Written by Izzy Segel, NFTY-PAR President
My fellow NFTYites,
As President Abraham Lincoln famously said when he was a candidate for US Senate, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” It seems as though we can take value from our sixteenth President’s words for nearly every issue in our unfortunately divided nation. Gun violence prevention (GVP) is no exception.
As young Reform Jews devoted to the value of human life, we are sickened that this epidemic in America has become numbingly familiar: a pattern. Every time there is a high profile shooting, the public calls for perfectly reasonable GVP measures. Almost without fail, however, each proposal is thwarted in the chambers of Congress, which justifiably leads to an uproar amongst GVP activists like us.
Merely complaining about the ample resources of the gun lobby, ostracizing those on “the other side” of the debate, and accusing our elected officials of playing politics are all easy and satisfying reactions. But, pointing fingers isn’t a productive answer. In fact, chastisement largely contributes to the polarization and lack of compromise that derails meaningful change. This becomes a vicious cycle that leads to more anger and little action.
But, let me offer an alternative perspective towards our response. If we utilize the power of unity, we will help cure a wounded nation from the despicable double-edged sword that is preventable gun violence and seemingly endless polarization.
One of the strongest arguments I have heard in favor of pursuing amalgamation in our communities is from United States Senator Kamala Harris, former Attorney General of California and a longtime GVP advocate. While being interviewed on The Axe Files with political strategist David Axelrod, she said, “There are three elements of power. There is the element of power that comes with the statutory and technical responsibility. There is the power that comes with the bully pulpit. And then the third piece, which I think is sorely underused, is the power to convene, to bring people together around a common issue, and break through silos, and actually to move an agenda forward.”
As a movement driven by thousands of passionate teens, the power that we have via these three elements is exceptional. NFTY has enacted substantial change for GVP using our technical responsibilities, such as programming at regional events, lobbying with the Religious Action Center, and passing legislation within our movement. We have also used our bully pulpit remarkably well by crafting statements that affirm our movement’s commitment to GVP, making our voices heard on social media, and Wearing Orange each June 2nd. But, what about that third tenant brought up by Senator Harris- the power to convene?
NFTY, we need to utilize our power to convene by becoming local GVP champions.
We must have conversations with gun owners, a vast majority of whom are law abiding and would like to see an end to gun violence just as much as we do. (According to the Center for American Progress, 83 percent of gun owners support universal background checks.)
We must create groups at our synagogues, clubs at our schools, and outreach programs through our TYGs.
We must bring together physicians that see the effects of gun violence firsthand and the families of victims so that we can empathize with the pain caused by the senseless loss of loved ones.
We must host panel discussions with advocates of both gun rights and gun control, because at the end of the day, no one from either of these camps is an advocate of gun violence.
The power to convene is well within our reach. All we have to do is sit down and listen to our neighbors. After all, we are taught to love our neighbors as ourselves, no matter how much we may disagree with them.
As with most social action causes, change begins at the grassroots level with each and every one of us. We are the current and future leaders of the imperfect yet beautiful United States of America. NFTY, when we assemble as a whole, tremendous progress occurs. In the last two years alone, NFTYites lobbied their mayors for smart gun technology through the Do Not Stand Idly By campaign, Reform congregations incorporated GVP teachings into social action initiatives, and NFTY’s widespread local advocacy contributed to the 2016 GVP Executive Order by President Barack Obama. The power of grassroots change climbs up the ladder, from mayoral offices to the White House, from our city councils to the United States Congress, from our neighborhoods to the nation.
Only when we end the divisions within our local communities in order to save lives will we fulfill the lesson of unity from President Lincoln. With one American dying every sixteen minutes from gun violence, there is literally zero time to waste.
I believe in us. I believe in our power to make change. Let’s do this.
B’ahava v’tzedek (with love and justice),
Find ways to get involved and take action now at nfty.org/gvp