In my last article I insisted that we can change the direction our society is taking in allowing mass shootings. I called for dialog and a definition of the problem along with some hints at how to engage all sectors of our communities in productive prevention. What can you do?
First, realize that you can make a difference. I made a difference in the world of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. We all have our gifts, the things we are good at doing. I’m okay on computers, so I developed the first web site on earth to teach about Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I didn’t have much information, but I shared what was available at the time. My information reached around the globe as government officials and public health workers contacted me for more information. Soon, I had them talking to each other about what they were doing.
People who are good at computers can organize the wider community to work together, sharing information, advocacy materials, and how-to lessons for approaching legislators and businesses.
Schools will play a huge role in prevention. They already identify at-risk youth. They need funding and community support to develop educational opportunities to keep at-risk youth engaged whether this be drama, band, wood or auto body shop or classes in Movies and Culture. Our schools know which kids will not be able to participate in such projects, and they need to be pro-active in supporting parents to get the kid into counseling and keep him there.
My friend and colleague, Jocie DeVries, was a woman on a mission when advocating for individuals with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. She would go anywhere and talk to anybody. She followed her instincts to meet the people who needed to know about the behavioral aspects of the disability. Some people can talk to anybody. Those people need to start talking to school officials, the mayor, the newspaper, their legislators, or maybe the woman in the office at the end of the hall. When we start to talk to people, we don’t have to have all the answers for solving our problems. We just need start the dialog and then listen and learn.
Everybody can write a short note to their legislators, newspaper, mayor, council representative or state representative asking for research on the topic of mass shootings and for public dialog on how to meet the needs of people at-risk for perpetuating violence. The dialog needs to happen at the community level in order to access available community resources and find the weak places in the community structure.
Do some online research. Who is doing research on gun violence? You will find that congress has placed limits on what the Center for Disease Control can do or say. Can you find federally funded research on gun violence?
Of course, as you start talking about preventing violence, you will run into many if not most people who will tell you the task is impossible. The correct response is to ignore them and move on. When working in advocacy, we used to say, “Step over the dead bodies and move on.” That phrase probably isn’t the best when talking about gun violence, but the advice is still good.
Before writing this week’s articles, I wrote a frustrated post on Facebook. (1) Basically, I mentioned five things that I could do to raise awareness of the issues around gun violence. I got back several thoughtful, concrete suggestions about what we as individuals can do to change attitudes about gun violence. Yes! This short piece was exactly the sort of dialog we need to be having. Some people shared ideas of services have worked in the past to keep at-risk populations engaged in their community. From this short experiment, I could see that others focused on the mental health aspects of the problem. Is that were the bulk of our population thinks we need to go with prevention? As I read through other dialogues on Facebook about the issue, I noticed that people defined four categories of perpetrators and had some idea of how to serve those categories to prevent those vulnerable people from acting out in violence. Some people pointed out the cracks in our systems that allow the vulnerable to slip through our network of services. Yes. This is what we need to learn in dialog so that each community can move forward to fill in the cracks and build healthy communities.
In my online research, I found an action plan proposed by Bernie Sanders (2) focusing on things government can do to make us safer. If his legislative plan or any other government plan is to be implemented, it will need public support to overcome the resistance of those who profit from gun violence. Public dialog can generate that support and fine tune the legislative ideas to make them more effective.
You may well notice that the advocates, teachers and mental health workers focus on mental health and social issues, while the politician focuses on gun control. This is why we need dialog. Our public servants need to know what we the people want. It looks to me as if the people in my small sample want to build healthy communities while the government wants the quick answer of gun control. We had a similar problem when working with FAS advocacy. Politicians thought we wanted respite care. Parents wanted appropriate diagnosis and appropriate school services. These miscommunications between citizens and public officials can be prevented with appropriate dialog.
I am impressed with what I learned from talking to others. People do know what they want and how to achieve those goals. What we need in order to get from here to there is communication that leads to action. We’ve done this in the past. We can do it again. Now, the responsibility for preventing more domestic terrorism is in your lap. What will you do to build the type of healthy society we all want?
Delinda McCann is a social scientist with over forty years experience in working with at-risk populations. She started with a program for migrant workers children, moved on to working with at-risk teens in a street program and finished working in the field of developmental disabilities and Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. She has worked on committees for the State of Washington and been an advisor to several foreign governments. She currently writes novels that touch on social topics including politics and social justice. Web site: http://delindalmccann.weebly.com/index.html