If you are wondering how you might help the surviving victims of the Sandy Hook tragedy, some group knitting projects have been organized. There's a Ravelry group making stuffed toy monsters for every child who attends the Sandy Hook elementary school.
A teacher named Jeanne Malgioglio is asking people to knit or crochet green and white scarves (green and white being the Sandy Hook school colours) for the Sandy hook students, faculty and first responders.
A web site called Snappy Tots is asking knitters and crocheters to make green and white hats to be give to the children of Sandy Hook school.
I have a few thoughts about these charitable efforts that I'd like to express, but doing so has cost me not a few minutes spent staring blankly at a blank computer screen, trying to frame what I want to say in a way that will not in any way denigrate the group efforts I've listed above.
In a time of tragedy like this one, people who weren't directly affected by the events try to process their horror and grief and often end by wondering what on earth they can do to help those who were hard hit. They are often willing to give considerable amounts of time, effort and money in order to help. This being the case, it seems a shame that, so often, these wonderful, generous, loving outpourings of time, effort, and money can get misdirected into activities that don't actually help anyone, that are the equivalent of baking an American flag cake.
I think of accounts I read after 9/11 that related how the Red Cross had so much money in their 9/11 relief fund that they wound up simply handing out money to those who just happened to live near the World Trade Center — who had not suffered the loss of any loved ones, any injury, or any destruction of their property in the terrorist attack. I think of how, in WWI and WWII, women were encouraged to help in the war effort by knitting socks and other items, though a factory could turn out more socks in a day than quite a large group of women could knit in a year. This is not to say that the hand-knitted socks were useless, as I am sure they were put to good use and were much appreciated by the soldiers who got them. One must look at the larger picture, at the fact that the war work of those on the homefront was very varied and could hardly have been greater, and that the knitting they did was probably only a way to put their little leisure time to good use. However, let it be said that the soldiers who didn't get hand-knitted socks didn't go barefoot, and that the main benefit of wartime knitting seems to have been that it made the women who did it feel useful, that it gave them a way to cope with their anxiety over the fact that the men they loved might never come back from the war. And some war-time knitting and needlework was indeed completely useless and self-indulgent. And so I consider that these efforts were at least partially misdirected, because at least in the case of the tragically pointless WWI, asking hard questions about why such a war needed to take place and lobbying for withdrawal from it would have done the soldiers who fought it far more good than any amount of hand-knitted socks.
Please don't take all this as a criticism of the charities I have mentioned. It's important that the victims of the Sandy Hook massacre receive support. There have been two deaths in my family in the past thirteen months, and I know just how much it means to people who are grieving to receive these gestures of sympathy and support. These scarves and hats and toys won't in any way make up for what those who receive them have lost and won't by itself help them recover from their traumatizing experiences, but it will demonstrate to them that there are many people out there who sympathize and care about them. When the children who attend Sandy Hook receive their cuddly knitted monsters, they'll learn that though there was one mentally ill stranger out there who wanted to kill them, there are thousands of strangers who care so much about them and what they've been through that they're willing to spend time and money making a toy especially for them.
What I would like, though, is for people to try to see the bigger picture, and to be mindful and far-seeing about the ways in which they try to work through and respond this tragedy. I'd like people to think about how they can help address some of the root causes of these horrific mass shootings: the lax gun control laws; the substandard treatment of the mentally ill; the lack of support for families trying to raise a child with mental health issues; and some of the issues with media coverage. I'd like people to really think about what they can do to change our society for the better, about becoming more politically active, or about volunteering, or organizing a group effort of their own if they've got a great idea for one.
Many who will knit for these causes are already volunteering or contributing to social or political causes, and they, or others who are already overwhelmed with their own responsibilities, may decide that all they want to do or can do is knit an item during their public transit commute or TV-watching time in evening. But there are those of us who could spare the time to work for change, and I'd like us all to think carefully before we pick up the needles. Knitting is a wonderful past-time, and it's not non-productive, but sometimes it is better to leave the needles lying in our work baskets, because there are other, more important things that we could be doing.