The movement toward passage of notable gun safety laws starts in Scoville Park, at vigils such as the one held last Wednesday evening when locals honored those massacred in Orlando’s gay nightclub, Pulse.
The gathering was important and deeply moving. But it was the evidence of new alliances that will lead to actual change, to the intense energy that will break the nonsensical obstacles put in place by the National Rifle Association and backed to the hilt by bought Republicans.
It will be in the gathering up of the politically and strategically astute gay rights movement, with black and white religious leaders, with gun control advocates, with Democratic party leaders who have finally broken from the box they let the IRA put them in for 15 years, and with, yes, the courts that have made clear, as recently as this week, that sensible restrictions on guns such as the ban on assault weapons in force in New York and Connecticut are perfectly constitutional.
It has taken far too long and too many people have been butchered in mass killings and gang warfare. But the coalition is coming together. We saw it last week in the warm sunshine at Scoville Park at a vigil initiated by Mayor Anan Abu-Taleb and which included political leaders such as County Commissioner Richard Boykin and state Sen. Don Harmon, and an array of religious and social leaders.
Boykin has made the gun violence, which is decimating the West Side he represents at the county level, into a fierce cause with a multi-channel response. Harmon continues to push gun safety legislation. But let’s face it, in a state as blue as Illinois we have been far less progressive than we should have been on controlling guns.
One year ago, in the days after the horror of the white supremacist mass murder at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, we saw a boundary-breaking gathering at New Mt. Pilgrim Baptist Church on Washington Boulevard in West Garfield Park. A large number of white Oak Park people and their faith leaders came together in that welcoming sanctuary with black Westsiders and ministers. It felt as if that was a day of surprise and gratification, a powerful realization of shared values despite real and unique cultural distinctions. The pain was shared and the spirit of shared outrage was in the air.
And so last week when Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of New Mt. Pilgrim, spoke powerfully at the Oak Park vigil, it was evidence of alliance.
“The way forward is when [the interests of those] who are on the margins, who are overlooked are brought from the margins to the center [and become] central objects of our public policy. [When that happens], all of us flourish,” said Hatch.
True words for gays, African Americans and all those threatened and marginalized in our society.
Oak Park has been a bold leader on the excesses of our gun culture. Sure, the core of that effort, a ban on handguns, was rebuked by the Supreme Court. But the belief that America can and must do better than to readily arm copycat terrorists and lost soul thugs on Chicago’s West Side is powerful. And it will take this new alliance to make it real.