This morning I walked though the shady streets of our beautiful downtown, felt the breeze in my hair, and walked through a beautiful courtyard and into an imposing government building. Today I sat in a senator’s office and used my voice to ask for change. I overcame my deep fear of confrontation to stand before a stranger, representing our state in our federal government, and shared my story.
I know this blog is not typically political, but before you click away, I ask you to consider this a human issue as opposed to a political issue. What it truly comes down to is not which side of the aisle we choose to sit, but rather making the building safe to sit in.
After the El Paso and Dayton shootings, I could not stay silent any longer. I kept expecting things to change, for new laws to be passed to make it harder for those seeking to do harm to acquire the weapons with which to do it. After nothing changed, I realized perhaps I should try and promote change for once.
I’ve only ever written my representatives one other time, and received only generic form responses back. I received the same from this endeavor. But thankfully a friend, who is more courageous than I, asked if anyone would join her to visit our representatives at their offices and speak our concerns aloud, in their presence, and ask them personally to vote for change.
This morning a group of 8 moms gathered and went to our appointed time slot to meet with the field director of our of our senators. We spoke in turn, sharing personal experiences which among us included teachers, gun owners, and veteran’s spouses. While the field director listened, she did not take a single note of anything any one of us said. She sat with pen and paper in hand and wrote nothing down. Many of our stories were countered with political talking points and we ultimately left feeling as though while we had our voices heard, our thoughts are not in the same vein as their goals and therefore do not merit writing down.
I was initially embarrassed to break down in tears while sharing my story, but I cannot think or speak of Sandy Hook without crying and feel no shame for that. I discussed many items mentioned in my letter: how school shooting nightmares have kept me from returning to teaching, the fear I feel each day as my children go to school, and how the onus of responsibility for our children’s safety should not rest on their tiny shoulders. One counterpoint the field director repeated multiple times was that law abiding constituents should not have to face obstacles in obtaining guns lawfully, and that laws promoting gun safety should only affect those with bad intent. This bothered me deeply, because who among us is not willing to be mildly inconvenienced by a waiting period or background check in order to prevent tragedy?
If you are interested in contacting your representatives to discuss legislation they will have the opportunity to vote on or introduce, I highly recommend it. I submitted by letter via their website. For my home state of Tennessee, my representatives are Marsha Blackburn, Lamar Alexander, and Tim Burchett. You can request appointments to meet with them or a staff person, as we did, via email or by calling their office. Need help finding out who your representatives are? You can find the House of Representatives here and Senators here.
Before You Go
If you’re going with a group, as we did, plan ahead to what you’d like to say and what order you’ll speak in. These representatives and their staff can often only allow a half hour, so plan accordingly. I felt much better going with a group, and I found it easier to speak up and use my voice while surrounded by people I trust and respect.
These meetings are, I believe, by appointment only. We had to provide our names to be placed on a security list.
When You Go
Arrive early so you aren’t rushed to find parking, as their offices are often downtown. Allow plenty of time to go through security as well. I was not prepared for the security measures, which included turning our phones off and leaving them in the lobby in cubbies. You can also leave your phone in your car, which is what the security officers recommended, as the cubbies are not monitored. One of our group members also had to leave her water bottle. Have your photo I.D.
One of our group members mentioned the irony of safety precautions taken for these representatives offices yet we fear for our children at school.
During the Meeting
The leader of our group shared this resource from Indivisible prior to our meeting, which I found very helpful. Specific questions to ask and political etiquette are included:
Finally, here is the letter I wrote and sent to my representatives:
Thank you for taking the time to read this letter. I’m not one to generally write letters to officials, but this appears to be the first step in enacting change.
When I became a teacher in 2012, I was ecstatic to form relationships with students while sharing my knowledge in a way that was engaging and informative. I quickly achieved that, and just as quickly the nightmares came. Nightmares in which my school was the target of a mass shooting, and it was up to me to protect these young lives, ranging in age from PreK through 12th grade. I taught only middle and high school, but we were all on the same campus and I lived in fear. Where could I hide them? Would it be better to crawl out the window? How could I keep them, and myself, calm in that situation?
I finished out the year after my maternity leave, and then I couldn’t bring myself to return to the classroom. I watched, year after year, as more and more mass shootings occurred. Attending elementary school, festivals, just walking around town- these are the ways in which Americans lost their lives. I shed tears, I said prayers, I was sure something would have to change this time. This time. This time. But it never did. It still hasn’t.
On my eldest child’s first day of Kindergarten, my fears weren’t about his success or enjoyment of school; my fears were, and are, centered on his safety. Will he survive this day? He adores school. He excitedly shares about his day, and has for all of kindergarten and first grade (so far). He mentions safety drills and my heart drops, thinking of the exterior door in his classroom, his classroom’s proximity to entrances, the layout of his school and what route he should take for optimal safety. His safety drills are for active shooters; my childhood safety drills were for natural disasters and fire. Mine were not preventable. His are.
I now have two children in two different schools, and my mind is a constant whir of battle plans for a war I have no training for, a battlefield I won’t physically be on or even know exists. What if scenarios plague me, and I have to carefully consider each one, because these are not far fetched tragedies.
These are not the things a mother should have to worry about. The sale of assault weapons should not be on the list of concerns for the modern parent. The survival of their child in a place built for children’s education should not be the primary concern. I should not have to mentally plan an exit route in each location I visit, because my country has not created laws to keep me safe. I should not breathe a sigh of relief every day the tragedy isn’t mine.
I am a gun owner, a Marine wife. I’m also a supporter of common sense gun laws. Laws in which assault weapons are not readily available. Laws in which guns are treated like vehicles, requiring training classes, exams, and a trial period. Laws in which terrorists, domestic or otherwise, are prevented from obtaining weapons here. Laws that allow us what our forefathers decreed- the pursuit of happiness. How can we pursue happiness when we’re mentally planning escape routes from preventable massacres?
Please, I beg of you, help make laws that keep us safe. Help build a world in which mass shootings are only a tragic moment in history instead of a present fear.
A Voting Constituent
I signed my actual name as well, but wanted them to know that I am a voting constituent and they are meant to be representing me and not just their donors.
I left the meeting feeling proud for standing up for what I believe in and using my voice. I feel better for having taking a concrete action to try and make our country safer, even in just this small way. I feel proud for standing amongst a group of intelligent, strong women and using our collective voices to seek change.
When mass shootings are a piece of history, I want to stand proud and tall and tell my children I did everything I could to stand on the right side of history.