Tipping Point: The Weathervane in the Classroom

Tipping Point: The Weathervane in the Classroom

“The last couple of years have been a hot mess.”

True words spoken by a 16-year-old student a short time ago. While some folks may not relate to this trendy term of “hot mess,” the gravity of the sentiment resonates with almost all of us.

The rough emotional environment

I am a high school teacher. Mentoring, counseling, coaching, guiding, and cheering on kiddos in the classroom have been skills I have cultivated professionally and personally for my entire career.

But only recently have I needed to truly combine my superpowers as a strong pillar of support for the teenagers around me. I have struggled this year alongside students as our society continues to navigate the upheaval of all that we have known to be true.

Because I do not teach in an environment naive to cultural influences, and because teenagers do not learn in a setting devoid of societal pressures, I often take on the role of an emotional weathervane for them. They look to me for signs of calm and potential disruptions, much like the rooftop gauge indicating the course of the wind.

Tipping towards involvement

I think of my tipping point in the context of a weathervane in a storm. Trying to track the shooting events in our country has manipulated any sense of direction, resulting in a constant state of spinning. Emotional, financial and spiritual reconciliation by way of the weathervane has been exhausting.

For me, questions of “how much?” and “how to?” related to gun violence prevention have fluctuated until recently. “How much” can I give to these efforts? What level of involvement is viable and meaningful? “How to” support gun violence prevention? What tangible activities result in consequential change?

Answers differ dramatically by individual and by circumstance, but my personal investment has lately become strong and sustainable. I will go on serving students and families by navigating the winds and facilitating difficult conversations as they arise.

I will also trust my own tracking system. While the weathervane continues to reflect impending storms, I am now learning to watch and listen for signs of change.

Debbie Loomis is the mother of two adult children. She is a former community organizer and now teaches middle and high school students in San Diego County.

photo credit: liz west

Tipping Point: Las Vegas Music Festival

Tipping Point: Las Vegas Music Festival

When I look back, ever since I was a teenager, the effort to prevent gun violence has touched me.

Meeting Jim Brady

I was a Maryland high school student interested in journalism, Washington politics and the press. I remember when the 1981 assassination attempt on President Reagan left his White House Press Secretary Jim Brady paralyzed from a gunshot wound.

Mr. Brady made it his life’s work to campaign for stronger gun violence prevention laws like background checks. I was lucky enough to meet him at a journalism conference and hear his passionate dedication to the effort. It planted a seed with me that we can make a difference and save lives.

One music festival away from a massacre

My tipping point came much later. As an avid music festival fan, I attend at least three music festivals a year. I love big crowds and the energy of the music!

I was in Las Vegas at the Life is Beautiful Festival in 2017. The following weekend – seven short days later –the mass shooting at the Route 91 Harvest Festival just down the strip resulted in 58 fatalities and 500 wounded. The horrific images of the crowd of music lovers being shot and killed rocked me to my core.

As details emerged, I learned that the gunman had first considered striking the festival I attended. That meant that I could have been one of the innocent people caught up in that massacre.

“It could have been me,” I told myself – and have continued telling myself ever since. In 2017, I had a really hard time processing the tragedy of that mass shooting, and I am still sad, shocked and scared that it came so close to me.

Time to do something

I couldn’t just be upset and sit idle anymore, so I’ve looked for a way to participate. I joined SD4GVP and have learned a lot about the issues, the facts, the initiatives and ways to get involved.

At my first event, I attended a gun buyback event and handed out information on safe gun storage to people who were selling their firearms. I was surprised at how open people can be to talking about guns and safety in our communities.

This year, I marched in the San Diego Pride parade and staffed the SD4GVP booth at the Pride Festival. The day restored my faith that we can make progress one conversation at a time by listening, learning, sharing and advocating.

Change can be a frustratingly slow process, but I feel better knowing I can be part of making a difference.

Michelle Makowski is a volunteer with SD4GVP. She works on community events and internship coordination.

Tipping Point: Sandy Hook

Tipping Point: Sandy Hook

It was December 14, 2012. I had just gotten off work and was settling into my car to go home. I started the engine. The radio, set to NPR, came on.

I’ll never forget that moment. Robert Siegel was reporting on the massacre of 20 students and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. The shock I felt in that instant, and subsequent stupor, were comparable only to what I felt on 9/11/2001.

From apathy to activism

I call this my tipping point moment – the moment I was kicked, in the butt, out of apathy and into social action.

I had been blissfully apathetic about the issue of gun violence before. No longer. I quickly joined the local (San Diego) chapter of the Brady campaign, as did several others (still my friends to this day). Soon I was serving on the chapter board.

Fast forward a few years. Local chapters of Moms Demand Action had sprung up in the San Diego region. Some of their members started joining us at our meetings too. We were doing a lot of the same work on the ground, often duplicating efforts. Until one day, when several of us had the idea to form a gun violence prevention coalition, bringing together members of other organizations and independent citizens united in one purpose: END GUN VIOLENCE.

A coalition is born

Thus, San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention (SD4GVP) was born. We celebrated our launch on February 27, 2018, and incorporated as a 501(c)(4) nonprofit organization later that year. I became president and part of an executive leadership team of eight, managing a group with some 50 or so active volunteers, and thousands on our email list.

In the few years we’ve been a formal coalition, we’ve made a lot of progress.

• SD4GVP has become the go-to resource for the media whenever legislation is pending or a mass shooting has occurred (which is far too often).

• We’ve gotten out the vote in local elections for candidates who support sensible gun violence prevention policy, and worked very closely with local, state, and federal officials – mayors, city council members, county supervisors, congresspeople – to achieve meaningful policy change.

• We’ve helped local municipalities pass anti-ghost gun ordinances, and supported our City Attorney in championing gun violence restraining orders (a.k.a. red flag laws) that have become a model for the state and the nation.

• We’ve conducted extensive community outreach at public events, in neighborhoods where violence is prevalent and in schools.

• We’ve invested heavily in supporting intervention strategies to remove the conditions that lead to violence before it occurs.

I’ve found my niche. You can, too.

My own role, which is very gratifying, is to be a public relations spokesperson for the group. I am routinely interviewed by the local media about our stance on gun violence prevention and the unrelenting trend of shooting deaths in this country.

I am so proud to belong to this group of highly talented, competent, professional and committed individuals who tirelessly press on — in spite of a federal legislature that refuses to advance meaningful gun reform.

Every. Single. Day. This coalition is making a difference.

Ron Marcus is president of SD4GVP.

photo credit: Valley Independent Sentinel, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 (unchanged)

Tipping Point: When the Someone Who Will Do Something Is You

Tipping Point: When the Someone Who Will Do Something Is You

I might describe my decision to get involved in gun violence prevention as a tipping “journey” rather than a single point. I’ve watched gun violence wreak havoc and devastation in the world around me for my entire life.

Growing up with active shooter drills

I have vivid memories of finding out about mass shootings many times throughout my adolescence.

I remember doing active shooter drills in middle school, where a teacher would go around and bang on classroom doors, yelling and begging to be let inside, to train us not to open the door for anyone while in lockdown. There were once credible shooting threats at my high school, and a few years later, at my university too.

I’ve had friends whose houses have been shot into, and I’ve witnessed incidents of gun violence myself.

So, why did I decide to get involved in gun violence prevention now? What changed?

“Someone will do something.” So I did.

I’ve learned recently that when people see bad things happen, most of them think, “someone will do something.”

I think many of us assume that someone else is better equipped to handle a crisis than we are, and think that that someone will be the one to step up and handle things. The problem is, while you stand by and think, “someone will do something,” everyone else does, too. That means that, a lot of the time, you have to step up and be that someone.

So I did.

Luck + network + resources = Pieces falling together

After the tragedies in Buffalo, NY (May 14), and Uvalde, TX (May 24), I saw that March For Our Lives was going to hold marches around the country to call for federal action against gun violence. They were looking for locals to organize each march and I immediately signed up.

I spent the next week or so asking myself why I thought that was a good idea. I’d never organized anything like a march, and I had no idea what I was doing.

The first thing I did was reach out to San Diegans for Gun Violence Prevention, to see if they might want to be involved. Lucky for me, they did. At that point, I didn’t have a plan for who else I might contact or what I would do next. It was really thanks to SD4GVP that I got access to the network and resources I needed to put together a big march.

I then reached out to staff at Waterfront Park (the location for the march), who put me in touch with others I’d need help from, including local law enforcement. In some ways, the help I got from others made me feel like all I did to organize was watch the pieces fall together.

Zero to march in four weeks

Even as everything came together, I was worried no one would actually show up for the march on June 11. I had been focused on figuring out the logistics and didn’t do much promotion. When city staff first asked me how many people I expected to attend, I said something like, “hopefully at least a hundred.”

Imagine my shock when I saw that over 1,500 people had RSVP’d online. Watching those people actually show up was surreal, and made me excited and beyond proud to see that so many people believed in what we were doing.

Although the march was more successful than I’d ever imagined, the work is far from over. I hope if you’re reading this, you’ve felt compelled to be the someone to step up and do something too. We can change things, but none of us can do it alone. Write and call your representatives. Vote. And don’t think that change only happens at the highest levels – you can have an impact by taking action in local elections and policy too.

The important thing is that we all take action together as we fight for a better future.

Kallie Funk is a 23-year-old, pre-med, post-baccalaureate student at University of California San Diego.

photo credit: Kallie Funk

Tipping Point: Innocent Children Killed

Tipping Point: Innocent Children Killed

I vividly remember where I was and what I was doing on the fateful day I reached my tipping point. But more importantly, I remember what I felt when I read that another mass shooting had taken place, just weeks, if not days, after the shooting at a grocery store in Buffalo, New York. This time it happened at an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas and this time, as a mother of two young kids, it hit too close to home.

Nineteen children and two teachers were killed. Rage. Just complete and absolute rage followed by heartbreak for the victims’ families. Then frustrated with the fact that this could have been prevented if only common sense gun laws were passed.

Mass shootings are sadly a problem in this country and this country only. It’s simply too easy to purchase firearms and laws must be passed to make it harder to buy them.

Nineteen innocent children, looking forward to the start of summer vacation, were killed in their school. In their classroom — the last place a child should feel unsafe. No parent, absolutely no parent, should fear dropping off their kids at school because it may be the last time they see them alive.

It is incomprehensible that even when innocent children are killed, there is still so much debate concerning gun control. Schools don’t need armed teachers, armed guards or bulletproof doors and windows. If that were the case, so would movie theaters, grocery stores, churches and hospitals since those are all places where mass shootings have also taken place.

It’s a gun problem and if there is anything I can do, no matter how small, to help end gun violence, I will.

Sara Díaz de Sandi is a former journalist and currently full-time mom to two young kids.

Photo credit: Don Holloway


Tipping Point: Gun Violence Affects Everyone

Tipping Point: Gun Violence Affects Everyone

Most of the time, I feel safe. Some days, it feels like the entire world is dangerous. I feel sad, scared and hopeless. Other days – or weeks or months – time flies by without a hitch, and I feel safe again. 

Until a mass shooting occurs.

Then I remember that even a democratic country in a time of peace can be an unsafe place.

Seeing an unsafe world outside . . .

These days, I am generally a very even-keel person. I’ve struggled with anxiety, but it is mostly under control now. 

2012 was a particularly anxious year for me – and then came the Sandy Hook shootings in December, a harrowing end to an already difficult year. I remember watching the news coverage on TV, seeing the innocent faces of people taken unfairly and in the cruelest way, and just sobbing. I was nannying at the time, to fund my life in Vancouver as I did my master’s degree. I remember telling myself, “Justine, you’ve got two little kids sitting here who need you very much, and you need to turn the news off and put on a happy face for them.” 

But it felt like the world had shattered into something deeply unsafe. If that could happen there…it could happen anywhere. 2013 rolled around, and the Boston Marathon bombings and ensuing shootout shook the country in April. 

. . . and feeling it inside

The anxiety kept building, mostly feeling like a looming shadow, or a weird feeling I just couldn’t shake. 

I went about my daily routine (classes, nannying) feeling mostly fine but generally unsafe. This all culminated with a couple of debilitating panic attacks. With enough support, I got through that incredibly difficult time in my life and haven’t had a panic attack since. However, I still cannot shake the unsafe feeling that comes and goes like the seasons. Sometimes I go a few weeks or months without thinking about it, but every once in a while, life hands me a brutal reminder, and I feel fragile.

Lives can be taken – in a split second – in a grocery store, movie theater, place of worship, concert, bar, hospital or school. That is an absolutely terrifying thought. So terrifying that I can’t imagine I’m the only person who has ever looked around in a restaurant or grocery store to see where I could hide in the event that someone came in with a gun. 

Gun violence is never far away

But really, none of this is about me. I don’t say any of this to take away from the unfathomable pain experienced by people whose lives have been directly affected by gun violence. My sorrow, anger, and fear are nothing compared to what those people experience daily. 

But I’m still here, feeling this in my own way, and I know I’m not alone. Many of us are traumatized by what we see happening in this country. 

My tipping point, the cusp at which I decided to get directly involved, was the Robb Elementary shooting in Uvalde, TX. I traveled to Washington, DC for the March for Our Lives 2018 after the Parkland shooting and was always very outspoken about my position on gun control. I convinced myself that it was enough. The spree of mass shootings in Spring 2022, including the deadliest school shooting in almost a decade, became irrefutable evidence that my actions were not enough. I vowed to not let my anger and sadness subside and turn into complacency, and to instead turn these feelings into motivation and action.  

You don’t have to experience it directly to feel unsafe. Gun violence affects all of us.

Justine Gersberg is a behavioral therapist working with children on the autism spectrum. Originally from San Diego, she ventured to Canada for a few years before returning.

photo credit: Moms Demand Action against gun violence” by Fibonacci Blue is licensed under CC BY 2.0.