Right now, as I type, I’m watching the Senate Democrats filibustering live. They’ve been going for about 10 hours so far. If you see this blog post tonight, you can watch live as well. Go there for at least 5 minutes, especially if you’re an American and have been following the political discourse in the aftermath of the Pulse club shooting in Orlando last weekend.
The filibuster is led by Christopher Murphy of Connecticut, whose first speech on the Senate floor in April 2013 discussed the Sandy Hook school shootings in his home state. 37 other Senators having spoken as well. They’re arguing for prohibiting gun purchases by those on the terrorist watch list, and for implementing universal background checks for gun purchases.
Somehow, despite majority support by Americans and even among gun owners, these measures can’t even get to a vote in the Senate. The Senate Democrats have been holding the floor for nearly half a day just to get a vote. Will it succeed? I doubt it will, at least in the near term. Will it be a turning point for gun control in the country? Maybe. Is it political theatre? Absolutely.
I’m deeply cynical about American politics. This year, more than ever. We have institutional lock-in (and the Senate is the prime example) that prevents real action, while tensions, inequality, and injustice simmer underneath. Not surprisingly, they bubble over—especially when they are stoked.
Yet watching this is strangely inspiring. I’ve been watching for almost two hours (despite owing deliverables to several clients tonight—sorry). These people are smart, passionate, and articulate. They show commitment. Dare I say it, they show leadership. This is action, in an institution and profession where talking counts as action.
What’s next? At some point, when the exhaustion starts to creep up, they’ll decide they’ve done enough to control the news cycle and frame the story. They’ll have underlined one more strong example of how our institutions and politics have failed us. They’ll go home to sleep, and then hopefully wake up refreshed and re-committed to finding other arenas for the fight, until they can make a policy change. If they can keep a bit of the leadership they’ve found, then the fall election will be one of those arenas.
No one imagines that this minor reform is enough to end gun violence in the United States. There are a half-dozen other issues wrapped up in our country’s mass shootings (which occur almost daily): not just gun controls, but gun culture; our collective inability to take mental health seriously; homophobia; xenophobia; domestic violence; racism; political power of the NRA; mass media reporting; and more.
This problem—like all the difficult ones—is systemic. But solutions are specific and progress is incremental. This is one small drop of a solution. Eventually it adds up to a bucket.