I Don’t Want to Buy an Orange Shirt–But I Know I Must

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.

Arik Bjorn

Arik Bjorn lives in Columbia, South Carolina. He was the Democratic Party / Green Party fusion candidate for U.S. Congress in the 2nd Congressional District of South Carolina. Visit the archive for Arik’s campaign website, and check out his latest book, So I Ran for Congress. You can also follow his political activities on Twitter @Bjorn2RunSC and on Facebook. And be sure to check out more from Arik in his archives!


Facebook comments

  • cruisersailor

    Who’s going to know the meaning of wearing an orange shirt?

  • puzzled1

    Rather than get into a detailed discussion of your pending speech,
    as a candidate running for political office, please attempt to comment upon, or explain your position on the following topics selected from your preceding

    1) The United States seems to be a nation of laws. There are presently over 20,000 laws restricting the use (in some form or another) the use of guns. How EXACTLY will adding one more law really correct the gun problems you have mentioned?

    By the way, in your answer, please explain WHY (according to FBI records) in the five cities with the strictest gun control laws (Chicago, New York, Washington, DC, Detroit and New Orleans), these same cities lead the United States in deaths by firearms?

    2) Black lives matter. What does this comment REALLY mean?

    As a voter I am confused by the rhetoric that seems to drip from the mouths of certain progressive interest groups, but the reality is far different then what people shout.

    Let me explain.

    In 2015, according to FBI records, there were approximately 6,000 deaths of black people who were at the wrong end of a firearm. A tragic number of deaths to be certain. If black lives matter, Aryk Bjorn, let’s look at another government database: The Center for Disease Control (cdc.gov).

    According to cdc.gov, in 2015, over 930,000 babies were killed in their
    mothers womb. Looking a little deeper, over 30% of those deaths (aka “abortions”) were conducted on black children. Interestingly, although blacks
    represent (according to the latest US Census) approximately 13% of the US
    population, almost three times the death rate of black children represent the
    highest death rate of ANY racial group in the United States. In fact, in 2015 more black babies were killed in their mother’s womb than were born in New York City.

    Now let me sum this up by putting the matter in perspective. If, as you say, 6,000 deaths of blacks by firearms is unacceptable, what is over 300,000 deaths of black children in their mother’s womb called?

    Interestingly, the organization responsible for more killing of babies in their mother’s womb than any other, is America’s “National Butcher Shop” (aka Planned Parenthood) that is still being funded by the US taxpayers.

    A direct violation of existing US law.

    What say you, Aryk Bjorn? Are we a nation of laws?

    Should US taxpayers be contributing to the genocide of innocent black babies lives by continued funding of our National Butcher Shop – Planned Parenthood?

    • Arik Bjorn

      I know who you are.