We're in the midst of festival season again — always a wonderful time of year to get outside, have some fun with the family and celebrate our community.
But undeniably, this year, there's a pall hanging over the festivities. Like wildfire smoke, it casts everything in an eerie light and fills the air with miasma.
Unfortunately, acts of violence are nothing new under the sun in the United States. Even here in Oregon, we've had our share — the 2012 shooting at Clackamas Town Center and the 2015 shooting at Umpqua Community College spring most immediately to mind.
But Americans across the country are reeling from the trauma of three deadly mass shootings last week, including two in 24 hours. Thirty-six are dead, including two gunmen (a third, the suspect in the murder of 22 at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, is in custody). Flags are at half-mast this week.
All three of these shootings happened in public places, targeting random people doing ordinary things.
On July 28, a man cut through a wire fence around Christmas Hill Park in Gilroy, California, where the famous Gilroy Garlic Festival was being held. He opened fire, killing three, before turning the gun on himself. Two of the dead were children.
Of course, Washington County has a garlic festival, too.
The North Plains Elephant Garlic Festival runs Friday, Aug. 9, to Sunday, Aug. 11. Like the Gilroy Garlic Festival, it's a three-day event. Like the Gilroy Garlic Festival, it's a quirky local tradition — now in its 22nd year — that celebrates the agricultural heritage of the region and features family-friendly activities.
On Aug. 3, a suspected white supremacist walked into a Walmart store in El Paso with a semiautomatic rifle and began shooting, killing 22. The suspect reportedly drove about 650 miles across Texas to commit the mass murder. He could have walked into any Walmart in the country — there are five here in Washington County alone — but he chose to target residents of a border city for his anti-immigrant terror attack. He was arrested by police and is awaiting trial.
Less than 24 hours later, in the early morning of Aug. 4, another gunman fatally shot nine people before being shot and killed by police in Dayton, Ohio. The part of Dayton where the shooting took place is a trendy, upscale historic neighborhood. It's called the Oregon District.
Just this decade, we have borne witness to mass shootings in schools, malls, office buildings, churches, synagogues, hospitals, nightclubs, stores, theaters and public parks. There was no unifying geographic or locational factor to this recent cluster of mass shootings. They happened on the West Coast, in the South and in the Midwest; they happened at a food festival in a park, a grocery store in a shopping center, and outside a bar in an affluent neighborhood.
We're not going to tell you not to worry, for your safety or the safety of loved ones. We worry, too. Like the April 19, 1995, bombing in Oklahoma City made everyone uneasy about being in government buildings, and like the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks made everyone uneasy about air travel, it's hard not to imagine an awful what-if scenario at our favorite restaurants, our neighborhood grocery store, our place of worship — and, yes, our local community festivals.
We've said before we don't know all the answers to untangling this Gordian knot, either. Everyone is searching for answers.
The mind of a mass murderer is a dark place. But regardless of their specific motives, and regardless of their mental state, what unites them is their rage and hatred for other people — racist hatred, misogynistic hatred, xenophobic hatred or simple misanthropic hatred. They are subsumed in a toxic brew that has warped their brains into viewing their neighbors as their enemies. They look at other people, and they don't see people.
There is no way to take away every gun from every person who would use them to commit murder. There is no way to scrub the internet, the darkest corners of which have become a breeding ground for the kind of extremism and nihilism that leads to acts of mass violence, of every last one of the online communities that cultivate hate. There is no way to preemptively identify every individual with violent tendencies and commit them, incarcerate them or rehabilitate them before they lash out.
But here's something we can do: We can stand together.
We've written in these pages before about the value of community festivals, which bring people together and highlight the unique flavor of the places we live.
There is tremendous diversity in Washington County, where people from around the world have settled to raise their families, and where people of every color, class and creed can bump elbows at their local store — Walmart or otherwise. Go to a community event, especially something like a family-friendly summer festival, and you'll see a cross-section of the community in attendance.
You know that saying, "It takes a village?" We've used it before. It's a cliché. But it's also the truth.
The North Plains Elephant Garlic Festival celebrates garlic growers and other farmers in Washington County. The labor of farmworkers from Mexico, Honduras and other Latin American countries makes all of that possible.
The Great Onion Festival in Sherwood celebrates Washington County's onion industry, which fueled the development of cities like Sherwood and Gaston. Many of those early onion farmers were Japanese immigrants and their descendants.
There's one way to burn through the invisible smog hanging over our summer fun: defy it. The Elephant Garlic Festival gives us that opportunity this weekend.
There may be people who choose not to attend because they want to avoid congregating in a public place, or because they can't cope with the anxiety after a shooting at a similar event in California. Those reasons are valid.
We're not going to tell you not to worry. We're not going to tell you not to be angry. We're not going to tell you how to advocate for yourself and your family. Your choices are your choices.
But we hope to see a good crowd this weekend in North Plains. Come out to the Elephant Garlic Festival for family fun, or come out to the Elephant Garlic Festival because now, more than ever, we need to stand as one community.
If you can't make it, we understand. We'll be there for you, too.
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