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For months, I looked forward to seeing comedy writer Andy Borowitz onstage at Glenside’s Keswick Theater. As a fan of his New Yorker satire column, I thought I knew what to expect.
There would be political humor with an absurdist twist. It was a chance to laugh raucously at the issues driving me, and many liberals, to the brink of despair (or the wine store — whichever is closer).
However, the experience went in directions I didn’t imagine. First, security was stepped up. I was pulled aside, asked to hold my arms out, and a security guard did a number with his magic wand. I thanked him for caring. Then there was the seismic thrill of watching the 1,300-seat theater fill to capacity with people who share my pain and politics. (Anyone who reads the New Yorker, even if just for the cartoons, is on my team.)
Moving the needle
When he stepped onstage, Borowitz asked for a show of hands. “How many of you read my New Yorker column?” Hundreds of hands shot up. Then he asked, “How many of you voted for Trump?” Surprisingly, a few hands waved from the back of the theater, met by nervous laughter. Borowitz welcomed them and conjectured that perhaps by the end of the 90-minute show, he might “move the needle” toward his goal, which was to “make America sane again!”
Borowitz kicked off the show with a screamingly funny standup monologue, during which he lamented that our nation’s “good Nazis,” like physicist Werhner von Braun, have been replaced by stupid Nazis. After that, he invited Philly journalist and Women’s Law Project member Tara Murtha onstage. Murtha’s insightful questions revealed alternately astonishing and humble aspects of Borowitz’s life.
Who knew his weekly satire was regularly mistaken for a legitimate news source in places as far away as China? Or that he wasn’t a political wonk or news junkie and eschewed MSNBC? Borowitz admitted he equates Rachel Maddow (whom I adore) with the same “biased reporting” as Fox. He also described his daily routine: walking his daughter to and from school and letting whatever craziness is in the air dictate his weekly column.
Borowitz’s performance had all the bells and whistles of a revival meeting, and his call to action jolted the audience to attention. “My mission isn’t just to make you laugh,” he said. “It’s to urge you to do something. Get the vote out. Donate to the ACLU or the Women’s Law Project. That’s the only way we’ll make America sane again.”
Accepting the challenge
Two days later, I had an opportunity to follow up on Borowitz’s challenge. I attended a meeting of the Philadelphia Chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Over 300 women of all ages flooded into the vast auditorium at Saint Thomas Church in Flourtown, Pennsylvania. When the chairs were filled, they sat on the floor, stood in back, and practically hung from the light fixtures.
The majority, like me, were first-timers, galvanized by the Parkland, Florida, school shooting. One stylish silver-haired woman from Center City told me, “I’m here for my grandchildren.” The state senator from the Fourth District, Arthur L. "Art" Haywood, explained that after a school-shooting incident in Cheltenham a few years ago, he had rallied the township to divest itself from all gun manufacturers. “Check your 401Ks, your townships, and state pensions. Demand they divest themselves of all ties to guns,” he said.
Marybeth Stanton Christiansen, state legislative lead of the Pennsylvania chapter of Moms Demand Action, also reminded us that between predominantly Democratic Philadelphia and Pittsburgh lies a state that might as well be Alabama. “Pennsylvania has the largest NRA membership of any state in the nation,” she said. Which is why most of the bills Moms Demand Action has supported in Harrisburg have died without a vote. Until now.
Rebecca Luzi, state communication lead of Moms Demand Action, and state representative Madeline Dean spoke about five bills on gun control that will be up for a vote later this month. They include SB 501, a bill to remove guns from domestic-violence abusers within 48 hours. Currently, convicted abusers and those subject to final protection-from-abuse orders have 60 days to relinquish their guns, and are only required to do so if a judge orders them to.
I was there to be given marching orders and was not disappointed. We were encouraged to attend the “March for Our Lives” in Washington, DC, on March 24, 2018, and to support retailers and corporations that stand up to the NRA. There are phone banks to work, postcards to send, votes to get out.
During a question-and-answer session, more than one concerned mother asked what most of us were thinking. Why not push back harder against the NRA? Bring the Second Amendment back — kicking and screaming — to its original meaning? Ban assault rifles?
We were told the Supreme Court has ruled that the Second Amendment is not absolute; gun ownership is subject to restrictions. But research shows that the best way to reduce the deadly toll of mass shootings with semiautomatic weapons is to ban high-capacity magazines. Gun manufacturers have found ways around restrictions on semiautomatic rifles themselves.
A ripple of discontent swept the room. It was a highly educated, liberal crowd, much like the one that had wildly cheered Borowitz’s vision of taking back America one congressional seat at a time. These enraged mothers won’t be placated or silenced. If Borowitz could see the blood in their eyes, he’d be thrilled.
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