There is much reason to be distressed about the current scope of the American political sphere. After Tuesday’s midterm elections, constituents on both sides of the aisle voiced legitimate concerns about the direction of our country. Yet, on Wednesday morning there was a glimmer of great hope for the American people.
In Washington state, ballot measure I-594 introduced stricter background checks into state gun protocol. Why is this an important moment of triumph for the American people?
On I-594 the people won. Not the lobbies. Not the politicians. The people.
Washington voters made history by becoming the first state to expand background checks to all gun sales by popular vote. By strategically moving the fight for commonsense gun policies from gun lobby-dominated legislatures to the ballot box, democracy in Washington state was able to function on a person-by-person basis.
Throughout the last decade, gun violence has created moments of immense pain for the American people. Each time a CNN news alert arrives on my iPhone with news of another public shooting, a now familiar feeling of agony, remorse, and then frustration burns in my veins.
Timothy Egan of The New York Times describes the chilling pattern that has been occurring in our society:
“The saddest ritual cycle in modern life is a school shooting. Kids get killed. Yellow ribbons, balloons and guidance counselors appear. Everyone wonders why and how. And then, we shrug and feel helpless that nothing can be done because the all-powerful gun lobby will move mountains to ensure that crazy people can always get a firearm.”
In October, four students, including the shooter, were killed in a high school north of Seattle. But this time around, the citizens of Washington did not shrug. They organized, mobilized, and voted. Cheryl Stumbo, citizen sponsor of I-594 and a survivor of the 2006 Jewish Federation shooting in Seattle, told The Seattle Times, “The I-594 campaign shows Americans that a citizen movement can act to reduce gun violence if our elected leaders won’t.”
In Washington, grassroots organizations such as the Washington Alliance for Gun Responsibility, Everytown for Gun Safety, Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, and Moms Demand Action for Gun Safety worked to mobilize communities and individuals to defeat the powerful National Rifle Association by a very heavy margin of 60 to 40 popular vote.
Margaret Mead said, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”
The committed citizens of Washington didn’t radically change the world by passing I-594. But then again, maybe in their own small way, they did.
The passing of I-594 exemplifies the power that still remains strong in the midst the corrupted state of our democracy. It represents hope that the American people can work together for the common good. And for now, the reminder of that possibility is enough for me.
Kaeley McEvoy is Campaigns Assistant for Sojourners.
Image: Gun sales illustration, Oleksandr Lysenko/ Shutterstock.com