Chaos. Originally the Greek word meant a vast chasm, an empty void. Around 1600, the word took on the meaning we think of today, of utter confusion or disorder.1 This moment in our country feels chaotic at the federal level. There may be motion and actions, but they seem confused and as if they are going nowhere. This apparent dysfunction has caused me and many others frustration and increasing anxiety about the effectiveness of our system of government.
Then came the news of yet another school shooting, this time in Florida. Seventeen killed and fourteen more wounded by a disaffected young man, barely an adult, with a legally-acquired AR-15. Whatever his clinical psychological condition and whatever the source, it is easy to conclude that he was in serious emotional pain and very angry. As has happened too many times before, our political leaders responded by sending thoughts and prayers, saying it was too soon to talk about remedies, and doing nothing.
But something is different this time. Students who survived the ordeal immediately stood up, said it was not too soon, and started demanding that something be done to prevent a repeat of this tragedy. They are articulate and clear, speaking their truth, calling for change. They speak with passion and commitment. And they are acting. They have gone to the Florida legislature to make their case. They planned a school walkout on March 14 and marches in Washington, DC and elsewhere on March 24.
The students are demanding changes to gun control laws and a weakening of the NRA’s influence over our lawmakers. Certainly not everyone agrees with them about what should be done. But what has really struck me is the concluding message these students are delivering over and over — they are not advocating that we respond to violence with violence. They are calling on all of us to speak up for what we believe, let our representatives know what we think, and VOTE. If our representatives do not act on our behalf, vote them out and vote others in. Engage, be an active participant, and work through the American rule of law to make schools safer and the country better.
These young people both shame and inspire me. I think of times I have had strong opinions about pending legislation and did not take the few minutes to email my representatives; I vote in the general elections, but rarely in the primaries. It is tempting to think one voice or one vote cannot change anything. But despair is enervating and is not the answer. Being an informed, vocal and active citizen is. We are not all going to agree with or like the solutions our representatives put in place, but they need to know what we think as they go about their work of developing legislation. And we let them know what we think by giving them our thoughts and ideas, and by voting at every opportunity.
As lawyers and members of the ABA, this reminder resonates. The ABA has had a long-time commitment to the rule of law. The mission of the ABA is grounded in four goals, and Goal IV is to advance the rule of law with the following objectives:
1. Increase public understanding of and respect for the rule of law, the legal process, and the role of the legal profession at home and throughout the world.
2. Hold governments accountable under law.
3. Work for just laws, including human rights, and a fair legal process.
4. Assure meaningful access to justice for all persons.
5. Preserve the independence of the legal profession and the judiciary.
If it feels like our governmental institutions are under attack at worst or immobilized at best, it is incumbent upon us as lawyers to do our part. We are uniquely equipped to pursue the objectives of Goal IV because we are educated and understand the legal process. We can follow the students’ lead to promote respect for the rule of law while holding our government accountable under existing laws, working for just laws and a fair legal process, and maintaining the independence of the legal profession and the judiciary.
As we move into the primaries for the mid-term elections, may we all meet our obligations as responsible lawyers and citizens to make our voices heard. Let us communicate with our representatives and cast our ballots in the voting booth. Let us do what we can to combat the senseless violence we have seen most recently in Parkland, Florida. And let us continue to protect and strengthen our country through the rule of law
- Online Etymology Dictionary, www.etymonline.com/word/chaos..