Strong leaders with unwavering voices are required for major changes in our society

April 17, 2023 5:45 am

The U.S. Capitol on Dec. 18, 2019 in Washington, D.C. (Samuel Corum/Getty Images).

In times of a major crisis, discord, division or a crossroads situation where a country or society finds itself at the precipice of what will define its future, a committed leader with a commanding voice emerges.

Who will be that leader — that strong, dedicated and unifying voice to lead us to a solution to end senseless mass gun violence?

History is our greatest teacher.

When a society faces crisis situations that can either define its future direction or could destroy it, a leader emerges.

At critical crossroads in American history, Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War or Franklin Delano Roosevelt during the Great Depression come to mind.

But it need not only be a president or powerful person who carves the right path and direction at critical inflection points of a society in crisis.

It could be a caring and committed citizen determined to bring about needed and meaningful change to make things better.

Below are a few examples of familiar leaders that mobilized a concerned public and brought about meaningful change.

At the turn of the 20th Century, it was Susan B. Anthony, Katie Stanton, Ida B. Wells, Mary Church Terrell and others who worked tirelessly in the Suffragist Movement to secure voting rights for American women.

Later in the 1970s, it was Gloria Steinem and Dorothy Pitman Hughes who took up the cause of getting equality for women in the workplace.

It was Sojourner Truth, and a network of abolitionists — white and Black — who risked their lives to free thousands of slaves through the Underground Railroad.

It was Martin Luther King Jr. and a host of freedom fighters who picked up the baton to lead and run yet another leg in the relay race to secure equal rights and protections for Blacks and poor whites.

There have been many other gains made to improve different conditions and causes in American society by opposing political organizations, views, efforts, and movements. But good outcomes emerged. At the end of the day, many of those efforts improved the quality of life we enjoy today.

Public mobilization has been a necessary component of those achievements.

Why would stopping senseless mass gun violence be any different?

America has been known as a leader, trailblazer and conqueror in so many areas. But she is a laggard when it comes to controlling gun violence. Why can’t we stop the wanton killing and carnage of unsuspecting citizens who are simply going about the activities in their daily lives?

The recent shooting in a Louisville, Kentucky, bank shows once again that no place is safe from wanton mass gun violence. Instead of the emergence of a sustained call for change and course corrections, the loudest voice seems to be one of resignation. There are many things that can be done.

Imagine where we would be as a society if resignation and acceptance were the dominant voice when it came to ending unhealthy, oppressive and abusive conditions.

Would we have ever achieved safe spaces and places for women, children, the poor, the disabled and many other vulnerable groups among us? While there is still work to be done, imagine where we would be if we assumed an attitude of acceptance of wretched conditions.

Tackling the causes of mass gun violence — uncontrolled access to AR-15s and other assault weapons, the ongoing infusion and proliferation of guns and mental illness — will require the same steadfast commitment and vigilance.

Where is the leader or leaders? Where are the coalitions of caring citizens and organizations to bring about the needed policies and regulations to stop mass gun violence?

Most major changes or movements begin small with one or a few people. There are often bursts of activities or protests. We have seen it following many of the horrendous school shootings. Some safety measures have been put in place as a result.

But mass shootings are occurring more frequently in all sorts of places. What will it take to stop this deadly acceleration?

Will it take mass boycotts of public places where merchants feel an economic loss?

The COVID-19 pandemic taught us the economic and social costs of the fear of gathering in public places. Must we get to the place where we alter our normal routines and activities for fear of being gunned down?

Such scenes are not as farfetched as one might think if we continue to witness mass gun violence on almost a weekly basis. Can you name a venue where there hasn’t been a mass shooting?

It seems clear that elected officials at the state level or in Congress seem unable or unwilling to take the necessary steps that have been implemented in other countries to abate or stop gun violence.

Perhaps we should be surprised. But we certainly should not continue to count on a change to come without the public demanding it.

In the meantime, there is a lot that local governmental entities and community organizations can do.

Recently, the public and a few legislators came together at the state house in Tennessee to protest gun violence. Could it be the start of something big?

Stopping gun violence in America is possible. Will strong committed leaders and caring citizens please stand up and apply pressure until a real change comes at the national level?

Such sustained pressure has worked before.

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Janice Ellis
Janice Ellis

Janice Ellis has lived and worked in Missouri for more than three decades, analyzing educational, political, social and economic issues across race, ethnicity, age and socio-economic status. Her commentary has appeared in The Kansas City Star, community newspapers, on radio and now online. She is the author of two award-winning books: From Liberty to Magnolia: In Search of the American Dream (2018) and Shaping Public Opinion: How Real Advocacy Journalism™ Should be Practiced (2021). Ellis holds a Ph.D. in communication arts, and two Master of Arts degrees, one in communications arts and a second in political science, all from the University of Wisconsin.