Bill Maher is wrong. It’s as simple as that.
In a Facebook post hours after the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the often provocative talk show host wrote, “Sorry but prayers and giving your kids hugs fix nothing: only having the balls to stand up to our insane selfish gun culture will.”
And Maher wasn’t alone. In the hours that followed the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary I saw that sentiment echoed across the web. “Stop being sentimental and starting fighting,” people seemed to be saying.
I’m a parent of young children, one of which is almost in elementary school himself. My first response when I heard about the shooting was to hold my family close and tight. In that moment I never wanted to let go.
Not long after that I tweeted, “Hold your children in your arms tonight, and hold the families who lost children in your hearts.”
Hold your children in your arms tonight, and hold the families who lost children in your hearts.
— Josh Stearns (@jcstearns) December 14, 2012
As a parent and an activist it is impossible for me to separate my identity as a father and my identity as an organizer. I reject the notion that hugs – and the love they symbolize – don’t change anything. To suggest, as Maher did, that “giving your kids hugs” is meaningless in the face of tragedy, or that it is somehow separate from and less important than political action, belies a deep misunderstanding about how social, cultural and political change is actually made.
Myles Horton, the civil rights organizer and educator, wrote in his autobiography “The Long Haul” that “Only people with hope will struggle.”
Hope will not manifest from hate, from alienating those who are with you and writing off those who are against you. Hope doesn’t come from “having the balls to stand up,” — indeed it’s often quite the opposite. We take action because we believe we can make change, and we are inspired to make change because we love. We love our country, our communities, and our children so strongly that we are willing to fight for them.
I understand Maher’s emphasis on making concrete cultural and political change. We have to begin changing the conversation about guns in America and that has to happen in our homes, in our media, in our towns and in our government. Real, expansive and thorough gun control is necessary but not sufficient. We also have to work to short-circuit the cycle of violence facing so many kids today. If we are going to build more caring communities, that will take love.
Remember, your heart is a muscle the size of your fist. So hug your kids tonight. Hug them every night. Hug them with fists clenched and hearts beating. And then use that same passion to fight for a future for all our children when what happened at Newtown is unimaginable.
On December 16, President Obama spoke at the memorial service in Newtown, CT, and his remarks spoke to the need for love and action.
“We know our time on this Earth is fleeting,” he said. “We’ll make mistakes, we’ll experience hardships and even when we’re trying to do the right thing, we know that much of our time will be spent groping through the darkness, so often unable to discern God’s heavenly plans. There’s only one thing we can be sure of, and that is the love that we have for our children, for our families, for each other. The warmth of a small child’s embrace, that is true.”
The President made clear in his remarks that he was prepared to take action with “all the power” afforded by his office. Then, after reading the first names of every child who was killed, Obama said “For those of us who remain, let us find the strength to carry on and make our country worthy of their memory.”