By Ginni Spencer
As dusk fell on Wednesday evening, a hundred or so people gathered on Bedford Common to memorialize those lost or injured in the most recent episodes of violent shootings in Gilroy, El Paso, and Dayton. Indeed, many of those arriving had just learned of a stand-off still unfolding between an “active shooter” and Philadelphia policemen which resulted in the wounding of six officers. The air was soft and summery in the early evening twilight, but the mood was sober.
The vigil was organized through the office of State Representative Ken Gordon (21st Middlesex) which had received a request from constituent Leslie Wittman asking, “what can we do?” in the aftermath of the two most recent shooting incidents. Gordon’s office contacted members of the Bedford and Burlington clergy asking for their help in organizing a vigil on the Town Common. Rabbi Susan Abramson of Temple Shalom Emeth acted as host, beginning with the introduction of Ben Silver, cantorial soloist and guitarist, who led those present in singing a familiar sixties protest song, “Everybody Get Together.” The lyrics calling for connection and respect for one another seemed well suited to kick-off a series of speakers whose common themes were awareness, unity, and action. Each sought a response to contain gun violence and to confront racism, hate-speak, and white supremacy wherever it occurs. Their words were less focused on solace than on moving beyond the weary outrage of the moment to definitive civic engagement and action.
After an opening prayer offered by Rev. Trina Portillo of Burlington Presbyterian Church, Rev. John Castricum of the First Congregational Church in Bedford gave opening remarks which included reading portions of an article written by Catholic intellectual Garry Wills after the Sandy Hook school shooting. Titled “Our Moloch,” Wills wrote that the horror of that crime cannot be blamed on a single person, but is more correctly attributable to “…the sacrifice we as a culture have made, and continue to make to our demonic god [guns]. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied to him.” Describing guns as “object[s] of reverence,” Wills argues that “devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails.”
Rev. John Gibbons, pastor of First Parish Church, spoke next, pointing out the long history of violence and enslavement that is part of our own local, as well as national, history which must be acknowledged and understood. Quoting Malcolm X, Gibbons concluded his remarks with a stern warning: “Chickens come home to roost.”
Matt Crescenzo, speaking on behalf of Representative Seth Moulton of the Sixth Congressional District, noted that Moulton has joined with more than 45 of his colleagues in calling on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Chairman of the Senate Mitch McConnell to convene an emergency session of Congress to address gun control proposals currently introduced. Two bills, H.R. 8 requiring universal background checks and H.R. 1112 extending the amount of time the federal government has to respond to a request for a background check, have passed in the House but are not before the Senate. Moulton expressed outrage at what he called “the lack of moral courage” displayed by members of Congress for failing to take a vote on bills that would protect Americans from gun violence.
Margot Fleischman, Bedford Selectman, spoke of “the grief but not surprise” she, and she surmised others as well, were feeling in the wake of recent incidents. She recalled a similar gathering after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida in 2016 and commented that a list of all the tragedies in recent years including Newtown, Aurora, Las Vegas, Parkland, Pittsburgh and others “takes my breath away.” “Our young people are clamoring for adults to get it together and end gun violence in our country. We must listen to them.”
Representative Gordon was the final speaker, noting that if vigils rather than action become the focus, “we are missing the big picture. Why is this happening now?” He expressed his concern that “…our government has been co-opted by an organization that is so committed to consolidating power for power’s sake that it will sell our safety in its soul-less quest for power.” Gordon added, “I am calling on Republicans because I know especially here in Massachusetts there are people who support the Republican party but recognize that the current conditions are untenable and want to return to our values.” Gordon asked those present and those watching on local TV to join him in setting up a list of people who are interested in contacting federal and state legislators to demand action. (A clipboard for gathering contact information was circulated through the crowd for this purpose, and Gordon said constituents might also contact him through his email Ken.Gordon@mahouse.gov.) “Let’s set a broad agenda. Let’s not protest just a single issue. Let’s protest an anti-democratic philosophy that has settled into Washington in the last decades. Protest is not enough. Let’s fill busloads and find friends and allies in swing states and vulnerable Congressional districts. Let’s knock on doors leading up to the 2020 election.”
Officer Scott Jones of the Bedford Police Department was called on to light a candle of concern for the Philadelphia policemen involved in a violent stand-off on the streets of that city last evening that was still unfolding.
Rev. Sharon Dickinson, Bedford, and Rev. Chris Wendell of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church offered a closing reading and prayer. Guitarist Ben Silver led the crowd in a rendition of “This Land Is Your Land” to end the evening’s agenda.