What if you could change gun violence laws with a shirt? That sounds like something from a fairy tale, but this summer, music festivals are collaborating with activists to do just that. Chicago summers are known for two things, music festivals, and gun violence; however, the Pitchfork music festival is working with two gun violence prevention organizations, Everytown Against Gun Violence, and Mothers Against Senseless Killing, to make summer more about the music and less about the violence with its recent initiative, BEATS>BULLETS.
“You’re kind of traumatized by the headlines,” said Pitchfork Music Festival Director Mike Reed, “ And at the same time, it kind of becomes a part of the wallpaper, and it’s ridiculous. Over the course of a weekend, you will have reviews of Pitchfork and Riot Fest, and headlines that say 20 shot and dead.”
The BEATS>BULLETS initiative is only the tip of the iceberg. The first part of the initiative is getting people involved by wearing orange on June 2. June 2 is National Gun Violence Awareness Day. The date commemorates the tragic death of Hadiya Pendleton. Pendleton performed at Obama’s second inaugural parade, and a week later was shot and killed on a playground at the age of 15. Unfortunately, deaths like hers are not uncommon.
According to the Center for Disease Control, in an average day, 93 Americans are killed with guns. In an average month, 50 women are shot to death by an intimate partner, and the presence of a gun in a domestic violence situation increases the victim's chances of being shot by five-times.
In Chicago, the gun epidemic has received countless news reports. In 2016, Chicago had more homicides than any other American city.
So how does wearing an orange shirt help? Orange is the color hunters wear, so that other hunters see them. Likewise, the Wear Orange campaign is an effort to bring awareness to gun violence, and pressure politicians to create gun safety laws.
“Wear Orange is really to highlight the voices of gun survivors,” said Everytown for Gun Safety Deputy Press Secretary Taylor Maxwell. “By doing that, we are able to make people know that this isn’t about taking your guns away, it’s about saving lives.”
This goal of saving lives is at the heart of Everytown for Gun Safety. Everytown is a gun violence prevention organization that seeks to improve our understanding of the causes of gun violence. The organization was created by a group of mayors that wanted to find local solutions to reduce gun violence. They have collaborated with countless other organizations and celebrities in order to promote gun safety and awareness.
In addition to June 2, National Gun Awareness Day, Everytown will also be participating in the annual Party for Peace, on June 3, in Chicago, IL. I should also note, at the bottom of the Party for Peace website is a note that says “Smash the Patriarchy,” meaning it should be a wicked fun time.
Maxwell notes that musicians have always been catalysts for change. The Orange campaign is an open call for all music lovers to work together in order to save lives. The collaboration with Pitchfork music fest aims to combine music and gun safety awareness, beyond the official Wear Orange Day on June 2. With a variety of music festivals on board, they are hoping people will wear orange to every music festival. Other Chicago music festivals who are also joining the orange party are North Coast Music Festival; Spring Awakening; Mamby on the Beach; Riot Fest; Ruido Fest; West Fest; Food Truck Social; Wicker Park Fest; Green Music Fest; and ChillFest.
Reed explained that June 2 is the Wear Orange event, but why should the activism stop there? They want the message to go forward throughout the entire summer. He hopes it will become a symbol much like the red AIDS awareness ribbon which brought to light the AIDS epidemic.
“If you’re at Pitchfork fest, we’re going to tell people to wear orange, come and rep it there,” said Reed. “The Wear Orange Organization got started here in Chicago, why shouldn’t we also lead in that conversation?"
A person leading that conversation is mother and activist Tamar Manasseh, founder of Mothers Against Senseless Killing, also known as MASK. Tamar started her journey in the neighborhood of Englewood when Lucille Barnes, 34, was shot and killed in a drive-by while she was trying to break up a fight.
Manasseh created a very simple solution: Go into the neighborhood and start building a community. She returned to 75th and Stewart in Englewood, bought some pink shirts, set up a table, and barbecue, brought some friends, and started to create relationships with the people there.
“When you develop those relationships then people start to care for and look out for each other,” said MASK communications director Sarah Ryan. “As a result, people have been able to step in and dial down escalations. It has shown that putting the time in and creating a safe space, has made a huge difference.”
Manasseh has been approached by academics and other organizations, wondering what is the key to her success. The key has been human relationships. Safe spaces, food, and helping people get to know one another, so that there is communication and violence can be avoided.
Can a shirt stop gun violence? It can definitely become a catalyst for positive conversations, and positive conversations can lead to change.
“Hopefully each weekend, a part of the headlines will be all of the different ways of people repping the orange,” said Reed.
Photos courtesy Everytown Against Gun Violence
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Isabel Dieppa is a writer and actor. She is a part of the performance duo Of This World in Chicago, IL. Her interests lie in science, art, and history. Past writing includes interning for the Chicago Field Museum ECCO program, the national theater blog HOWLROUND, music reviews for UR Chicago, and in a former life was a beat reporter for the Indiana Daily Student. She loves archaeology, kitties, and dancing. The next big adventure may include an archaeological dig in Peru. Follow her on twitter @isabelsdieppa