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Kellen Squire: “The first thought I had when I saw the picture of a two year old who was orphaned by the Fourth of July shooting in Highland Park, Illinois”

"How many more babies have to be orphaned, how many more children have to die, how many more families have to grieve, before things change?"

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by Kellen Squire, who is running for the Democratic nomination for Virginia House of Delegates in HD55.

It’s funny what you remember from when your kids are young.

There was a day – I remember this as if it had just happened, even though it was twelve years ago – that I picked my daughter up from the babysitter. I’d had a really rough shift working in Pediatric Acute Care at UVa, and I was in a bad mood.

As I ruminated darkly on what I’d been through, something nagged at the edge of my consciousness. I ignored it initially, but it persisted and got more and more prevalent. Finally, it made me snap out of my dour mood, and I looked around…

… to realize what I’d been hearing was my daughter loudly and happily humming a nonsensical song to herself.

She was so lost in her own world, happily nodding her head along to the tune she’d created, I actually pulled the car over and sat and watched and she obliviously kept humming to herself.

Finally, I had to interject. “Brooklyn!” She finally realized I was looking at her, but continued her humming unabated.

“Hi!” she said, continuing to exist in her own little world. I watched her for a few more heartbeats, astounded, because I was staring at pure and unbridled joy. An unrequited love for life, happiness, and innocence, completely shielded from the weight of the world.

With tears in my eyes, I looked at her. “Baby, I love your song,” I told her, “what are you thinking about that has you so happy?” She looked at me brightly, and as she did, I leaned in toward her, to be able to hear and experience her answer in its full glory. To use the wisdom found in its simple innocence as salve for my soul.

Without even a moment’s hesitation, she exclaimed:

“Candy!”

I began to laugh uproariously, and Brooklyn laughed along; she didn’t know why I was laughing but she wasn’t going to miss a chance to join in.

I tell that story now, because it was the first thing I thought of when I saw the picture of a two year old who was orphaned by the Fourth of July shooting in Highland Park, Illinois. In the picture in the news, the toddler – head resting on a stranger’s shoulder – looks almost the exact same age as Brooklyn was when that story took place.

It made me think of what would have happened to my kids had something happened to me at their age. What they would have missed. What I would have missed. And it made me rage at the fact that this is a choice: this shooting didn’t have to happen.

But it did. Because of a refusal to act on corridors of power. A refusal to name and attack the sickness that has infected so many, particularly young men like the shooter, who was abetted by laws so impotent as to be non-existent, by politicians who refuse to act on anything that doesn’t affect them personally, and who then make sure they are insulated from what the rest of us have to go through.

I’d ask how many more babies have to be orphaned, how many more children have to die, how many more families have to grieve, before things change… but the stark and brutal answer with the current leadership here in the Commonwealth of Virginia – and across the country – is that they will ignore any and all massacres that occur, confident that violence will never affect them or anyone they love personally.

I take no joy or pleasure in noting that. But it’s *true*. If they can ignore a shooting in Highland Park, Illinois – the home of “Ferris Bueller”, “Risky Business”, and “Sixteen Candles” – they’ll do it anywhere. The same people who, a week ago, were cheering that six extremists in an unelected legislature voted to give the government the power to force its will on the bodies of American women are now shrugging helplessly in the face of another massacre, declaring they are unable to do anything to stop it. That a few more dead children, a few more destroyed families, and flooded emergency departments from mass casualty events are just “the price we pay for a free society”.

As it becomes more and more clear that, in Virginia, we are on our own to protect our people, it becomes more and more incumbent on us to do the hard work to keep our people safe. To be fair, that’s the way it always should have been; it’s why we find ourselves now paying dearly for focusing primarily on federal elections, when the folks screaming that state and local elections mattered just as much (if not more!) were ignored.

The best time to pay attention to those races was thirty years ago. The next best time is right now. Because those are the stakes: it’s up to us to keep our people safe. We had the “can kicked down the road” when these threats were on the horizon… and now they’re unavoidably here.

Things are going to get worse before they get better. But we cannot let that truth let us lose sight of the future. Of the hard work that needs to be done.

Or we can keep letting babies be orphaned. Elementary school children be massacred. All because of purposeful policy decisions made by Republicans in Richmond and Washington, plus a few wayward Democrats (e.g., Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema).

Me? I refuse to let that be. And I will fight unapologetically and relentlessly against anyone who is willing to meekly accept the way things are as “the best we can do”, no matter who they are.

I owe the people of the Commonwealth nothing less.

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