Saturday, March 24th, 2018 represented an important day in our nation’s history, as hundreds of thousands of citizens gathered in 800 cities around the United States to join the “March for Our Lives” movement, one of the biggest youth-led, non-violent protest movements in recent memory. On Saturday, I traveled to Albany, New York to join more than 5,000 other supporters of the movement marching and demonstrating in the state capitol. The movement is mostly student-led, which aims to support and encourage wider gun control measures, mostly in response to the latest deadly school shooting in Parkland, Florida. While the movement focuses on the younger generation, It has since gained the support of young and old alike. At the march, I saw people from seemingly every demographic coming out in support. We heard speeches from state politicians like Congressman Paul Tonko, as well as from student organizers ranging wildly in age. Despite the fact that many of them haven’t lived in the world, or the political world, for very long, the student organizers and representatives were extremely poised and passionate. It made me very optimistic for the next generation of political citizenship. Although, the next few decades will not be without its fair share of obstacles; in fact, there will be many to face. But ultimately, if we’ve learned anything from history, non-violent movements take a long time to fully develop. In order to not lose focus on the ultimate goals of these movements, it is important for protestors and politically active citizens to not lose hope, and to take comfort in the small victories their actions contribute directly to.
The overall environment at the march was extremely uplifting, inclusive, and electric. People were chanting things such as “enough is enough” and “thoughts and prayers are not enough,” but no matter the chant, it was difficult not to get swept up in the message and the emotions that were clearly at play during the rally. It may seem clear, but I believe that the non-violent nature of the protest played an enormous role in the overarching vibe of positivity and change in the future. As we have learned from the work of Maria Stephan and Erica Chenoweth in their exploration of “Why Civil Disobedience Works,” non-violent protest is the most effective form of resistance that we know of. They are extremely difficult to physically repress, as it would only encourage solidarity within the movement and sympathy in the international political environment. Additionally, the highly critical and active media environment we live in plays a large role in the success of the movement, as well as in discouraging the state from repression. Social media played a huge role in the organization of the rallies around the country, and the Trump administration was wise not to discourage the movement, as that would likely only result in increased pressure to achieve the movement’s goals, which namely includes tighter gun legislation.
Finally, in her piece that lists established insights about non-violent protests, Erica Chenoweth reminds her readers that for these movements, success takes time. The March for Our Lives movement has really just begun, and shouldn’t expect to see immediate results, especially in a political environment marked by intense gridlock and successful lobbying interests like the National Rifle Association. Gun legislation is notoriously difficult to pass, especially as the Second Amendment has become an even more polarized issue as of late. In fact, the formation of the March for Our Lives movement wasn’t the only direct result of the horrific Parkland massacre; following the February 14th shooting, the NRA received a huge spike in donations. In January of this year, they received just under $250,000 dollars. Following the shooting and the subsequent widespread criticism of the NRA, their members and supporters responded by donating about $780,000, close to triple the previous month. While depressing, these types of figures shouldn’t serve to discourage the March for Our Lives movement or any other movement that is pursuing tighter gun legislation. It may not happen this month, or next month; though with continued support, non-violent protest, and other forms of pressure on the Trump administration, results big and small will be achieved. For example, in a move that corresponded closely with the timing of the March for Our Lives movements, the Trump administration announced their plans to attempt to ban the “bump stock,” a gun attachment which allows a semi-automatic weapon to fire like an automatic weapon, just a day before the rallies on March 24th. Bump stocks were used last October in the Las Vegas shooting, which presumedly allowed the gunman to kill or injure more concertgoers than without the bump stocks. Automatic weapons are illegal to own, and Jeff Sessions will attempt to enact legislation which would ban bump stocks under federal law as well. Not only that, but many sporting goods companies are joining the fight, as Dick’s banned the sale of assault rifles and Walmart raised its age requirement to buy firearms to 21. These are certainly not the ultimate aims of movements like March for Our Lives, but they should be taken as small victories meant to reassure supporters that their actions make a difference. Ideally, assault rifles will eventually be made illegal under federal law, but that day will not come for a while. Citizens should remain politically motivated by enjoying the smaller victories, like the corporate resistance to the gun lobby and attempts by the Trump administration to ban bump stocks. The fight has just begun, so keep your head up and keep fighting for the things you believe in.
Chenoweth, Erica. “People Are in the Streets Protesting Donald Trump. But When Does Protest Actually Work?” The Washington Post. November 21, 2016.
Samuels, Brett. “NRA saw spike in donations following Parkland shooting.” The Hill. March 28th, 2018. http://thehill.com/business-a-lobbying/380737-nra-saw-spike-in-donations-following-parkland-shooting
Stephan, Maria & Erica Chenoweth. 2008. “Why Civil Resistance Works: The Strategic Logic of Nonviolent Conflict.” International Security 33(1): pp. 7-44.
Werther, Maureen. “Thousands attend ‘March for Our Lives’ rally in Albany.” Troy Record. March 24th, 2018. http://www.troyrecord.com/general-news/20180324/thousands-attend-march-for-our-lives-rally-in-albany
Wing, Nick. “Here’s What’s Happening With Trump’s Bump Stock Ban.” Huffington Post. March 26th, 2018. https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bump-stock-ban-trump_us_5ab92cf5e4b0decad04cb02a