Wall-less Schools and Will-less Politicians

I attended Northdale Middle School in Coon Rapids, Minnesota for grades 6 – 8 (Go Vikings!). I had joined a high school sport in the fall of 7th grade, so by the spring of 8th grade I was more than ready to move on from that weird, wall-less school.

Did I mention Northdale had no walls? Well, the science rooms had “walls” and some of the classrooms had dividers that went all the way to ceiling, but most of the school was open, with classrooms having dividers that went half-way to the ceiling on only three sides of the room. The idea was that the learning would flow from room to room, and kids in English would be influenced by the discussions happening next-door in Algebra. The reality was that it was highly distracting to a student population at an age to be restless anyway.

The lack of walls in my school had always been just an oddity; a slightly annoying factoid, but not really anything to think twice about. That is, until April 20, 1999. Because on that day, 2 kids opened fire on their classmates and teachers in Littleton, Colorado, killing 12 people and injuring 21 more. Stories came out about how people hid under tables, behind doors, inside classrooms…..

But where do you hide in a classroom with no walls? Because on that day, the no-walls situation at my school became more than an oddity. It became a threat.

No child should have to explore their own mortality. No child should have to consider how to react when death comes to stalk them. It’s time we stopped wringing our hands because the problem is so big and the solutions are complex. Sometimes things worth doing aren’t easy, but we shouldn’t let the difficulty of the task prevent us from taking that first step.

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I typed, “First School Shooting US” into my search bar. The search engine pulled up a popular website, which provided a handy list of all the shootings that have occurred in the United States on or around school property.

  • March 30, 1891. Liberty, Mississippi. 14 people are injured, some seriously, at a school exhibition when a gunman fires into the crowd.

  • November 12, 1966. Mesa, Arizona. 5 people, including a 3-year-old child, are killed when a gunman enters a beauty school and shoots everyone present in the head. 2 people survive being shot.

 …

  • September 26, 1988. Greenwood, South Carolina. A 19-year-old wounds 8 and kills 2 in an elementary school. One of the injured persons was the school’s gym teacher, who confronted the gunman in the girls’ bathroom.

  • April 20, 1999. Littleton, Colorado. 2 high school seniors kill 12 of their classmates and a teacher and wound 21 others, with an additional three suffering wounds as they tried to leave the school. The gunmen kill themselves at the end of their spree.

  • March 21, 2005. Red Lake, Minnesota. A 16-year-old kills two people at home, then goes back to school to open fire, ultimately killing seven and wounding seven more before killing himself.

  • December 14, 2012. Newtown, Connecticut. A 20-year-old kills his mother at home, and then drives to the local elementary school and kills 32 people and injures two more before killing himself.

  • February 14, 2018. Parkland, Florida. A former student enters the high school, killing 17 and injuring 14 more.

I had half-expected the search engine to spit back, “Columbine,” since that was the first school shooting of my memory. It was there on the list, but I was surprised to learn that people have been shooting folks on school grounds since not long after this country was founded.

That got me thinking: Isn’t it time we stopped letting our children and those who dedicate their lives to our children’s education live in fear that their school could be the next to get added to the list?

Some people think it’s a gun issue; others will insist it’s a mental health issue; yet others will blame something else. That’s fine. This is not a zero-sum game. We can address multiple issues! Sometimes complex problems require a multi-pronged response – a little of this, a little of that, add a pinch of that other thing and voila! You have a sensible solution to a societal woe.

But whatever we do, we must do something. If the elected officials serving in office right now continue to lack the political will to try to solve this problem, we must express our discontent in the ballot box and elect new people to office. We could enact new requirements around background checks, prohibit those who commit domestic assault from purchasing firearms, and dust off the ol’ assault weapons ban in addition to providing full funding for public mental health programs and increasing patient access to mental health services by incentivizing medical professionals to enter the mental health field. If that doesn’t work to address the issue of school shootings, we can go back to the drawing board and try something else. No matter what we do, we’re bound to help people, and we may just stumble upon the formula that puts this horrifying era of school shootings behind us.

But no matter what, we cannot lose sight of the fact that children are being killed. It’s too important an issue to shrug our shoulders helplessly and do nothing. Let’s start by electing people who agree.

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Keep your prayers and give me women in office

I grew up with my grandfather’s rifle hanging over the toy box in my grandparent’s play room. My fear of what grandpa would do to me if I touched it far outweighed my curiosity about it. All my cousins felt that way. When our family would come together at the lake, grandpa would gingerly take the gun down and the uncles would assemble their arsenal in the lower garden. It was time to learn. We learned to hold each gun, load each gun, and shoot each gun. I remember being 9 or 10 when my uncle Curt screamed at someone for standing in front of a loaded weapon. I was the closest kid within reach so he grabbed me and had me lay next to him in the grass as he shot through a full pop can. I watched it explode before he looked at me tenderly, yet sternly, and said, “imagine if that was your head.”

As a woman, a mother, a politico, a feminist, a school board member, a community member, a daughter, a sister, and general human being, I have my own unique perspective and opinions about guns and gun violence. I don’t want to discuss what qualifications should be met for someone to legally own a gun or what types of guns or amounts of ammunition should be allowed on the market. If I did discuss those issues right now I’d be doing nothing but adding to the divisive and polarizing noise currently overwhelming us all.

I do believe that when women speak, we are heard, and change is made. Right now, as our children are under attack and those we currently send to Washington and our state capitols do nothing to protect us, I hope you hear my rally cry: RUN FOR OFFICE. I have been fortunate to manage campaigns for brilliant women who are now making real change as political leaders in their communities. I have seen the impact we have when we join forces to achieve a common goal. While we are taught that all people are equal, I want to challenge that idea. Because I do think as women we are different. I think we have a fire that burns inside us that frightens the status quo. We have a fierce nature that creates and grows life. We can withstand physical and emotional pain that mere words cannot describe. We are braver than the status quo wants to admit. When we lose we get up, dust ourselves off, and fight again.

When women run, women vote, and women win. But what does running for office really accomplish, you ask? It allows us to be the change makers on the front lines. On average a woman needs to be asked to run for office seven times before they consider it, compared to a man requiring one ask. Even if you run against an entrenched incumbent with an army of supporters you are making change by bringing attention to your platform issues. You are also sending a message that there is a group of voters in that district/state that is upset with the status quo that will devote time, energy, and money to making change. This can be very unnerving to incumbents. Women enter into races with deep fears of being a failure because of losing an election. Running itself is a win. Every time a woman runs there is a little girl that is inspired, an incumbent receives the message that we demand to control our own narrative, and we take one giant step towards laws that will actually protect our children. Weeks before the Florida school shooting the governor admitted on camera that he did not have an active shooter plan when asked. Chew on that for a minute.    

46 children and teens are shot everyday. 315 adults are victims of gun violence everyday (www.bradycampaign.org). The United States is the most dangerous country in the developed world for women when it comes to gun violence, leaving us 16 times more likely to be murdered by a domestic partner with a gun (everytownresearch.org). If you are like me, after years of slowly numbing to the truth of gun violence these stats don’t mean a whole lot until you know someone who has been injured or killed by a gun.

Whether you are like me and you actually enjoy shooting recreationally, or if you believe that all guns should be melted down, we can agree that the American approach to guns is flawed. We fall into the talking points Congressional and NRA leaders want us to focus on instead of addressing rational and reasonable solutions. We have limited ourselves to a black and white view of an issue that is very grey. Developed countries around the world have experienced mass shootings, the difference is that they learned from the horror and enacted policies that, to this point, have effectively protected their citizens. We need leaders that are brave enough to tackle this issue head on until our children can once again be safe in their schools, movie theaters, and concerts.

Sisters, I say to you – be angry, be motivated, and be intentional in all that you do. Take trainings, reach out to experts, find a race, and run it. We must take back our communities and reclaim our power. We give life and now we must protect it. I won’t tell you that I have the perfect policy solution in mind right now, but I feel it in my soul that this is a problem that needs a woman’s touch.  

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Here we are again…

Here we are again; another deadline and another possible government shutdown.  The common factor clearly is the lack of coherent leadership in the Republican majority coupled with the changing goalposts courtesy of the current occupant in the White House.

House Minority Leader, Nancy Pelosi, is standing firm on her insistence the budget deal includes resolution for the Dreamers, the DACA recipients who have become a political football thanks to the maneuverings of House Speaker, Paul Ryan.  Because of this there are now three distinct Republican positions on immigration, outlined below:

  • Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, has promised to have debate on immigration as part of the deal he struck with Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader.  Supposedly, this is scheduled to take place next week.
  • President Trump has a different position which has changed several times, but the most recent iteration is he is only willing to discuss DACA recipients if there is also a large curtailing of family reunification (he calls it chain immigration) and doing away with the immigration lottery system.  This system was set up to increase the diversity of countries the United States takes in and has largely benefited immigrants from Africa.  Generally it is a 10-year process with close vetting, but Trump described it as if that wasn’t the case.
  • Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan, has a position that falls between these two and is predicated moment-by-moment by what will keep him Speaker of the House.

The impact of this indecision and the right hand not knowing what the right-right hand is doing has led to the predicament we are in tonight.  As of this writing the House is scrambling to secure votes which will allow it to pass, a process complicated by having opponents on the far right and the left.  The Freedom Caucus (conservatives in the House) resent the increase in spending on anything other than the military, and the left opposes the Senate agreement unless it addresses the DACA issue with assurances similar to those in the Senate.

For the average reader, the impact will be felt in the tumbling stock market, anxiety on the part of the DACA recipients who may be forced to leave the only country they have really known to go “back” to a country they don’t, and the continuing belief that the Republicans who hold the majority in both chambers of Congress and the presidency are still more interested in party politics than the interests of the constituents they were sent to Washington, D.C. to represent.

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Muslims Welcome Here!

​It is disgusting when a group is singled out for being different. This is true whether we’re talking about women, LBGTQIA+ folks or people who practice a religion with which we are unfamiliar. ​

 

The recent attacks on Muslims by the 4th Congressional District GOP and, more recently, Jeff Johnson, are an example of disgusting behavior. Islam is the second largest and fastest growing religion in the world, with 1.8 billion followers. It is the third largest religion in the United States; there are an estimated 2.15 million Muslim adults in this country. Approximately 58% of America’s Muslims are immigrants, here because they chose to embrace an American Dream of their own.

 

We at the DFL, especially in DFL Senate District 41 with it’s many vibrant Islamic centers, welcome all people who are otherwise eligible to participate in the DFL Precinct Caucuses regardless of who, how or whether they worship. This includes our Muslim friends. The DFL is a welcoming place for all peoples, and we want our Muslim neighbors to know that they are welcome at DFL Precinct Caucuses or any other event that we host. The GOP may be willing to alienate this critically important portion of our population, but we welcome them with open arms.

 

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