February 21, 2018
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Fledgling protest takes an ugly turn

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Erin Donovan
By Erin Donovan

The first time I went to London, I wound up in an anarchist demonstration. It was one of those Forrest Gump-like situations that tend to happen to me. I sauntered into a bakery, as I am prone to do, and when I walked out a few moments later, all of London seemed to be marching and yelling and throwing trash cans. I stood still to the din and clamor, berry scone in hand, and wondered for a moment, “Did I try to pay for this in American dollars again?” as though that may have been the cause for the uproar.

I stepped backwards into the bakery from which I had just emerged, unsure of what to do but certain I might be spared if I were standing beside a case full of meat pies. I stared, wide-eyed, scone frozen at my lips, at the mayhem rushing by the window. Men, women and even children chanted rallying cries and punched holes in the sky with the posts holding their banners. Clans high-fived other clans, who fell into the tremulous wave of bodies and jerked in a jittery rhythm down the avenue.

“They’re probably reacting to the wedding,” a man beside me groaned.

At that moment, a particularly raucous trio of protesters, all dressed in black garments held together with metal chains, uncapped the hydrant in front of the bakery. Water shot forth from the its mouth, as though it immediately was needed at the front of the parade. The stream barricaded the door of the bakery, much like the yellow tape of a crime scene — passable but ominous.

I looked at him out of the corner of my eye and murmured, “Where I’m from, if you’re not happy about a wedding, you just buy the cheapest thing off the registry.”

As I would learn from media reports, there was some kind of royal wedding to occur in London that weekend, though on the monarchical scale of Pawns to Kings the union was barely a Knight. The crux of the riots had to do with capitalism, and various organizations converged on the financial sector of London to make their disaffected voices heard. Had I actually paid attention to local news while living abroad I would have known the march was slated for that day — and for that bakery. But since my source of current event coverage still came from the newspaper clippings my grandmother sent from the United States, I was about four days too early to alter my plans.

While I haven’t wandered unintentionally into an actual political dogfight again, I found myself in a virtual one just the other day. In the wake of the harrowing act of violence in Santa Barbara — a second home to me over the span of my life — I noticed a compelling headline float through my Facebook stream. Not One More. Upon clicking on the link, I was brought to a video of Richard Martinez, the father of a boy killed by the shooter, urging us all to take action against mass shootings by demanding not one more. With tears in my eyes, emotions brimming for his child as well as my own, I took the small step he pleaded for and filled out an online postcard that would be sent to Maine’s Governor and Congress members. The postcard read this way: I pledge to vote for officials who will fight for common-sense laws to reduce gun violence.

I then shared it across my Facebook network, and half my friends lost their minds.

Comments began to pile up, citing Second Amendment freedoms and the need for a populace able to defend what is rightly theirs. I re-read the postcard, scrutinizing each word, straining to see the viciously left-wing agenda I was being accused of propagating. I’ve learned from a decade of attending Southern churches that you’ve got to pay attention when the collection basket bobs around, because it’s really easy to inadvertently fund a political cause when you thought you were just helping out Betty Sue after her kitchen fire. Every word seemed rational and fair, and to me, neutral of partisanship. Common-sense laws? Sounds good. Reduce gun violence? Sounds even better.

Not so, to many of my friends. Facts about gun violence began to bubble up in my stream. Texts appeared on my phone from those not so bold to make proclamations over the Internet. It was as though I had walked into NRA headquarters and shouted, “Ya’ll are gonna need to give me all your guns, and while we’re at it, all your orange vests right now!”

I figured my intentions needed explication, so I wrote in even-handed prose: If you were to pass a strict and stringent application process to procure a reasonable weapon and went on to complete a requisite training period to ensure proper use of it, I don’t have a problem with someone having a gun in their home. I have a problem with people getting guns too easily. I have a problem with civilians having assault weapons. I have a problem with people being able to carry them into movie theaters and coffee shops. I have a problem with it being more complicated to take a mutt out of a shelter than it is to get a gun in this country.

The bumper-sticker-talk bandied around from both sides. “Less Piece is more Peace” was met with the always-popular “Guns don’t kill people; People kill people.” I’ve always hated that one because it seems painfully obvious that people pointing guns kill people. Pro-gun friends argued mental health is the culprit while anti-gun friends rebutted we need to keep guns out of the hands of the mentally unhinged. In the end, no party illuminated the other. Those who didn’t agree with my viewpoint agreed to stand down. Those who did stopped chiming in — probably because we were all growing increasingly afraid of the ones who clearly own weapons.

It felt a lot like being trapped in that bakery, with just a pane of glass — in this case the one to my computer — separating me from a movement I stumbled upon. I didn’t mean to be a part of a fight, but it was oddly exhilarating to be there. I hope one day I will find myself on the front lines of a cause again, and not because I got a hankering for a pastry or because I shared a headline. There’s a lot about which to be mad. A lot about which to opine. No matter your side, it’s good to stretch out your limbs to battle for something. Even if you are just holding a scone.

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