Saturday, October 7, 2017

One Orlando Alliance organized an Orlando Vigil for Las Vegas

The lawn in front of the Dr. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts was packed with thousands of people 16 months ago after the Pulse Nightclub shooting. Tears were shed and strangers hugged one another in a truly moving vigil to honor the victims of the nightclub shooting. Days after the mass shooting in Las Vegas, the same stage was erected in the Dr. Phillips lawn to show solidarity and support for that city which is now the site of the largest mass shooting in American history with 58 victims to date. 515 others are injured, so that number may well rise as people fight for their lives.

Pam Schwartz and I arrived a bit early expecting to find the lawn crowded with Orlando citizens who who would show their support for such a tragic event. The lawn was strangely empty. One third of the lawn was a construction zone for the new Dr. Phillips theater being built.  The entire area was surrounded by temporary concert barricades. There was no crowd to contain. A single wreath stood on a tripod in front of the stage. The press huddled together on the walkway opposite me. Desperate for some sort of story, a young reporter asked to interview me, but I explained that I had a limited amount of time to finish my sketch so I couldn't stop to talk.

The green lawn remained empty the entire time I sketched. I had looked at some of the video footage from Las Vegas earlier that day and recall seeing people running for their lives or lying on the grass hoping not to get hit by the bullets raining down from 32 stories above. The Dr. Phillips lawn, surrounded by humble Orlando high rises, wasn't much different than the Las Vegas field where concert goers were massacred. One Orlando high rise had several windows blown out from hurricane Irma, just as the Las Vegas gunman had blown out his hotel room window to massacre the crowd below.

Dozens of people showed up to the vigil held in Orlando. Any photos of the vigil show a few people together in closely cropped shots.  Perhaps it was just to soon. The staff at the History Center said that they just weren't ready to accept or digest that such a horrific incident had happened so soon after the incident at Pulse. Days after the Las Vegas shooting, rainbow flags appeared on all the Orlando downtown street lights. I thought this was in solidarity for the Las Vegas shooting but it might just have been in preparation for the Gay Pride Parade coming up next week.

Someone removed the metal steps that lead up to the stage. A source at The Center said that a permit had not been applied for and thus no one was allowed to go up on the stage. How amazing that such red tape should come from a city who had just experienced mass murder 16 months earlier. One Orlando Alliance organizers stated that a radio station set up the stage just for the amplification and they didn't want any speakers. Five or six of the 49 angels in action arrived and stood silent in front of the stage, their fabric wings flapping in the breeze.

 one PULSE Foundation president, Barbara Poma, spoke to the small group gathered from behind the stage. Her online statement read, "Finding words to convey the depth of horror we are all witnessing in Las Vegas is just impossible. It is unimaginable that another mass shooting of even greater scope than that of Pulse Nightclub could occur again in this country, but indeed, it has. We must work harder to stop these crimes that destroy human life. We pray for those whose lives were taken, as well as for the wounded and the hundreds who will forever be affected by this monumental tragedy."

The Orange County Property Appraiser arrived to get his picture taken in a tuxedo in front of a banner which people signed in support of Las Vegas. Mayor Buddy Dyer made a cameo and disappeared quickly. I recognized some of the Pulse family and activists like the Eskamani sisters who truly made a difference in our city following the Pulse shooting. A GoFundMe set up by Ida Eskamani for Equality Florida raised more that 2.4 million dollars for Pulse victims families. With Hurricane Maria causing so much damage in Puerto Rico, many Hispanic activists are perhaps occupied with that cause.

The Vigil held at the Dr. Phillips for Las Vegas was a small gathering by a few of Orlando's core activists but the impression it left with me was apparent indifference by the community as a whole. The Methodist Church bells rang for each victim of the Las Vegas shooting. I left disheartened.  The faces of the beautiful people lost in Las Vegas are just now appearing online. All of those lost have not yet been identified. Perhaps people stayed home because mass murder is now the norm. A mass murder is defined as 4 people dying in a single gun related incident. Close to one mass shooting happens every day in America.

Pam was going to the Savoy to be a Celebrity Bartender. That event would raise funds to help The Center which is a refuge and family for the LGBT community as well as playing an important role in testing and treating sexually transmitted diseases. Sketching that event felt more supportive to an organization that makes a positive change in the Orlando community. Life goes on as social services struggle to stay afloat. I needed a stiff drink. How we memorialize is becoming increasingly important as these shootings are becoming more common.

P.S. Justine Thompson Cowan, one of the events organizers reported that City representatives were willing to do whatever it took, helped with permitting, and opened up garages for free parking, spending staff resources to pull it together. He stayed until the end and joined with what he estimated to be about 250 people as they heard the bells toll, the Orlando Gay Chorus sing and spread out into the audience with their voices that touched their hearts. She felt solace. She felt companionship. And maybe even a bit of hope.


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