Maybe this time really will be different. After so many mass murders by guns in recent years yielded only “thoughts and prayers”, it feels for the first time that there is momentum building for real change. It’s not that I expect that significant gun legislation will pass this Republican controlled Congress. Rather, a budding political movement recognizes that the path to change requires replacing the current group of do-nothing, indifferent, in-bed-with-the NRA elected officials. We need to support candidates who listen to the overwhelming majority in this country who favor common sense regulations on deadly firearms.
There is already growing evidence that 2018 will see the election of a lot of Democrats at the federal, state and local levels. The new activism and passion around gun violence, so vividly and dramatically demonstrated on Saturday by 800,000 marchers in Washington and at 854 other locations around the world, could provide the impetus for the tsunami to grow even larger. If the younger generation that sparked the March for Our Lives stays engaged in politics and continues to inspire in the way that they did last weekend, it really could be different this time.
Allow me a few personal observations from having attended the Washington March. Of course, there was no actual marching because the streets were filled to overflowing. It was as well-organized a political rally as I have ever attended, and my own experiences date back to the 1960s. Speakers and Jumbotrons along the route guaranteed that everyone could see and hear what was happening on the main stage. And what we saw and heard was remarkable.
Moreover, the crowd looked like America. Political rallies are not always known for their diversity. This one was. Age, race, gender–everyone came and many of them brought their signs.
No speaker was over 21. They were articulate, passionate and fearless. Some of them will clearly become the public leaders of the future, but they are already proving leadership by their refusal to accept stale excuses and the status quo. As powerful as their words were, the most dramatic moment of the day may well have been the “sounds of silence” from Emma Gonzales’ six minute and 20 second tribute to her fallen classmates.
The students knew, even before the event itself, that they would be attacked, ridiculed and demeaned. They had already faced ugly attacks and made it clear in their remarks that they would not be intimidated and would not back down.
In the aftermath of the March, the world heard from the usual suspects, the apostles of hate, lies and inhumanity. The students have obviously shaken and scared the gun lobby and the far right with their courage and determination. Why else would the attacks be so vile, so filled with falsehoods and so lacking the dignity that those students keep showing?
If there is a poster child for all that is wrong with this country, Rick Santorum is surely a prime candidate for the role. He dismissed the March as a waste of time and said the students would be better off learning CPR. As ill-advised as the suggestion to arm teachers is, Santorum has come up with an idea even more stupid and irrelevant. Once you’ve been shot even once by an AR-15 killing machine, there will be no need to administer CPR.
Santorum, of course, is only one example of right-wing ugliness. The NRA spewed its usual mix of hatred and mockery. Senator Marco Rubio of Florida, a particularly craven politician who several speakers pointed out had received from the NRA the equivalent of $1.05 for every student in Florida, declared with his usual piety that many people were opposed to tighter gun regulations. Rubio makes weasels look good by his gutless performances.
While Santorum, Rubio and the NRA blathered, the students of Parkland told their personal stories. They were joined by other students from Sandy Hook as well as by students from cities in which they face the threat of daily violence. If there is any shred of conscience left in America, their pleas for action will surely be heard.
Some commentators tried to find comparisons with successful protest movements of the past. Jennifer Hudson’s rendition of Bob Dylan’s “The Times They are a Changin’ ” to close the March surely was a bookend for those who were in Washington protesting the Vietnam War 50 years ago.
The measure of the impact of the March will begin to show in November when voters go to the polls and decide whether candidates who accept NRA money are fit to serve, whether the excuse that “now is not the right time to consider gun legislation” is still acceptable, whether the lockstep opposition of Republicans to any effort to stop the epidemic of gun violence disqualifies that party from holding power.
As of this writing, Donald Trump himself has said nothing about the March. Once again, he slipped out-of-town on Saturday to play golf in Florida. He may pretend he didn’t hear the words of the students in Washington and around the world, but a lot of other people did. When those voters cast their ballots in November, Trump will most definitely learn what was being said on Saturday.