposition is not relevant.

To me, the flag is just a symbol. The Pledge of Allegiance, which I have recited thousands of times, is just a symbol. Standing for the National Anthem is just a symbolic gesture. If I chose not to say the Pledge or to not stand, it doesn’t mean I care about America less than someone that sings the Anthem at the top of their lungs.

I study history and I study politics. I see how divided of a nation we are. Personally, I think we’re as divided on many issues as we’ve ever been, notwithstanding, that whole Civil War thing in the 1860s.

Colin Kaepernick is being chastised for his stance…
pun intended.
He’s been mocked. He’s being insulted. The narrative about his story is now how unpatriotic he is. Why aren’t enough people looking at the cause he was trying to bring attention to. Kaepernick said he didn’t stand because “I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.”

The narrative has become about him. It hasn’t become even remotely close to what he was speaking about.

And of course, some people are also saying that somehow his actions have also turned into a show of disrespect to people in the United States Military and police. Again, I don’t see it that way. It’s possible to agree with his opinion and support military and police. They don’t have to be different issues.

I’m getting a little too drawn into this particular issue here. To me, the issue is still symbolism and false narratives. I believe words such as “patriotic,” “freedom,” and “liberty” have almost been taken hostage by politicians and pundits to be used against people that have differing views. My views are not the same as everyone’s. I’m glad they’re not. I like dissent. This country was founded on dissent. This blog entry’s title was taken from a quote by one of our Founding Fathers, John Adams, and nobody was better at dissent than he was. Adams knew about division and symbolic gestures. But, he also knew that actions and doing things that were unpopular could promote, or create, a greater good.

Just as simply as I got pulled into the narrative here about Colin Kaepernick, we as a country often get pulled into narratives that distract from the real story. The real story should be what he is protesting. The issues he’s attempting to draw attention to are more important than people getting upset with him. He shouldn’t be THE story. To be completely honest, I didn’t even know what team he was on or what position he played until the headlines about him, and I also don’t care about what his profession is. I don’t care how much money he makes. I certainly didn’t know about his bi-racial upbringing. That shouldn’t be held against him or used to somehow discredit what he’s saying. Those facts are not relevant or important. What is truly important is what he was attempting to draw attention to. Do you see how easily we get distracted here?

And that leads me to my next point. Again, as we tend to get distracted and angered by the narratives created by media and social networks, we really do fail to think about the real issues. Many times these narratives are purposely created to get us angered. They’re there to make us upset with the other side. They’re there to distract us and to make us dislike people and things with opposing views. We need to stop this from happening. When Election Day comes in a few months, we need to vote with our heads, not our hearts. We need to be educated on the real issues, not the made up ones. Our decision to choose one candidate over another needs to be done with a lot of thought and research into the issues that are truly important.

I’m not going to use this entry to try to persuade anyone to vote any particular way. Unfortunately, I believe many people’s minds have been made up, especially in regards to this year’s Presidential election. I’m hoping this entry persuades people to look at issues differently. I’m hoping people will see that what Colin Kaepernick did is NOT unpatriotic, it’s actually THE MOST patriotic act possibly under the United States Constitution. I’m hoping that people realize that there’s many more important things than symbolism. There’s more important things than just flags and songs. Very simply, the most important thing here are facts, not symbols.

And since the title of this entry is taken from John Adams and I’m saying that facts matter, I’ll end it with a quote from President Adams. I believe it’s an important one that we need to really listen to. He was a wise man that relied on facts for judgment, not popular opinion. We need to follow that example.

“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”