Moving from Thoughts and Prayers to Action
Like many of you, I was profoundly sickened by the loss of life in the most recent school shooting in Florida. I was in Nepal when I heard the news — traveling across the country to visit non-governmental organizations working to address the widespread poverty and modern slavery that has devastated the country for much of the last century. During my time with NGO leaders, I found myself inspired by the powerful stories of progress they’ve made — through community building, nonviolent resistance, and the creative mobilization of resources.
Turning our attention back to the U.S., I simmered in anger and grief over the events in Florida — and the shameful absence of political will to address a public health epidemic that takes the lives of nearly 1,300 children each year. In my fit of frustration, I told a friend that, “students should refuse to go to school. Period. Not for a planned day of action – but indefinitely. If we can’t ensure their physical safety, they should boycott.”
I’m quite sure I’m not the only person who came to that conclusion.
But as we watched the debates unfold and the news coverage continue, we also watched something unprecedented take place. Students — not just the 135,000 students who have experienced a school shooting, but thousands of their peers in every part of the country, red and blue, rural and urban — stood up, stood together, and stood fearlessly. When their leaders told them nothing could be done, they boldly disagreed. In doing so, these students have started to rewrite the narrative of gun control in America — through community building, nonviolent resistance, and the creative mobilization of resources.
They’re only just beginning this movement. Imagine how disruptive it would be if these same students (and maybe teachers, too) refused to enter schools altogether. What if they took a page from the playbook of ACT UP in the 1990’s — a group of gay men and their allies who engaged in civil disobedience to compel action against AIDS by the government and scientific community? Or civil rights activists who filled bridges and lunch counters in the 1960’s and dared to dream. Or the young people during the Vietnam War who burned draft cards and spoke truth to power. Aggressively addressing gun violence may just be the movement of our generation.
Why do I bring this up now in the context of our work in healthcare? Because at certain points in history, groups of passionate people, wronged by the status quo, are faced with a decision — to keep their heads down, follow the rules, and stay silent, or to come together, mobilize raw power, and achieve change we could never achieve on our own.
As a nation — and as healthcare professionals — we’re at an historic decision point about the current state of our healthcare system. Are the challenges of our dysfunctional systems grave enough — and the existential challenges to health professionals dire enough — to take action — not as individuals, but as a collective? Is the downward slide we’ve all been on steep enough that we’re willing to “act out” a bit to force change, and break with the current norm to register our discontent?
My sense is we’re getting close to an inflection point — where more and more of us will be motivated to act out — and act together.
That will be unprecedented and profoundly powerful.