Gun-Control vs. Gun-Rights, and the future of activism.
Don’t get mad or give energy to the conservative backlash. Look at how the #NeverAgain activists are building a diverse and inclusive coalition and replicate it.
This past weekend the nation witnessed a riveting display of organized action rivaling the turnout from January’s Women’s March. Galvanized by the horrific murders at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida, we stood witness to the next generation of leaders engaging in activism far sooner than I’d ever considered as a teen.
As a reaction to this movement, conservative coverage included comments such as “sickening” and “cowardly.” As someone working in politics who has become quite frustrated with the current state our Union, I’d like to offer a few comments addressing the conservative campaign against gun-control, with an eye to the next generation of organizers.
Reflections on Conservatives
Much of the posturing posed by gun-rights advocates on cable news and social media appear to be a calculated strategy designed to counter-punch any perceived attack on conservatism. They are not the same as genuine gun-supporters, but are rather media-trained partisans armed with directives and messaging from leaders in the gun-rights movement. Genuine gun-supporters may possess a true conviction for fighting against any perceived infringement upon the Second Amendment, but these made-for-TV ‘advocates’ act against all reason and morality for the sake of appeasing the NRA/party affiliation and protecting their self interests. They often offer “thoughts and prayers” in the wake of tragedy, but when faced with direct questions or facts, they contort and redirect the conversation to something completely irrelevant.
Compounding this frustration are the never-ending criticisms that claim it's never a good time to discuss gun-control; that the #NeverAgain activists are too young to understand the debate; or that marches are ineffective. The immediate reaction is often to roll one’s eyes and ignore the hypocrisy, realising that these are messaging tactics designed to halt progress. Sometimes these “talking-heads” are so emphatic that they seem to believe their own hype. Perhaps they push the argument so strongly because deep down they need to ease their conscience and keep themselves from facing some hard conversations.
It’s not too late for these folks to get on the right side of history, but no one should hold their breath waiting for them to find their common sense and join the movement. The work these students have started is too important to be side-tracked by side-shows.
Reflections on Progressives
On a positive note, I am excited for the energy and organization that the next generation is bringing to the progressive movement. If conservatives don’t capitulate to some of their demands, they will feel their sting in 2018 and 2020 as these teens become of voting age. These amazing kids are showing older progressives how to build a diverse and inclusive coalition. In an interview with Axios, #NeverAgain activist David Hogg discussed how the media failed to give black students a voice during the protests. Judging from some of the coverage of the March For Our Lives rallies, this fact was not lost on the organizers. This should serve as a word of caution to Democrats who historically, have not properly and consistently engaged communities of color. These students and the March For Our Lives they organized are intentional in their efforts to create a space and platform for all people, including those of color, to tell their story and share their insight.
Reflections on the Immediate Future
Activists push our collective conscience in the right direction. In my opinion, this work is much more important than what I do, which is helping individuals get elected into office. Conversely, as important as an activist’s work is, it will be for naught if we cannot win elections. The 2018 elections will be the first major test of the #NeverAgain movement. We will see if this activism will translate into voter participation. This is what politicians are truly afraid of. They are banking on the long history of low voter participation from young people remaining constant. It's not good enough to march and shout in the streets - people have to show up and vote. Even after elections are finished, they still have to hold their elected officials accountable and show up again and again. This is a test of time and strength of will. My responsibility to the younger generation is to support their efforts, sharing my experience and allowing them to teach me through their action, so that when it's their turn to lead and run for office, they’ll be ready.