To see a pair of old glasses — placed on a windowsill, still bloodstained from the moment the wearer was gunned down three decades ago — is moving and arresting.
To realize those blood-spattered glasses belonged to none other than Beatles legend and world peace activist John Lennon, is poignantly and viscerally heartbreaking.
On Wednesday, the day that would have been Lennon’s and Yoko Ono’s 44th wedding anniversary, Ono repeatedly Tweeted the powerful photo of Lennon’s glasses with various anti-gun messages and a caption that read, “Over 1,057,000 people have been killed by guns in the U.S.A. since John Lennon was shot and killed on December 8, 1980.” The message was retweeted 12,000 times, including once by President Barack Obama.
Ono joins the U.S. gun control debate at a critical time, as congressional leaders strike down a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.
The gun control debate is nothing new. A similar assault weapons ban had won majority approval in 1994, brought on by the 1989 Cleveland school shooting that left 29 wounded and five school children dead. The ban had a 10-year span, and was lifted in 2004.
The haunting image of Lennon’s glasses isn't novel either. Ono used the photo as the cover for “Season of Glass,” her first album released after Lennon’s murder, when a crazed stalker shot him four times in front of their New York City apartment building.
However, when it comes to losing a loved one or forever marking an elementary school as the site of a mindless massacre, those are the images and memories that will remain raw no matter how many years or decades have passed. Using visceral and emotional approaches to promote policy are arguably the most effective, but they will also be the most controversial precisely because they seem to target people’s feelings rather than their rationale.
While Obama never posted any images, he was criticized for “deploying” children to further his “political agenda” when he invited three schoolchildren to sit behind him during a White House press conference as he called for stricter gun control. The three kids, ages 8 to 11, had written letters to Obama commenting on gun violence after the Sandy Hook elementary school shootings in which six adults and 20children were killed.
Like-minded critics may chastise Ono, known for her exhibitionism, for using such a personal capture to promote a polarizing issue.
However, Lennon’s death, the Sandy Hook and Cleveland school shootings — these are not simply political strategies or affective tactics used by politicians and activists to convince the public on some bipartisan issue. They are haunting moments in our history that can never be erased — but have the potential to catalyze an actual change.
The press often ridiculed and laughed at Lennon and Ono for their outlandish methods — including their “Bed-ins for Peace” and their creation of bagism — but they used their eccentricities precisely to catch attention and promote their social and political messages. As Lennon once put it, “Yoko and I are quite willing to be the world’s clowns, if by doing it we do some good.”
Whereas Lennon and Yoko allowed the press to come along on their honeymoon to talk about peace, legislators and activists today have turned to Tweeting evocative bloodstained images to bring about a more peaceful environment. This is telling of the change in attitudes and in times.
Lennon will never be “the world’s clown” ever again. What he can do, however, along with the Cleveland and Sandy Hook victims, is to make sure we never forget their broken lives, their lost potential They can make sure we reflect and somehow figure out just how to stop similar tragedies from ever happening again. And the world will live as one.