The Columbine Tragedy: Feminist Voices Needed

by Melanie Stafford, Colorado NOW Co-Coordinator

The night of the Columbine shooting, ironically, Colorado NOW was cosponsoring a community-wide "Take Back the Night" rally and march at the state capitol against violence against women. It was a night I'll never forget, because instead of an urgent, exuberant march, it became a solemn, sad vigil for the students, staff, and families of Columbine High School. Our speakers, Ken Salazar, Dottie Lamm, Penfield Tate, Gloria Leyba, Bill Kaufman, Jill McFadden of CCASA and Holly Bean of RAAP, such outspoken fighters for justice, each could say barely two words in their shock and their grief.

What could one say in the face of one of the most horrific events that had ever happened in our community? But as we expect of our articulate leaders, they were able to find words of wisdom. The music of the Denver Women's Chorus was especially moving that night, and the crowd of a few hundred seemed comforted by our solidarity in sorrow.

I know that many of our NOW members were devastated by how close to home this tragedy was. We have members who grew up in the Jefferson County school district, who teach and work there, whose children go to school there, whose friends, relatives, and families were deeply affected. My own nieces' elementary school, a feeder school for Columbine, was locked down, and my brother and sister found themselves explaining to seven- and five-year-olds what happened at the school where older brothers and sisters of their classmates were injured and killed.

Our hearts are with each and every person who has the task of rebuilding your trust in such a world. If you are like me, you spent days thinking about how your activism should change to make more of a difference, what you could be doing more effectively with your heart, your soul, your hands, your mind to prevent this from ever happening again.

Colorado NOW members were among the thousands of people who protested the NRA conference the following weekend, who lobbied their representatives to defeat the concealed weapons bill fast-tracking through the legislature, who wrote letters and made calls about Howard Stern's reprehensible comments the day of the shooting, who made the pilgrimage to the memorial in Clement Park and offered their sympathy to the families who lost a loved one. It felt like a drop in the bucket compared to what needs to be done.

We have heard many thoughtful opinions about the causes of the Columbine tragedy. No one has a monopoly on the answers, and probably no single source of this culture of violence in which we live is completely to blame, whether it be a climate of tolerance for hatred of those different from oneself, astonishingly easy access to assault weapons and bomb recipes, a sickeningly violent entertainment industry, or powerfully violent role models including our own government. (If our president feels entitled to bomb any country he wants any time things don't go our way, how should our children learn to solve their problems other than with violence?)

I know that for me, this tragedy has only raised more questions, which touch upon each and every one of NOW's issues and call us to action.

Where is the dialogue about the racism inherent in the shootings? Where is the dialogue about the homophobia involved in the conflict between Harris and Klebold and "the jocks?" Where is the concern about the fact that the vast majority of school shootings have been committed by boys, not girls; that boys experience and act out their anger in different ways than girls, and that they tend to target girls and people of color?

How can the media keep portraying such incidents in gender-neutral ways, as "kids killing kids," when the incidents reflect very specific kinds of hatred evident in our society? Why are people continually surprised that white privileged boys, who learn a sense of entitlement from the time they are infants and absorb a model of masculinity that is intertwined with power over others and problem-solving with violence, escalate so easily into treating others as sub-human and therefore expendable?

We know that as feminists we have been naming this culture of violence, and these specific forms of hatred, for many years. We must continue to take responsibility to shape the dialogue that comes out of the Columbine tragedy with each of our diverse perspectives as NOW members. What we do from this day forward will make a crucial difference in whether we can create a world in which that terrible day at Columbine is never repeated.

Return to Summer 1999 National NOW Times
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