Las Vegas has a special place in my heart. I was called there as an organizer with the Industrial Areas Foundation for three years beginning in 2010. My deep affection for the people who live, work, worship and play in Southern Nevada flows from personal knowledge of place - the extraordinary skills and commitment of local law enforcement and casino security, the clergy and lay leaders now called to interpret and comfort, the workers organized by Culinary 226 who represent the best of the US labor movement, even the concert venue which was the locus of yesterday’s horrific tragedy. The list goes on.
I am confident that the religious leaders with whom I worshipped, the labor leaders I got to know, and, yes, the politicians who represent Las Vegas will meet the challenge posed by the shocking violence inflicted on their city. I trust they will break in to the grief and confusion shared by so many with a message of consolation and hope. I have confidence Nevadans of all stripes will pull together through the grinding pain of hurt and grief that won’t go away soon.
For me mourning is overlain by an expectation that Las Vegas - a center of the worldwide tourist universe and home to so many extraordinary leaders - will prove to be the leading edge a groundswell of constructive response to violence in its many forms.
This week in the Las Vegas Valley, in mosques, churches and synagogues, in schools, neighborhoods, universities, in playgrounds, community centers, social service providers, in the streets and social clubs, in the broad based citizens organization Nevadans for the Common Good, stories will be shared, consolation sought and offered, explanations advanced and disputed, relationships affirmed, sacred texts proclaimed.
Pundits will opine that nothing will change after world wide attention peters out and the tweeting, Facebooking and speechifying dwindles. Just like so many other times, they will say, when the horrific happened and lives were lost.
I don’t think so. I know something about the grit, determination and courage of Las Vegans. We, all of us, live in a country desperate for leadership grounded in local experience determined to turn grief into anger and anger into action. My money’s on Las Vegas to step in to this role - the people, the institutions, the leaders, and the spirit of hospitality undaunted by the savagery just witnessed and now ambitious for change. What happened in Las Vegas won’t stay in Las Vegas if, in the days to come, the nation looks to Nevada for a better way forward.
Frank C. Pierson, Jr.
Frank Pierson retired after forty years of work with the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF) as a professional organizer. He began his career in 1971 in Chicago, moved to Queens, New York City and migrated west to work in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada and Colorado. He resides with his wife, Mary Ellen Kazda, in Oracle, Arizona. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org