From the May-June 2018 issue of News & Letters
‘Our kids are braver than our leaders’
Oakland, Calif.—On March 24 as part of the youth-led nationwide March for Our Lives, thousands came out here against rampant gun violence. The demonstrations were in solidarity with the Parkland youth who initiated a nationwide movement after 17 of their classmates were gunned down.
The march was interwoven with a huge presence from Black Lives Matter. Especially visible was support for the mass demonstrations in Sacramento where police murdered Black youth Stephon Clark, who, while holding a cell phone in his grandmother’s backyard, was subject to a massive barrage of police gunfire.
The signs at the march tell the story: “Protect Children Not Guns,” “If You Need a Gun You’re Not Free,” “Say His Name: Stephon Clark (Black Lives Matter),” “In an Average Month 50 Women Are Shot to Death by Intimate Partners in the U.S.,” “The U.S. Is the Largest Supplier of Weapons to the World—To Stop Violence at Home the U.S. Must Stop Exporting It,” “The Number of Bullet Holes on This Sign Are the Number That Can Be Shot in the Time It Takes to Read It,” “Why Are Our Kids Braver Than Our Leaders?” “As a Woman I Hope to Have as Many Rights as a Gun Someday,” “Girls’ Clothing in School Is More Regulated Than GUNS in America.”
While promising to hold politicians accountable, the youth did not align with any political tendency, but focused on results. At stake in all of this is the militarization of the mind in all relations: between states, individuals, state and society, especially poor immigrants and Blacks. One student asked “Why is an inanimate thing more important than human life?”
Students referred to Heather Sher, the trauma center doctor who treated victims of the Parkland massacre, and then graphically shared the horror of the kind of damage the AR15 does to the human body in her Feb. 22 report in The Atlantic. The National Rifle Association is not about the right to self-protection, but is in the forefront of the militarization of human relations. They have aligned with military arms manufacturers who want to unload their surplus to anyone in the civilian population with cash.
All relations are now increasingly militarized. Can the struggle for new relations—in the classrooms, in homes, on the streets, in workplaces—be the new determinate of the future?
Marx’s revolution in permanence was never more relevant in standing for the self-expanding, never-ending Idea of recognizing one’s and the other’s humanity in freely determining everyday activity. This is not alone about making revolution vs. elections the goal of the movement. It goes beyond any stagification to transcending thingness in all its facets.
#Enough! hits Detroit
Detroit—On March 14, students at several high schools walked out of their classrooms at 10:00 AM to honor the 17 people slain in Parkland, Fla., and to call for school safety and an end to gun violence. Nationwide, 3,100 schools and hundreds of thousands of students who joined National Walkout Day—#Enough!—were met by thousands of adults supporting their leadership.
• Students from Cass Technical High School wore orange T-shirts reading, “Never Again. #Enough” and chanted “What do we want? Gun control! When do we want it? Now!”
• At Henry Ford High School students were greeted by the Corpus Christi Social Justice Committee and members of the local community association. Students released 17 yellow balloons during the 17-minute rally and heard messages of love and support from the adults, and we all sang “Lean on Me.” Community organizers plan to follow up with the Detroit Police Department’s “Cease Fire” program and with other anti-gun-violence organizations.
The walkout was immediately attacked. Ingrid Jacques, conservative Detroit News editor, dismissed the massive student response when she said the Women’s March—with its “far-left agenda” of electing Democrats—had organized the walkouts. (If so, millions of parents, teachers, coaches and grandparents would love to know how to mobilize teenagers to an agenda that is not their own!) A former Republican state legislator felt the walkout had no purpose, since students weren’t in their classrooms, and should have been made to go to assemblies in the schools to pray about gun violence.
—Susan Van Gelder
The crowd was mostly made up of children, from toddlers to teens who brought their parents with them. This was a determined group of people who, though buoyed by the huge turnout, were there to show the leaders of the U.S. that, as so many signs proclaimed: “Never Again!” or just: “Enough!”
GUN VIOLENCE TOO COMMON A REALITY
How crucial this demonstration is was seen in how many participants were friends or family of those who had died from gun violence. As one young woman, Haley, told News & Letters:
“I’m here because one of my good friends in high school was shot and killed in his home when he was in college in St. Louis, Mo., at a party. It was awful to go through it and I don’t want any other kids to have to lose their friends.” Of the demonstration she said: “This is amazing! Not only does it feel good to me, as someone who has been affected by gun violence, just to see this show of solidarity. Little kids were never involved in activism when I was growing up in the 1990s and early 2000s. To see little kids and teenagers getting involved in important causes gives me a lot of hope.”
Haley’s homemade sign reflected the widespread disgust with politicians who bow to the NRA (National Rifle Association) at the expense of human lives. Her sign quoted Sarah Chadwick, one of the students who survived the shooting in Parkland, Fla.: “We should change the names of AR-15s to Marco Rubio because they’re so easy to buy.”
A retired teacher and grandmother told us her view of Donald Trump’s plan to arm teachers: “It’s laughable. Say you’re a kindergarten teacher and you have a gun and you’ve been trained to use it, and it’s loaded. What are you going to do with it while you’re in class? You’re going to have to keep it in a closet or a locked crayon drawer, or someplace safe, because your kids can’t be allowed to access it. Logistically it’s crazy. It’s also crazy philosophically because, as my sign says, ‘Teachers’ jobs are to help kids thrive, not survive.’ There’s no protection from an automatic weapon.”
Another young woman demonstrator, Nikki, blamed Trump as well as the NRA: “Trump is a horrible thing that is happening to this entire country, but mobilizing the youth and bridging the gap between generations is one of the only good that has come out of this administration. We are teaching the establishment that we’re not just going to sit down and take it, that we are not complacent, that we will get out into the streets and fight for what we believe in. So they should be afraid; and I cannot wait to see what the future holds.”
The humanism that was evident at the Women’s Marches was also present at the March for Our Lives. The huge demonstrations, with passionate youth in the lead, showcased another dimension of the mass resistance that has erupted. Gun control, seen as a life and death issue, and midterm elections were the focus. History shows that movements seldom end where they begin; the 1905 Russian Revolution began with a march led by a priest, who worked with the police, to present a petition to the Tsar.
MORE VOICES FROM THE CHICAGO MARCH:
Dominique, a Black woman: “Gun control shouldn’t be an issue. No one should be able to own AR-15s. You don’t use them for hunting, they’re just fun to shoot. You know what else is fun? Getting to grow up and graduate high school! Go to college, get a job and be a regular person! But instead you live with a threat that you could be shot in your school. With my kid I have to worry about that every day. There’s a lot of gun violence on the streets in Chicago. Something needs to be done, not just cops showing up too little too late. Police need to be from the neighborhoods they police because so many are scared of the neighborhoods where they patrol. That’s a start. It’s nowhere near a solution but that’s a start.”
Young white girl: “I don’t think school should be a place of fear, and I don’t think kids should go to school wondering whether someone is going to come into their school with a gun. That shouldn’t be a possibility. I worry about that in school sometimes.” Her mother said: “She goes to Whitney Young High School in Chicago. They do all they can to protect the kids but there’s only so much you can do when there are guns out on the streets that really don’t need to be in people’s hands, types of guns that are made for war to kill gobs of people at one time.”
Another white woman: “It’s connected to all the politicians being bought out. It’s not a democracy anymore. We’ve got to get our democracy back.”