Teens in Parkland, Florida, who had survived the horrific Marjory Stoneman Douglas school shooting in 2018, initially organized around the slogan, “Never Again.” They vowed to make sure no other kids would have to live with the loss and with the fear that had been forced upon them. They turned out to be resilient and effective organizers, supported by their parents and their community. They staged a demonstration in Parkland, then a lobbying trip to Tallahassee, and then another to Washington, DC. They followed with a much larger national rally in Washington, DC, a nation-wide school walk-out, then a national bus tour to register and motivate young people to vote. They even made it out here to Irvine.
They can claim credit for pressing the gun safety issue effectively, winning (modest) reforms at the state level (e.g., expanded background checks, age limits for purchasing some weapons), generating tons of publicity for the cause, raising a lot of money and establishing a powerful professional organization to support the cause, and inspiring countless other young people to take up the cause–and other causes. Swedish teen Greta Thunberg was one of them.
Never Again? Not quite. Or Not Yet. The young organizers picked a new name, March for our Lives, partly because anti-genocide activists had long been working Never Again. And the recent shootings in Uvalde and Buffalo–and, alas, countless others, including at schools, suggest that the end to the fear and the danger is a way off. (The activists against genocide still have work to do as well.)
So, after Buffalo and Uvalde, they’re back. March for Our Lives organized a large demonstration in Washington, DC, and hundreds of allied demonstrations across the country. (I pulled the map below off the group’s website, showing the location of planned actions.)
And a lot of the no-longer-kids are back. Some have stayed consistently involved in the issue and maintained political visibility, while others took a step back. It’s hard to think that many high school students have any sense of just how much sustained effort it takes for a movement to effect change in American politics. It’s far easier to think that once you discover an issue and a solution and demonstrate a willingness to work hard, you’ll see impressive results quickly. (James Madison giggles in his grave.)
But these young organizers are a little older, some with college degrees, and they understand both the personal costs of political visibility (harassment and threats, to start), and the very long haul ahead to make the country a little safer.
Collectively, at least, they also understand the mix of messages needed to inspire and sustain a powerful social movement. Compare, for example, Jaclyn Corin’s appearance on the Tonight Show with X Gonzalez’s interview in the Atlantic Monthly.
Sitting on the celebrity couch, Corin emphasized hope, claiming credit for state law reform, and emphasizing how one person can make a difference through activism, organizing, lobbying, and elections.
In an interview with Elaine Godfrey, Gonzalez shows her anger and disappointment with Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, and the need to do more. They claim not to have hope, but explain that they’re writing a speech to deliver at the DC rally. “Anything is better than nothing.”*
It will take a mix of anger and some optimism to sustain this movement long enough to effect large changes. I don’t know that Corin and Gonzalez negotiated a balance in advance, but it seems like, together, they’re hitting that mix.
Note: I’m glad to have had the chance to write something a little longer about the prospects for longer term change. See “What the gun control movement can learn from the antiabortion movement,” at the Washington Post.
* Revised to reflect Gonzalez’s preferred pronouns.