My name is Brock Mapes – I am a teacher at Genesee Valley, where I graduated in 2014. I am writing to offer a view of current events from the point of view of someone who for 26 years has only ever known frustration, inaction, or woefully inadequate “solutions” on any number of issues. I’m not quite old enough to remember Columbine, since I was just about 3 years old when it happened. But I do remember Virginia Tech, and Sandy Hook, and Orlando, and Las Vegas, and Parkland, and countless more shootings that went by with less attention. As an elementary school student I remember hiding in open spaces in library shelves during lockdown drills. As a high schooler I remember spending time game-planning for shootings – which places in classrooms were most invisible to the outside, which students would wield the long scissors from the closet, and which would throw heavy objects in an attempt to repel anyone trying to do us harm.
All of this to say that there are now teachers who have seen over two decades of our government fail to do anything meaningful to address mass shootings. It’s horrifying that it has been this long. We’ve applied band-aid after band-aid, we’ve turned our schools into fortresses, we’ve welcomed cops into our schools and arrested more and more children, and some even want to take this to its logical extreme and give guns to teachers!
My lifetime has shown me that when a crisis arises, we as a nation are depressingly ineffective at producing solutions. When it comes to guns, the refrains of our leaders always take one of three tunes. One, denying that there is a problem at all. That mass shootings are simply a fact of life, ignoring that we are the only comparable nation in the world to suffer these calamities. If someone admits there’s a problem, they often say that there isn’t a solution – that mass shootings are a price for living in a “free society,” like they are a sage conveying true wisdom about “freedom.” But what kind of “freedom” is that? Are you seriously going to tell me that I have to choose between people being shot by literal dozens, myself and my family possibly included, and being “free?” If that is what you call free, then the word is meaningless! When pushed, they may say that mass shootings are a symptom of the evil of man, never to be extinguished no matter how hard we try, so let’s not try to address the problem at all. As if this is a metaphysical discussion, and shootings aren’t happening right in front of us, in the real world, where we can take action. Claiming that mass shootings are a problem but there is no solution is either ignorant, cowardly, or from a place of cynicism.
Or maybe, some admit, there is a problem, there is a solution, but that solution always seems to benefit the rich and powerful or is a band-aid on a hemorrhage and is thus as bad as nothing. We just have to lock down the schools! No need to address our country’s unhealthy obsession with guns. Buy guns from our corporate arms dealers and hand them to teachers.
To break through these barriers, to get to the point where real change can be enacted, seems almost like a dream to me. Not to sound depressing, but for at least anyone under 30, for the most part we have only seen problems ignored. The truth is, I am not here today to advocate for gun control, not exactly. Our time is a time of neglected crises, and of crises made worse by cynically applying a “solution” meant only to enrich or further entrench the powers that be. After the 2008 market crash, the new president, promising hope and change, furiously worked to save the capitalist system at the root of the cataclysm that we still feel the effects of. Any efforts to stop climate change have been offensively inadequate. Courts act in spite of the will of the people and state legislative districts are crafted to ensure victory – they ensure the rule of the minority without recourse.
It is a mistake to take the failure to address mass shootings as an isolated phenomenon, or one that can be dealt with in a vacuum. I’ve seen enough. There is a deeper, fundamental problem – the system is not designed to address the needs of the people. We can and must work to achieve needed reforms, but we also need to begin to organize with the understanding that our needs will not be met without monumental change to the system itself. We can’t be timid. We can’t think small. We need organizations that can exert our collective power of and for ourselves. Now, that sounds… big, but it will start small and snowball. Maybe it starts as reading groups, learning history and political philosophy so we can apply it to our circumstances. Maybe it emerges out of efforts to feed our communities. All the while, experiencing the excitement that comes with working to build a better world. I look forward to the struggle.
Brock Mapes is a teacher at Genesee Valley. He also attended Genesee Valley, graduating in 2014, before earning his Bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering from Cornell University.