Let’s remember Columbine correctly.

It’s another Columbine anniversary, and as my kid makes his way through public schools it’s hard to avoid one of the massacre’s biggest legacies; the anti-bullying movement. My district uses Rachel’s Challenge literally founded to honor one of the victims by naming a school-based behavior modification program after her. And while I can’t say there’s anything wrong with teaching kids not to bully, I feel it’s a disservice to think of Columbine in this way.

Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold were not victims of bullying, and it’s dangerous to keep alive a narrative that tells kids shooting a bunch of classmates is an established redress for the perceived wrongs done to them.

Harris was a psychopath. His parents were too proud to use mental health treatment, and they took advantage of their frequent moves around the country to hide his history of disturbing and dangerous behavior. Klebold was experiencing major depression and journaled his suicidal ideation. Together they were an especially dangerous combo who had easy access to guns and also made their own explosives.I feel like we owe it to everyone involved to remember the story correctly.

They weren’t the first school shooters, but they did spark a fire that’s still burning. We’ll never learn how to put it out if we lie to ourselves about what happened.

Recommended Reading:

Remarks from Pittsburgh’s Memorial for Victims of Gun Violence

Remarks from the Inter-faith Memorial for Local Victims of Gun Violence 

Heinz Memorial Chapel  /  Pittsburgh, PA  /  12/14/18

Heinz Chapel Outside 12_14_18Welcome. One of tonight’s co-sponsors is a group I’m proud to volunteer for – Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. We started just 6 years in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary by a suburban Mom in Chicago. We now have groups in every state and our supporters number more than 5 million making us a counterweight to the powerful gun lobby. 

Locally we’re busy, functioning as 3 teams—North Hills, South Hills, and Central—educating, organizing, and empowering people to lobby their elected officials for sensible gun safety legislation. My name is Jen Partica and I am proud to co-lead the Central Team with the incomparable Diane Matway who sits here in the front.

My family moved to Western PA two and a half years ago and settled in Moon Township, and on Monday night our town experienced gun violence. A man visiting another in his home at night, stabbed the homeowner and the homeowner shot his visitor. The home owner later at the hospital from the stabbing, but the visitor survived his gun shot wounds. 

After those facts, things get murky. Rumors are running rampant around town about the circumstances surrounding the incident. People speculate as to whether or not anything shady or illicit proceeded the violence, and I have to say I find the inquiry rather exhausting & distasteful, because the undercurrent there is questioning whether or not the victims “deserved” what happened to them. 

And I don’t believe violence is EVER deserved.Me at Heinz Chapel 12_14_18

We do this a lot in our country. When our communities look different our gun violence looks different, so we explain away this public health epidemic by finding reasons to justify it in the neighborhoods where we don’t live, in the victims we don’t identify with. And it is this very sick ability to bargain and barter with our morals, to assume the standing to judge others, to determine who “deserves” violence, that allows a man to feel justified in entering a place of worship and massacring a large number of people he’s never even met based solely on their religious identity.

And in the wake of such violence, our response awed the world. But there were some in our city that asked why we do not mourn for all victims the same. And I don’t know all the answers to that question, yet I still understand it. 

Our group has heard this question before, and our annual memorial here is one small way to answer for it. Because tonight we will read the names of ALL victims of gun homicide this year in Allegheny County. We read them all because NONE of them deserved it. No matter their age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation, criminal record, or neighborhood, not one of them deserved to be shot and killed. 

So I ask you tonight to open your hearts to the victims you know well—and to the victims you know not at all—and to recognize that while we are not solely responsible for the violence in our communities, neither are we totally innocent. 

To recognize that not one of us is immune to gun violence.

So when you’re ready to take on the responsibility of addressing this issue, to help others bare this weight with the strength that only love can give you, CeaseFirePA, and Moms Demand Action, and groups like us are ready to welcome you to this fight. 

 

Celebration w/ Bloomberg

bloom selfie

Me and fellow co-lead, Diane Matway, with Mayor Michael Bloomberg. A.K.A. my Bloomberg selfie

The following are remarks I delivered on Oct. 21, 2018 as the Co-Lead of Pittsburgh’s central team for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America as part of a celebration for the signing into law of Pennsylvania’s Act 79 of 2018 to disarm domestic abusers. We were joined at our celebration by Michael Bloomberg, former NYC mayor & founder of Everytown for Gun Safety, Everytown’s President John Feinblatt, Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto, survivor Gina Pelusi, and two student leaders from the Univ. of Pitt’s Student Demand Action team.

“Welcome everyone! I’m Jenny Ruth Partica, the Co-Lead of our central Moms Demand Action team here in Pittsburgh and I want to thank you for coming today. I have never been more excited to get a party started!

I have been a volunteer with Moms Demand Action for 2.5 years. As a mother, my first priority is the safety of my children. And as a gun owner, I know we can support common-sense gun safety measures while also respecting our Second Amendment rights. 

I’m glad we are gathered here today to reflect and celebrate on the work we’ve been doing. Because every time there’s a shooting, it impacts a whole circle of people in its proximity, whether there’s a death or not. And our city has been rocked by some especially tragic shootings this year. We all see the headlines on the news — and we also know there are far too many shooting tragedies that never make the headlines.  Like so many of you here in the audience, myself included, you came to Moms Demand Action because you were angry, righteously so, and you were scared. You said “I want to do something. I feel powerless and I want to make a change right NOW.”

And then we looked at you, and we said “I understand. And what I need you to do right now with that conviction is I need you to call your local state senator and demand action.

Advocating for gun safety legislation is not always glamorous and it can be tedious. The victories can take time. It’s the first time you call your representative’s office and don’t have to give your name because they recognize your voice. Or it’s that time you pull into the driveway after picking your kids up from school and you see a notification on your phone that causes you to jump and cheer as you get out of the car your neighbor shouts over “What is it?”  and you respond “My bill’s going back to the Senate for reconciliation!!”

Just last week, we saw our demands for action come full circle with a MAJOR victory for gun safety in Pennsylvania. Governor Wolf signed legislation to disarm domestic abusers. We have worked at this for years, and you have trusted us along the way. You’ve trusted that each little step was productive. That every call for action was necessary. I’ve seen so many of you get involved in advocacy for the first time because of this bill, and I know that can be intimidating and I am so proud of every phone call, tweet, share on Facebook and every conversation you’ve had about this bill. 

I am a woman of faith and I believed we would get here. When we feared the bill would waiver we all kept the faith. When the local gun lobby spread lies about it. We still believed.  

I had faith that you, and lawmakers like (NAME ELECTEDs IN ATTENDANCE) and our partners like Rob Conroy from CeaseFirePA, and Nicole Molinaro Karcazun from the Women’s Center & Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh, and law enforcement, like Sheriff Bill Mullen, and all the other groups who joined us from across the state, I had faith that we all believed in this bill. And if we stood up, and showed up, shouted about it long enough, everyone else would follow. Because how couldn’t they? How can you say no to a bill that disarms domestic abusers?

 

When I tell people I’m a volunteer lead in a gun violence prevention program, they say “wow, that’s really brave.” But I don’t feel brave doing this work because it seems so obvious. The goals all of us share, the common sense steps we want to take to reduce gun violence, they seem so obvious to me that I can’t help but have faith that my fellow Americans will agree. But what’s obvious can take time, and we’ve all learned that with this bill. So let’s take some time to congratulate each other, to thank each other, and to recharge so we can keep going. Because we did it!”

 

 

“Bullets Into Bells” event in PGH

I had the honor of participating in The Bridge Series’ event at City of Asylum in Alphabet City for the book “Bullets Into Bells,” an anthology of poetry and essays addressing gun violence in America. The book was edited by Connecticut poet Brian Clements, husband to a teacher who survived the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. We were joined by my friend & survivor Gina Lodato Pelusi, a leader for Pittsburgh’s Moms Demand Action teams who captivates a crowd with her story of love, loss and hope. I joined Brian & Gina on a post-reading panel as both the co-lead for the local Moms Demand Action and as an contributor to the online conversation happening on “Bullets Into Bells” website. A collection was taken at the door, and $260 was donated to Moms Demand Action.

I am continually humbled to be involved in this work. I feel inspired by everyone who shows up and asks how they too can get active, because we can end gun violence.

Photo Credit: City of Asylum

No one’s coming to save us.

No one’s coming to save us. Not a heroic politician. Not a celebrity activist. Not a nation-wide march. Not the outrage caused by a string of increasingly gruesome mass shootings of historic proportions. Not even the fact that we’re averaging a school shooting every 60 hours this year will be enough to spur our leaders to make change. We are all there is.

But we are enough. We, each and every one of us, must make the decision that we’re going to change this. And then we have to commit ourselves to the tedious work of lobbying our elected officials. Not just flailing our arms in despair and yelling “do something,” but the unglamorous work of showing up, calling up, and consistently confronting our officials on the votes they cast for specific legislation to make our communities safer.

It’s not quick, easy, or sexy, but it’s successful. In the past 5 years, NRA-backed bills have been defeated in 30 states. It takes a coalition of different groups and approaches to do this work, so go find one and let’s share the load.

Bullets Into Bells

Beacon Press’s beautiful collection of poetry & responses from authors & activists addressing gun violence, Bullets Into Bells, came out this December 2017. They have chosen to publish my essay, This is What Happens Where You Live, on the website supporting the book. Check it out and then buy this amazing book! I received my pre-ordered copy on the book’s release date and devoured it. It helped that I was prepping for my Moms Demand Action chapter’s memorial to gun violence victims on the 5th anniversary of Sandy Hook, but I bet I would have read it just as quickly. So often I simply forget to read poetry, and then when I stumble upon it I act like it’s the carbs of literature!

I’ve understood for a while now that the world of guns would be the next subject I’d write about. Makes sense since I’ve spent that last few years writing about race, a natural lead in to America’s gun obsession. To have this first piece scooped up so quickly is really unexpected and lucky. It so happens that the web editor lives in my city and posted the call for submission on a local Facebook group to which I belong. I had the first few paragraphs of this piece sketched out when I saw the call. Aiming at a target publication with word count limitations really forced me to hone the argument. I’m grateful for all the right things that happened at the right time.

 

When the piece was sent to me for a few revisions, they were mostly style concerns (I just can’t break that AP habit). But the editor had one other note; could I please end on an uplifting note? Just a few sentences? I had originally ended the piece without the last paragraph, so Bill O’Reilly had the last word. It was a real downer, but seemed appropriate to me. I can forget to stay positive in the face of this gigantic problem. It was a good reminder to keep going, in every way.

b to b