I don’t own an orange shirt. But I know I need one.
I don’t want to buy an orange shirt. But I know I must.
In late May, I reached out to my good friend, Pastor Thomas Dixon, the Democratic Party-Green Party fusion candidate for U.S. Senate in South Carolina.
“Pastor Dixon,” I said. “I can’t wait to stand alongside you again and present at the upcoming Richland County Democratic Party candidate town hall. But what’s with all this, ‘Wear orange!’?”
“Brother Arik,” he replied, “June 2 is National Gun Violence Awareness Day.”
I didn’t want to appear ignorant (though I was), “Of course!”
I looked it up. The year prior, on June 2, 2015, the New York Mets wore the most orangey-orange jerseys you ever did see, beyond their standard complementary orange. Sarah Silverman and Julianne Moore donned orange too. So did Padma Lakshmi of Top Chef fame.
Two years prior, in January 2013, a teenager from Chicago named Hadiya Pendleton was shot and killed—just one week after marching in President Obama’s second inaugural parade. Her friends and classmates donned orange in a symbolic display to celebrate her life and honor her tragedy.
Now everybody wears orange on June 2: “Orange draws attention.”
Still, June 2, 2016, was right around the corner, and I didn’t own an orange shirt.
But I did own an orange necktie. Rather, a tie with orange hues. Atomic tangerine. Pumpkin. Burnt orange. Apricot. Cinnabar. (It’s a pretty slick necktie.)
This tie was my ticket to National Gun Violence Awareness Day. Of course, this is a rather unpleasant party in my neck of the woods. Here’s what orange buys you in South Carolina, thanks to the do-nothing policies of “Status Quo” Joe Wilson:
DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: In 2013, South Carolina ranked worst in the nation for women murdered by men.
GUN VIOLENCE: From 2004 to 2013, more people were killed by guns in South Carolina than all U.S. combat deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined.
I arrived at the town hall in my orange necktie and presented alongside Pastor Dixon—plus our mutual friend, Joanne Hafter. Ms. Hafter is the person behind Lizzy’s Law, a commonsense gun regulation bill that recently was introduced in the South Carolina General Assembly.
Ms. Hafter’s daughter was slain because a gun owner neglected to report his gun stolen. Ms. Hafter has spent years of her life working tirelessly to promote Lizzy’s Law, which would require a gun owner to report a lost or stolen gun to law enforcement within 24 hours.
Can you think of a more reasonable firearms regulation? But for her efforts, Ms. Hafter’s life has been threatened, and she has been stalked to her deceased daughter’s gravestone.
Pastor Dixon and I tell voters everywhere we go that we strongly support Lizzy’s Law. We assume the National Rifle Association will reward us with failing grades for our efforts. Now there’s an ‘F’ to wear proudly, along with my orange necktie.
A few days later, on June 12, I was asked to speak at a candlelight vigil held in Columbia at The Capital Club, “South Carolina’s longest standing and most dignified private gay bar,” in the wake of the Orlando nightclub massacre. I was joined by Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott and a number of other community leaders. I proclaimed that the Bjorn for Congress campaign is an unabashed ally of the LGBTQ community—and that our campaign stands equally strong with the Muslim community amidst Trump Shirt fear-mongering cries. Also, that we stand resolutely against gun violence and in favor of reasonable gun regulation.
There were quite a few orange shirts in that crowd. Still, I owned no orange shirt.
Less than one month after that: Louisiana. Minnesota. Dallas.
I’ve been asked to speak at an upcoming Gun Reform Brunch that our local Young Democrats chapter is hosting.
I’m going to talk about what it’s like to have a gun pointed in your face—which happened to me as a boy and then again as an adult. I’m going to talk about the Constitution—about historical interpretation of the Second Amendment, about how organizations like the NRA act from a position “above” the Constitution rather than from “within” it. I’m going to talk about Black Lives Matter, white privilege, and institutional racism.
I’m going to say that there is, in the air of 2016, something we have not felt in this country since perhaps the 1960s. That there is a natural inclination for violence to beget violence, but that Civilization stops short and does everything within its power to use peaceful means as a way to improve the world.
I’m going to say that the surrounding cries for justice must be met with a peaceful—and absolute—determination to see life maintained, assisted and enhanced.
I’m going to say that one of the main reasons I am running for Congress is to ensure that goodness in society by law reaches our fellow neighbors whose lives are presently being destroyed, harmed and hindered.
I’m going to say that there is evil in our world. And I’m going to invite others to join me in countering it with goodness. Now. On November 8. And beyond.
Finally, I’m going to confess my struggle with buying an orange shirt. Because buying an orange shirt is an admission that someone else will be a victim of needless gun violence—and that I’ll need to wear that shirt to honor their tragedy.
Buying an orange shirt feels like purchasing a ticket to a funeral.
I don’t want to buy a damned orange shirt. But society has yet to remove the scales from its eyes. So I know I must.
“There’s a Better Way!”
Join me in creating it together.
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