Cosmopolitan is not a word often used to describe Tacoma. The city’s rep is edgy: Seattle’s scrappy stepchild, the one in the blue collar.
But if you define cosmopolitan as we do — a diverse city with an active citizenry; a city that eschews the word “tolerance” in favor of the word “welcome,” especially when it comes to people of different religions, ethnicities and sexual orientation — then Tacoma is as cosmopolitan as they come.
The vigils held for Orlando’s victims are a prime example of Tacoma at its best. Though three thousand miles separate the two cities, the tragedy made us neighbors. And that’s the thing terrorists forget. They forget tragedy doesn’t divide us. It makes us more resilient, not less.
More than 700 people stood in Tacoma’s Tollefson Plaza on Sunday. The next night, mourners filled the pews of Life Center Church, where interfaith speakers agreed: The cost of hate and intolerance is too high.
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Fear and anger are natural reflexes after violence, but mourners prove that in tragedy’s wake, walls and borders come down. Labels fall away. Orlando’s grief becomes our grief.
The Rev. Toney Montgomery, who leads the Tacoma Ministerial Alliance, summed it up at the Life Center vigil: “We should honor our own person, but we should also be honored that we are sitting next to a person — not a religious person, not a gendered person, but a person.”
Politicizing this tragedy is inevitable, but Orlando’s massacre demands that we caution ourselves against indicting a whole religion over one person’s actions. It demands we ask difficult questions such as, “How did we get here?” and more important, “How do we move forward?”
Parsing out the politics is difficult territory. It’s venturing into the middle of a Venn diagram where gun culture, homophobia, and Islamic and homegrown terrorism meet. No doubt these topics will dominate local and national debates from now until November. And they should.
They should because this year’s high school graduates were babies when the Columbine High shooting occurred; they were seven years old when college students were slaughtered at Virginia Tech, and they were nine during the Fort Hood rampage.
Today’s high school graduates were in middle school during Sandy Hook and Aurora. They were 16 when churchgoers were shot down in Charleston, and 17 when office Christmas partyers were gunned down in San Bernardino. Their last days of high school have been marred by this most recent bloodbath.
The class of 2016 has never known a world without random acts of gun violence. There’s not a position on the political spectrum that finds this acceptable. In the aftermath of Orlando, we know change is necessary.
The solidarity expressed during candlelight vigils is already giving way to divisions over gun control, LGBT rights and talk of religion. As this random act of violence retreats in the rearview mirror, promises are made once again. Promises to not back down and accept business as usual.
Perhaps the scrappy people of Tacoma can help chart this course.