I’ve been getting regular updates about the approaching one-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting. I have to admit that in the daily flurry of clearing out my inbox and notifications on Facebook, I haven’t read everything that’s come my way. But these have served as reminders of the anniversary and it’s something I want to honor. Everyone I talk with has expressed surprise that it’s already been a year. Thinking about the parents, families and friends of the 26 children and adults who were killed, I’m guessing it’s been the longest, most grueling year of their lives.
Sandy Hook Promise is one group that formed out of the tragedy. Parents, spouses and community members affected by the shooting came together with a mission to prevent gun violence and help the community deal with the tragedy. On November 14th, they launched a campaign called Parent Together with the straightforward goal of getting parents to pledge to move away from polarizing discussions and inaction and find ways to open up the conversation about keeping kids safe, mental health issues and community.
I’ve struggled to find ways to discuss the issue of gun violence and gun control with friends and family members who have equally strong, but opposing views on the issue. I know I’m not alone in this. The Parent Together campaign asks each of us who take the pledge to start with something we can all agree on: parents love their children and want them to be safe. We can start from this point, but what’s next? How do we keep the lines of communication open when the discussion moves into specifics?
I go back to my inbox and dig through the trash to find the email about the Parent Together pledge and end up on their website, Facebook page, Tumblr and Twitter. There are links to videos of the parents with Sandy Hook Promise doing news interviews and talking about the campaign. It’s striking how brave these parents are in telling their stories of the unimaginable loss of their sons and daughters. Please know that I don’t mean this cynically at all, but this is a smart campaign. It’s deeply personal and the actions requested come from a place of love and a need to make a difference.
We can talk about the power of social media, comb through analytics to find the target audience and look at each voice as an amplifier. I’ve been looking at an online Master’s Program out of American University in Strategic Communication. One of the first things they emphasize is telling compelling stories. We sift through our tweets, posts and emails for more than a great deal on a yoga class. At the end of the day, we still want to hear stories, we want to connect and sometimes, we want change.
Clay Shirky said, “A revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new tools, it happens when society adopts new behaviors.” But we can share new perspectives that encourage those new behaviors with tools like social media. As of this writing, over a quarter of a million people have signed on to the Sandy Hook Promise. The number of followers on Twitter and Facebook is increasing steadily as attention is focused on the approaching anniversary. The campaign is strategic and it is calibrated to have an impact. Ultimately, the bottom line measuring the success of this campaign doesn’t come from the number of website hits or Facebook Likes. The success is already being counted as the nature of our dialogue shifts and will be recognized over years and decades.
After Eli Saslow’s powerful article on Sandy Hook families ran in the Washington Post, the comments were flying. It’s interesting to note that a sort of self-policing started happening. The conversation shifted to a discussion with detractors saying that what’s being proposed isn’t going to make a difference, but what else can? The underlying assumption has become that gun violence is a problem. This represents a shift from the conversation centering on 2nd amendment rights and the argument that any work on gun violence means taking away people’s guns. A small step maybe, but identifying gun violence as a problem is a beginning.
The experts who study trends in social media and mobilization look at how the various platforms such as Tumblr and Facebook are bringing us closer together and the potential that exists for solving real world problems. By some counts, the traditional six degrees of separation has closed to four or five. If we’re conscious of narrowing that gap, we can use this awareness not only to find old high school friends on Facebook or score a job interview through LinkedIn, but with some diligence and intention find ways to have difficult conversations and take actions that lead to lasting change. We can shore up the separation that exists with our perceptions and create the new behaviors Shirky references.
With the Parent Together pledge, we can start from the agreement that we love our children and want them to be safe, that we want our communities to be safe. If you take that pledge, you’re joining a community committed to ending the tragedy of gun violence in this country. Ongoing campaigns efforts will include specific tools and programs to bring people together in a safe place where community and individual actions are implemented around gun safety, mental health awareness and wellness and community connectedness.
When the shooting took place at Santa Monica Community College last summer, I was out-of-town and my frantic daughter called me to tell me that a friend of hers was on campus during lock down, unhurt but very scared. It’s getting to the point where we’re all connected by a story like this. We know someone who had a friend, co-worker or family member who was present during a shooting. We’re talking our kids down from fear and bewilderment over how these things can happen. These tragedies touch all of us and close the separation between us. I don’t need Facebook to tell me that. Instead, I want to pick up the phone and call all the people I’ve argued with to talk about the anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting and see if we can’t find some common ground.