“Praying With Our Feet”: The March for Our Lives

On March 24th, about 800,000 people descended into the streets of Washington D.C. to stand up for comprehensive gun control reform. In the wake of the horrible February 14th tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, where 17 students and teachers were murdered by Nikolas Cruz, a former student, with an AR-15, calls for reform have never been louder. The movement thus far has been lead by students from MSD High School, many of whom attended the march to speak to those in support of gun control efforts.

The March for Our Lives was made up of hundreds of thousands of individuals of all ages, including many students, from all over the country, some flying in in order to stand in solidarity with the cause. Holding up DIY signs, the marchers made their way through Pennsylvania Avenue into downtown D.C. just a mile away from the White House. The march lead to a rally which included powerful speeches, musical performances, and moving moments of grief, anger, and hope. With the Capitol building as the event’s backdrop, the rally reflected the sense of urgency for Congress and our legislative bodies to finally stand up and make a change.

Rachel Barkowitz, SEAS ’19, described the march as “empowering” and “incredible,” and was especially moved by the speakers and the crowd of attendees around her. Marching with her sibling and the Union for Reform Judaism, Rachel attended the march in support of gun reform, as an ally to the MSD students, in support of the Jewish community of Parkland, and to stand up for those whose lives have been marred by gun violence but have not yet been afforded the platform to speak out. She reflected on the poignant speech of Naomi Wadler, who spoke for “the African-American girls whose stories don’t make the front page of every national newspaper, whose stories don’t lead on the evening news.” She remembered how everyone repeated the mobilizing call-and- response of Yolanda Renee King, the nine-year- old grand-daughter of Michael Luther King, Jr., and Corretta Scott King, who imagined a world free of guns:

Spread the word!

All across the nation

We are Going to be

A great generation.

 

 

The Parkland students showcased their bravery with their words, and their silence: Emma González, a student of MSD and one of the most prominent figures of the #NeverAgain movement, began her speech by remembering all of those lost in the shooting, then stopped for the remaining emotion-filled minutes until a timer went off, representing the six minutes and twenty seconds it took for Cruz to complete his massacre.

School shootings and the devastating effects of guns are all too prevalent in the United States, the point where the U.S. stands alone compared to many other OECD countries in terms of fatal crime. There is an estimated 1 gun per capita in the U.S., meaning there are over 300 million guns in our country. In 2015, over 13,000 people were killed in the U.S. by firearms, excluding suicides. More guns have been linked to more crime in general: compared to other countries, the U.S. had a homicide rate of 4.8 per 100,000 people in 2012 (60% of homicides were completed with a gun), while countries with stricter gun laws, Canada, Australia, Canada, had homicide rates of 1.5, 1.1, and 1 per 100,000, respectively. The preponderance of guns has also been linked to higher suicide rates. Gun laws in the U.S. are also relatively inconsistent: while New Yorkers, for example, must comply with the NY SAFE Act and other restrictions, gun owners in Louisiana are not required to undergo background checks, not required to have a license or register firearms, and do not face any regulations against assault weapons. Justice Antonin Scalia, one of the most staunch conservative voices, believed that the right to individual gun ownership through the Second Amendment “not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose,” and that government limitations are necessary.

 

 

While focusing on gun reform is important, this subject must be approached carefully and with research and consideration. Rachel remarked on how the policies advocated by The Guardian on their Snapchat story during the march, when MSD’s high school newspaper, The Eagle Eye, took over their social media platform, had a very misguided suggestion. One of the proposed regulations would be to allow for mental health providers to directly communicate with law enforcement agents about their patients. However, mental health providers already have an obligation to alert law enforcement if patients pose a threat to others or to themselves — additional obligations for healthcare providers to directly contact law enforcement can cause more harm. “[It is frustrating] that those those suffering from mental illness are framed as being violent when they are often victims of violence,” says Rachel, and having patient’s private information end up in the wrong hands can lead to very dangerous situations. The board of The Eagle Eye does not include the main figures of the movement like Emma, David Hogg, or Jaclyn Corin, and therefore do not necessarily reflect their views. However, Rachel believes that it would be helpful if the most vocal students had a clear list of reforms they would support, so she and others know what they are also supporting.

 

 

In terms of support of the movement, many celebrities and high-profile figures have thrown their encouragement behind the protests, which is both admirable and frustrating. This is not the first movement against gun violence in our country: #BlackLivesMatter, for example, has been addressing issues of gun violence through the state and police brutality for years, but has yet to receive the attention and support that #NeverAgain has. The racial component of both movements and the privilege afforded to the Parkland students cannot be ignored, nor the fact that #BlackLivesMatter advocates for accountability and an overhaul of aggressive institutions while many within #NeverAgain are willing to work with these institutions. Rachel believes that one of the goals of the #NeverAgain movement should be to make sure that support is given to people who experience gun violence daily and that their stories are heard. When we discuss gun reform, we need to make sure that we are not only talking about the kinds of guns the everyday person has access too, but also how law enforcement should be controlled and regulated and how we can protect people of color, queer folk, and others who are at great risk for hate and state violence.

 

 

Gun violence is an especially personal issue because many people have been directly or indirectly affected by it. Rachel was mobilized into attending the march after losing a friend. Others were drawn to the march because they themselves had been victims or had also lost somebody close to them, and others due to the gun violence they have witnessed in their communities. While the movement has some work to do, the collective action of millions in the streets, online, and, eventually in the voting booths, despite negative right-wing media attention and smearing, has been truly remarkable. The political process model, a theory proposed by sociologist Doug McAdam, states that by pushing open and creating political opportunity through large mobilizations and participatory democracy, social movements can take flight. The only way we will be able to resist the NRA and its influence on our politics is by continuing to take to the streets, and to continue to be active and engaged citizens through community organizing, voting, and supporting organizations tackling violence like the NAACP. Historically, students and young people throughout society have been the ones to call for progress and change when the rest of the world has been too afraid to do so. The passion of those marching on Saturday is what our country needs for active change, and this ardor to be carried forward into related movements. Rachel concludes, “[I am now] inspired to see what kind of difference I can make, to know whose voices need to be amplified…and to speak out.”

 

All photos were taken by Rachel Barkowitz.