Editor’s Note: The views expressed in this post are those of the authors and do not represent the views of Babble.
Since early Tuesday morning, on the southeast lawn of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., passersby have all come upon a sobering scene: 7,000 pairs of empty children’s shoes, all placed just a foot or two apart in the grass. Together, they offer a visual representation of just how many innocent children have senselessly died at the hands of gun violence since the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012. And the image is heartbreaking.
The scene was coordinated by volunteers from an activist group known as Avaaz, which first caught the world’s attention when they placed three billboards in front of Senator Marco Rubio’s office in Florida last month. “SLAUGHTERED IN SCHOOL,” read one, “AND STILL NO GUN CONTROL?” read the second. And finally, the third asked point-blank: “HOW COME, MARCO RUBIO?”
Avaaz, which was first founded in 2007 and is defined on its website as “a global web movement to bring people-empowered politics to decision-makers everywhere”, has been championing for gun control laws to be put in place to keep our schools safe and our kids free to learn without threats of gun violence in the classroom.
“We are bringing Congress face to face with the heartbreak of gun violence,” said Oscar Soria, a senior campaigner with Avaaz, when speaking with ABC News Tuesday. “All of these shoes cover more than 10,000 square feet.”
Just think about that for a moment: 7,000 pairs of shoes. That’s 7,000 lives lost, all in less than six years.
This past Friday, my son’s school bus was 30 minutes late dropping him off at home. A vague text alert went out to parents stating that buses were delayed but gave no reason why. Rumors immediately began flooding my Facebook newsfeed and for a few minutes there, I was holding my breath in terror that someone had a gun.
As it turned out, a 3rd-grader with a cell phone prank called 911 and made vague statements about a gun threat. While I was grateful that it was just a scare, and not an actual shooting, even that feeling of relief gave me pause. I mean, this was no old-school, pull-the-fire-alarm and run prank. This was a child as young as 9 knowing that he could stir up a whole lot of reaction by crying “wolf” about guns in school.
When my son finally came home, I was choking back tears and overcome with worry. What if next time it isn’t a damn prank?! I kept asking myself, over and over on loop.
My son, who is only 8, already has to participate in lockdown drills. But this is the world we live in now, and as a mother I find it absolutely horrifying. So do the volunteers at Avaaz, whose mission in putting together the visually intense image is to send a powerful message that calls for change.
If you ask me, that message was heard loud and clear today by all who walked by the southeast lawn.
According to ABC News, most of the shoes were collected over a two week period, though some were actually donated by families that lost their own children to gun violence.
“About five families came that were victims of gun violence,” Soria told the outlet. “It was an emotional moment today.”
Look closely at the shoes in the images, and surely you will see pairs that look exactly like the shoes your own child wears each day when they head off to school. I know I did; and the haunting thought that each one represents a life lost to gun violence suddenly puts all of this into razor-sharp focus.
Tomorrow, on March 14, thousands of school children across our nation are expected to walk out of their classrooms in protest, as part of National Walkout Day which was organized in response to the Parkland shooting last month. And when they do, we won’t have to wonder why. They’ll be doing it to make sure that not one more pair of empty shoes will ever end up in a chilling display like this one.