Gun Violence and Speaking the Truth to Power

St. Vincent spoke the truth to power… what we learn about speaking the truth to power today about gun violence. Or will we keep silent!?

Vincent’s courage in speaking the truth to power

While Vincent is best known for his practical works of charity, he also served as an advocate for the poor before the highest authorities, at times at considerable risk to himself. On two occasions he intervened personally to try to bring about peace when war was wrecking the lives of the poor. He went right to the top.

At some time between 1639 and 1642, during the wars in Lorraine, he went to Cardinal Richelieu, knelt before him, described the horrors of war, and pleaded for peace: “Let us have peace. Have pity on us. Give France peace.” Richelieu refused, responding diplomatically that peace did not depend on him alone.

One of Vincent’s biographers relates an even more striking episode, which he takes from an account written by Vincent’s secretary. In 1649, during the civil war, Vincent left Paris quietly, crossed battle lines and forded a flooded river on horseback (at almost 70 years of age) to see the queen and to beg her to dismiss Mazarin, whom he regarded as responsible for the war.

He also spoke directly to Mazarin himself. But again his pleas went unheeded. Vincent attempted to speak with leaders on both sides and at times felt that a settlement was near, but ambitions and intrigues thwarted his efforts. His attempts at peacemaking earned him the enmity of Mazarin, who, in his secret diary, records him as an enemy. By the time peace finally came, Vincent had been removed from the Council of Conscience.

All those involved in systemic change projects today emphasize the importance of advocacy and need to build a shared vision with diverse stakeholders: poor communities, interested individuals, donors, churches, governments, the private sector, unions, the media, international organizations and networks, etc.

How many more mass shootings?

The number of mass shootings across the U.S. so far in 2019 has outpaced the number of days this year, according to a gun violence research group.

As of Sunday, which was the 216th day of the year, there have been 251 mass shootings in the U.S., according to data from the nonprofit  which tracks every mass shooting in the country. The Gun Violence Archive defines a mass shooting as any incident in which at least four people were shot, excluding the shooter.

The toll of 251 mass shootings includes five high-profile rampages in the past eight days, in which more than 100 people were shot:

Is this not a time for all especially Vincentians to speak the truth to power?

The time for study commissions is over. (It is frightening to note that the gun lobby has been successful in stifling attempts to gather statistics so we can better understand root causes and long-term solutions!)

There is one chart that speaks volumes! Be sure to scroll down to see how far ahead the US is in gun violence  compared to other countries around the world

Speaking the truth to power today

But what about us? Does it mean risky and arduous journeys?

How hard is to make a phone call?

Keep in mind that St. Vincent spoke the truth to power even though it cost him.

We can have more power than the millions of dollars spent by paid lobbyists .. if we speak up!

What holds us back from lifting the phone and speaking for those who do not know how to negotiate our systems?

An examination of conscience

With that in mind, I read the following myths of advocacy as a kind of examination of conscience.

I just don’t have the time.

Most of us don’t have a lot of extra time. But if we don’t speak out for our own rights on issues such as access to healthy foods and healthy workplaces, who will speak for us? On some issues, it takes as little as five letters or phone calls to tilt a policymaker’s opinion one way or the other.

I won’t make a difference.

Every voice makes a difference. Look at recent presidential elections. The decision sometimes comes down to a few votes in a few states. Your opinion matters, but it only makes a difference if you make it known. The assumption that your voice won’t make a difference is what makes bad public policy possible.

Someone else will do it.

It is probably true that someone else will contact your legislator, but how do you know they are working for the same cause? There are many groups trying to get their voices heard. If they are talking and you are silent, how will anyone know your point of view? Your silence makes your opponents’ voices even louder.  Absolutely no one is going to advocate for our priorities—except us. And in many cases others may be fighting against us. There are millions of Americans who share our goals and objectives. Think how easy it would be to change things if each person took only five minutes out of their day to make that phone call or write that letter.

Nothing ever changes.

How often have you heard this? Sometimes, it seems like glaciers move faster than the legislative process. Legislative change happens slowly; the system is engineered this way on purpose. If laws were easy to change, then every swing of public opinion could change laws that would swiftly affect citizens. Though the system is slow, change <em>does</em> happen and you can affect change.

I don’t know enough.

You don’t have to know all the details of a bill. Legislators don’t expect you to. All you have to know is why the bill is important. Elected officials put a high value on input from the people they represent.

With all of our talk in the Vincentian Family about working smarter and systemic change hopefully, we will be able to move beyond these myths and our inertia.

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