Mikala on Orlando, from Cuba

Dems’ executive director, and Florida native, Mikala Cohen, is currently on the Institute of Politics’ trip to Cuba. She wrote this on the recent mass shooting in Orlando.

I’m writing this blog post on one of the most devastating mass shootings in American history on the notes app on my iPhone, while waiting for the air conditioning to kick in my hotel room in Havana, Cuba. Internet here is expensive if you’re willing to buy it where it’s available in select locations across Cuba (only our hotel for us), and it is consistently unreliable and frustrating. While a “vacation” of sorts from good-ole-American high speed widespread Internet access was something I knew would be frustrating as an always connected news-obsessed student, I couldn’t have predicted how much I craved more information on what happened Sunday morning in Orlando.

I remember seeing the first flurry of messages on Twitter and Facebook on the dawn shuttle to Miami Airport around 5:30 AM. It wasn’t long until the major news networks started writing the same news story about Pulse with the same information, repeated with a few different commas. Before we went through security, I kept wandering back into the baggage claim gift shop to squint my eyes at the CNN broadcast on television to see if there was any more information. We left Miami with the knowledge that someone had murdered dozens of LGBTQ Americans in my home state of Florida.

I live in a suburb of Fort Lauderdale, FL which is about a three hour drive to Orlando. Having been a resident of Florida for about 17 years, I’ve been to Orlando several times as a Disneyworld visitor and also passed through on numerous road trips across the state. Recently, Orlando has grown as a metropolitan center with citywide development, a vibrant gay culture, and a new already-popular soccer franchise (the Orlando Pride and Orlando City SC).

After we took off from Miami at about 9:15 AM, I lost access to all new information on Orlando. While gun control is an issue all Americans have an opinion on, I have always grounded my Democratic identity in my staunch commitment to the need for mass reforms to provide sensible gun control for all Americans. To be honest, I would be happy if guns were outlawed in the United States, but also incredibly satisfied with progress on universal background checks, not allowing people on the No Fly List access to guns, and a ban on automatic high volume weapons, among other policies. I’m a Democrat for so many reasons, but gun control remains my litmus test for supporting any politician of any political party. So losing access to information on this shooting in my home state on a community of people committing to love was incredibly difficult for me. While hearing the body count or motivations for this attack would not provide any solace for me, I still wanted Twitter to work so I could read the Orlando mayor’s comments from this week. I even asked David Axelrod if he knew any more information because he paid for a crazy expensive plan to stay connected to the Internet in Cuba.

It’s not because I’m addicted to the Internet or news (two things I’m willing to admit). It’s the fact that this mass shooting wasn’t a surprise, but inevitable to me. In today’s America, we are no longer surprised by this kind of news, but waiting for its next iteration. Whether it be in a South Carolina Church or using a gun bought at a big box store, mass shootings are regular events that basically deserve their own section in the Sunday newspaper. I want to read every morsel of information published on this and hear every comment made by public figures locally popular and widely known. I think it is only just that we treat all mass shootings as unique tragedies that cannot be heard, processed and moved on from. We have an obligation to every victim in Orlando and across the country to get as much knowledge as possible to fight for them.

I believe that as Democrats, we have a moral obligation to do everything necessary to advocate for gun control and explain to the deniers why it is absolutely necessary. While the need for gun control seems to be of the same level of urgency as the need for action on climate change, it’s unfortunate that both issues still need advocates to fight naysayers and inactivity in government. It’s not about voting for this candidate or another, but about forcing gun control into the conversation and onto the immediate agenda. This shooting was preventable and we did not do enough to prevent it.

Last night, I finally got connected to the Internet in the Hotel Nacional lobby where I briefly saw that Democrats on the Senate Floor were filibustering for gun control. I haven’t seen if this has produced any results, but I felt the immediate need to write this piece because it seems like we forgot what happened in Charleston so quickly.

I was able to read some articles on this tragedy in my block of 15 minutes Internet time, and I’m now typing this with two thumbs on airplane mode. I really want to say now that while you might still be paying attention to Orlando, and if you’ve never called your Congressman/woman, please try now. Please clog the phone lines with your repeated calls for justice for Orlando. Or write a two-line email to your Senator that will receive a form letter back in a few weeks. Or go in person to your state rep or alderman and ask what they have done for gun control and believe is necessary. Just make sure they know you’re paying attention and demand change. You might just hear a canned response like “I’ll pass along your comments to…” and your message might be known as caller number 86, but it’s absolutely necessary to show your government representatives that this is an issue that needs immediate access.

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