People working against gun violence will hold a vigil in downtown Ashland Sunday, not for the politics of gun control, but, with quilt panels as their device, to help educate and motivate people, as well as to listen to those affected by gun violence — which they believe is everyone.
The series of such nationwide events, organized by Vision Quilt, mark the upcoming (on Dec. 14) fifth anniversary of the tragic mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School where 26 students and teachers were killed.
The two-hour vigil begins at 2 p.m. Sunday at Sew Creative, 115 East Main St., Ashland, and, says Cathy DeForest of Ashland, founder and executive director of Vision Quilt, will focus not just on mass shootings, which make up only 1.5 percent of gun deaths in the U.S., but rather on the whole range of gun violence.
Every day in this country, she adds, 306 people are shot, with 90 dying. Of these, 31 are murders and 56 are suicides.
Rachel Lee, administrative assistant with Vision Quilt, says the vigil will “facilitate discussions of solutions to prevent gun violence and allow a creative outlet — quilt panels — to showcase that vision.”
The organization’s activities promote healing, honor the dead and promote memorials to keep the problem in people’s minds, says DeForest.
The panels, fashion after the AIDS quilts of the 1980s, can be exhibited at educational visits or be worn. The public is always invited to create more, they say, and bring them to Vision Quilt at Sew Creative or use them in public events.
The local chapter is active in taking the process of sharings, discussions and quilt panels to middle schools, youth incarceration facilities, arts and violence prevention organizations. They have worked in Southern Oregon, Alameda County (Oakland), Chicago, New York and Washington, DC, says Derek Pyle, the organization’s workshop facilitator.
“Lots of youths live in violent neighborhoods,” he says, “and often feel it’s in retaliation to violence to a family member, so it’s systemic … and people are not receiving adequate support from society around the legacy of racism.”
The quilt process works because, says Lee, everyone has only a few degrees of separation from someone who died by gunfire or has a friend of a friend who did. This comes out in the group’s sharings and allows participants to speak their grief or dread of what guns can do.
As an example, one person shared that a friend had a sister who works in a hotel next to the one used by the shooter in the Las Vegas mass killing. That brings it closer, they say, and makes it real.
“It’s a great opportunity for kids to be seen and heard and to tell their stories,” says Lee, adding that it’s not about gun control, but “we promote safety and responsibility.”
One quilt panel shows a heart flowing out of a gun and says, “Heal the gun epidemic; love is the best cure.” Another shows blood-spattered youths and notes, “Being stained with self-hatred forbids the relief to ever receive forgiveness.” Yet another ticks off dozens of notable names — John Lennon, Gandhi, Harvey Milk, Abe Lincoln, the Kennedys — and says, “Imagine what they could have accomplished.”
Vision Quilt typically makes two of each panel, adding one to their collection and giving one to the city hosting them. They work with 30 different partner organizations and have staged dozens of exhibits around the country. On a trip to Washington, Ashland Middle School students took panels to their senators and Congress member, asking what they are going to do about the problem.
“It was a great lesson,” says DeForest, “about being active in a democracy.”
Vision Quilt functions mainly on private donations, which can be made at www.visionquilt.org.
— John Darling is an Ashland freelance writer. Reach him at email@example.com.