My desk faces the weird intersection of 2nd, 3rd, and Main streets in Pioneer Square. Every day I walk to work past the desperate, unfortunate souls who camp out across from the Union Gospel Mission when there’s either no room for them inside it or they don’t meet the criteria that allows them entry.
The Mission is just a few yards south of the spot by Barney’s Jewelry and Repair where Martin Duckworth, who the SPD gunned down after he shot a Metro Transit driver and tried to hijack a bus, was involved in a separate gun incident in March.
The 120 was the bus he attempted to steal. That is my route, and by some kind of divine intervention that morning I stepped in shit and went home to change my shoes, narrowly escaping being on that particular bus, which became riddled with bullet holes.
Just outside my window at work, I can see the floral memorial for Troy Wolff, the professor who, as he was leaving a Sounders game, died after he was repeatedly stabbed by a schizophrenic off his meds.
As our government enters day two of “shutdown” mode and continues to skirt the most pressing issues affecting Americans today—increased gun violence and mental illness—I wonder: When are we going to admit, not outwardly, passively, via social media, but privately, honestly, to ourselves, that what’s going on in this nation is insane? You’ve all heard the famous quote attributed to Einstein: “Insanity [is] doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” When are we going to actually listen? When are we going to stop looking to other people—pundits, politicians, the Facebook void—to fix this?
We broach the topic in a May story commemorating the first anniversary of the Cafe Racer shootings. In the piece, we ask “what if the solution to gun violence didn’t hinge on policy, but creativity?” Within the Racer community, we explore the artistic response to gun violence and how, considering “music’s potential to heal and inspire change, a lasting solution [to gun violence] could hinge less on regulation than on our ability to create nurturing communities.”
“America,” the second song off Portland singer-songwriter Laura Veirs’s stunning new album Warp and Weft, expounds on the idea. Scenes of the wholesome heartland, rolling hills, and backyard parties are explored to reveal America’s darker impulses: “Everybody’s packing heat in America,” sings Veirs, as smiling parents dish out burgers while packing pistols in their back pockets. “Every madman finds his piece in America,” she sings.
Veirs was pregnant with her second child when she recorded the song. “I’m haunted by the idea that something terrible could happen to my kids,” she says, “but that fear pushes me to embrace the moment” (read our review of her new album here).
There’s a heavy irony at work in the video, one we know all too well—that the freedom we enjoy here is the same thing that’s killing us. “Our cult of the gun continues,” goes an opinion piece in the Chicago Sun Times , “the daily carnage on our streets goes on.”
Another recent opinion in the New York Times titled “The Violence in Our Heads” suggests that more people are hearing voices—ones that compel them to kill—in America because of our love of guns. For Americans who hear voices, as Wolff’s killer did, and Aaron Alexis, who recently killed 12 people in Washington, D.C., the writer hypothesizes that “we Americans live in a society in which, when people feel threatened, they think about guns. The same cultural patterns that make it difficult to get gun violence under control may also be responsible for making these terrible auditory commands that much harsher.” It’s a fascinating article, especially when it considers evidence that shows schizophrenics in other countries hear voices that don’t instruct them to kill, but to do other things, like cook and clean.
We have much to learn about these problems facing us, but while our government sits on its hands, let us start working for ourselves. Instead of gifting your eight year old a gun for his birthday, as we see here, let your child know “their energy is power—power that can be used for good.” That’s Sarah Shannon, vocalist for the Not-Its! speaking. She and her kids’ rock group, she says, hope to put “something positive in the world for kids in a way that, hopefully, energizes and empowers them.”
Being positive and supporting a child’s creativity is something we all can do. I much prefer that vision of change, gradual it may be, than just hoping for luck.
Laura Veirs plays the Tractor tomorrow.