One year after the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas, officials are still ducking and weaving; still doing little to curb easy access to guns throughout the state.
The Texas Two-Step, a once-scandalous waltz performed throughout the Lone Star state, was recognized as a fancy Bohemian dance called a redowa, a Czech word meaning to steer or whirl around. Apparently, steering and whirling around was what police officers in Uvalde were doing for 77 minutes on the grounds of Robb Elementary School on May 24, 2022.
Whatever whirling around police may have been doing outside, when the siege inside was over two teachers and 19 children lay dead on their classroom floor. No Texas Two-Step for them. Ever.
If you’re sensing anger—think of fictional Howard Beale in Network shouting, “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore”—I hope you also can sense my eyes welling up with tears. Tears for the dead children, teachers, and their families in Uvalde—no Memorial Day barbecues for them—and tears, too, for their 2023 counterparts in Allen and Cleveland, suburbs of Dallas and Houston, and in every other city and town in the U.S. where explosive AR-15 firepower keeps breaking the psychic sound barrier—and the hearts—of people from Louisville, Kentucky, to Nashville, Tennessee; Dadeville, Alabama to Farmington, New Mexico. (Listing all the communities where mass shootings have happened so far in 2023 would have left no room to write anything else. Maybe that’s the point.)
To bring an end to the NRA’s ballets of death in schools, malls, banks, houses of worship, supermarkets, movie theaters, night clubs, music festivals, and dance halls (have I missed anywhere?), we’ll need to design a dance for life, snaking our way through the streets of every village, town, city, and state, and in Washington, D.C. We’ll need a sustained citizens’ flash mob uprising in every city hall lobby and every state capitol rotunda.
In their call for stricter gun control laws, Tennessee state representatives Justin Pearson and Justin Jones, and Rep. Gloria Johnson, have been at the forefront of a sustained citizens’ campaign that did show up in the state capitol in Nashville. And, with a Tennessean peace force of thousands behind them, Gov. Bill Lee finally pledged to call the legislature back into session in July to pass new gun safety laws. As of this writing, he’s failed to keep that promise.
What would it look like to reimagine the Texas Two-Step “steering and whirling around” in a nonviolent national dance? What role could men play in steering society to safety? Too many guys—wrongly stereotyped as having two left feet—nevertheless too often stand flatfooted on the sidelines while women are at the forefront of actions aimed at preventing gun violence. While men may not be known for dancing, we do know how to march.
So, men—as men—this is a pivotal moment. We need to follow women’s lead onto the dance floor of change. We need to use our identity as men to advance life-saving gun control measures. Father’s Day is just around the corner. It’s an apt moment to leverage our role—if not as a dad, then as a coach, mentor, uncle, or grandfather—to lead our sons and nephews on a march for peace.
With mass shootings a weekly occurrence, we cannot overlook who the murderers are—almost exclusively white men. Right-wing guns-über-alles proponents always focus on the mental health of the (primarily white, male) shooter. They never want to talk about either his gender or the direct link between the social policies they embrace and the loneliness and alienation many disaffected men experience.
Until or unless we acknowledge their plight and begin to socialize boys based on a model of manhood that cultivates compassion, empathy, and cooperation over competitiveness, enmity, and condemnation, we will miss a golden opportunity to choreograph a new direction for society. Maybe there will never be a swing dance called the Texas Peace Step, but imagining it is the least we can do to honor the memories of those murdered in Uvalde, and all the other victims and survivors of American gun violence.
Rob Okun is editor-publisher of Voice Male.