#TimesUp at the Academy Awards

Oscar night offers an ideal setting for politics: celebrities, cameras, costumes, and a global Image result for #TimesUpaudience in the ten millions. The trick is to make sure the spectacle doesn’t drown out the cause, and the cause doesn’t crush the fun–too much. Activists pushing for action against sexual violence, harassment, and gender injustice more generally have a chance to exploit the large audience, and it can matter as long as the audience doesn’t feel exploited.

Sexual harassment and assault received unusual–and overdue–attention over the past few months, the result of smart activism exploiting staggering revelations of abuse.

In the last month, the clever and committed Parkland kids grabbed some of that attention for the ongoing problem of gun violence. I hope the #MeToo activists will recognize their efforts and issues as well.

When activists have a window of a few hours of national television time, the goal has to be to get the message out—clearly and sharply—without encouraging people to change channels. Activists also want to expand that window, getting people to tune into the movement before and after the big show.

Like overnight stardom, an effective protest takes preparation. In the weeks of publicity and awards campaigning already underway, the committed can promote the cause as well as their movies. Already equipped with a handy hashtag, supporters can tell their stories, and announce that there will be more action on Oscar night. Audiences are less likely to miss the message if they know something’s coming.

They can also work within the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences to make sure the host, Jimmy Kimmel, is on board. Maybe they can even get the Academy to announce new rules and standards for appropriate behavior (no “auditions” in hotel bedrooms off-hours?). At least the Academy can announce general support for an end to harassment and the start of gender equity.

Even before the event, actors can work to share their spotlight with the movement. Beyond naming villains, they can call out famous and less-known movement heroes. The Golden Globes provided a rehearsal; eight stars brought activists working for gender equity beyond Hollywood as their plus-ones, and on the red carpet talked about their guest and her work rather than a designer.  The basic black costumes at the Golden Globes also showed a clever innovation on the familiar cause lapel ribbons. It allowed attendees who didn’t have nominations to declare their support for #TimesUp without much effort, and made for powerful images. Organizers can go black again, design a ribbon or button, or try something new—a sash or hat. The point is to let large numbers speak without talking and push people to take a stance.

The Oscar ceremony is fundamentally about glamour and the movie business, as #MeToo must recognize. Activists have to work within the event. Long speeches that get drowned Participants march against sexual assault and harassment at the #MeToo march in Los Angeles on November 12, 2017. out by the orchestra as the cameras pull away don’t make for compelling politics or television. This means that the message has to be brief—a line or two, not a speech—but repeated throughout the evening. Those who get to make speeches can add a name or two to the lists of managers and agents who make victory possible. I’d hope that all the winners and presenters can “thank” an activist or two making the movement, while a chyron underneath or at least an available website provides links to groups. They can thank women who told their own stories, and people who supported them. Alyssa Milano, who started the #MeToo hashtag last year deserves recognition, and so does Tarana Burke, who started the pre-Twitter campaign in 2006. So does Moira Donegan, who kept a spreadsheet of allegations against Hollywood harassers. Of course, the exposure means more to Ms. Donegan or Ms. Burke, who do not have millions of Twitter followers.

Effective action means using the Oscars to help build something that spills off the big screen into real politics, part of a movement that continues the next day.

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The NRA under fire will bend or break–or both

The Parkland kids are forcing tough decisions on the National Rifle Association.

The Stoneman Douglas survivors continue to work to have all of us focus on the destructive power of the National Rifle Association in corrupting public debate. Instead of arguing about the GTY 922441420 A POL USA FLdefinition of assault weapons or the details of databases, the young activists say that taking out the NRA will allow serious discussion and progress on meaningful remedies.

It’s a great strategy.

Their approach is deliberately polarizing; they demand that Americans choose the NRA or, instead, to stand with the kids.

Yipes!

The NRA has cultivated extraordinary influence by holding the politicians it endorses to tight standards. Even more important than the often massive amount of campaign funding  and member support NRA politicians get is the explicit threat that the organization’s support is contingent–an opponent can get it next time.

By demanding action from government, the Parkland kids are peeling off some politicians.

Some, like Donald Trump and Rick Scott (Florida’s Republican governor) are trying to find the smallest step they can take to ease political pressures. Timidly testing the waters of Tyra Heman, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, protests in front of the school where 17 people were killed on February 14.independence, they’ve suggested raising the age to buy assault weapons from 18 to 21, in defiance of the NRA–for the moment. It’s not clear whether the gun lobby will be willing to draw a line in the sand on that issue and withdraw its support. If the NRA doesn’t, however, it will lose some of its core supporters, and gun groups to its right will try to cultivate them. And discipline works best when punishment is a credible threat, but a rare occurrence. Once the line is broached, Republican politicians will test how far they can go.

So:

Congressman Brian Mast, who identifies as an enthusiastic 2nd amendment fundamentalist and NRA member, has come out in support of an assault weapons ban–in an op-ed in The New York Times, no less. Rep. Mast, who lost both legs in military service in Afghanistan, may be tough for the NRA to attack. He reports that he frequently carries a concealed 9mm handgun, and says that the proliferation of assault rifles threaten his safety, “…the defense my concealed 9-millimeter affords me is largely gone if the attacker is firing from beyond 40 yards, as he could easily do with the AR-15.”

Nineteen Republican members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Speaker Ryan, asking for a vote on expanded background checks for gun ownership.They are challenging the NRA, which opposes the bill, and challenging Ryan to stand up to the right wing of the Republican caucus.

The Parkland kids are poking at the NRA’s unity, and any NRA response is risky.

And it’s not just politicians; the challenge to corporate partnerships continues to claim casualties, as lots of companies have announced the end of their deals with the gun group. TruCar, Avis and Hertz rental cars, MetLife, and Delta and United Airlines have announced the end of their business relationships with the NRA since I wrote yesterday. Perhaps the corporate leaders suddenly considered the wisdom or morality of the policies that the NRA promotes; certainly, the public pressure coming from the Parkland kids and their tens of thousands of followers has made that consideration possible.

Effective protest aligns moral, political, and economic incentives.

Unsurprisingly, the NRA went on the attack, responding that

…some corporations have decided to punish NRA membership in a shameful display of political and civic cowardice. In time, these brands will be replaced by others who recognize that patriotism and determined commitment to Constitutional freedoms are characteristics of a marketplace they very much want to serve.

Harsh talk, but no CEO is going to rush back to the NRA in response to ridicule. Other companies with wise leadership will be wary about linking up with the gun lobby. Those that Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students and parents hold signs near the school in Parkland, Fla. on Sunday.rush in to fill the gap left by these defectors will be able to demand better terms from the NRA–because the risks of the association are more obvious than ever before.

The point is to push the NRA to the margins of legitimate politics. If the NRA concedes, even on small points, it risks its most vigorous supporters; if it holds the line, emphasizing weapons-based solutions (more guns in schools, for example) to the problems of guns, it winds up showing that its opponents are right.

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Targeting the NRA

The heroic Parkland students launched a campaign to target and isolate the National Rifle Association, which is fighting back vigorously. Wayne LaPierre, leader of the NRA, spoke gun control rallyat the annual Conservative Political Action Conference, spewing vitriol at anyone who might support even the most modest efforts at regulating guns. Hanging gun control on “elites” and advocates of socialism, LaPierre again suggested that making schools safer by “hardening targets” (metal detectors, armed guards, teachers carrying concealed weapons, thicker glass, etc.) was the only responsible strategy for protecting our children.

The vigor of his response shows that the Parkland kids are making progress.

Not exactly as they’d hoped, of course. Senator Marco Rubio and President Trump are willing to push the NRA on rather small matters, like raising the age for buying an assault weapon from 18 to 21, but they were both very clear that they would mostly (Rubio) or completely (Trump) accede to the NRA’s judgment.

Both Rubio and Trump received massive funding and electoral help from the NRA, and it’s easy to understand that they will be timid about alienating their benefactors. But there are plenty of officials less dependent upon gun money who are likely to see NRA support as more of a burden than a benefit. Watch and see if Republicans elected from suburban districts in more competitive areas start scraping out a little path of independence from the NRA.

And it’s not just elected officials.

Like other large membership organizations (AARP, for example, or AAA), the NRA negotiates discounts for its members with major companies. The Parkland students are targeting those companies as well, and getting quick results:

In the last day, Enterprise Rental Car, which manages three brands (Enterprise, Alamo, and National) announced it was ending its NRA discount. First National Bank of Omaha announced that it was dropping its NRA Visa card, and Symantec, which holds Norton and Lifelock, was ending its NRA discounts. The Wyndham family of hotels has also announced it was ending ties with the gun lobby.

In the short run, the NRA will try to find other rental car companies, banks, and hotels to substitute, and it may not make a huge difference, but by raising the costs of supporting the NRA in any way, the students are making progress.

The students–and their allies–are pressing any major company that treats the NRA as normal to stop doing so. On Twitter, they are calling out every company who offers benefits to NRA members.  They want to stigmatize and isolate the group and its political efforts, making it harder for most people to do business with them.

When LaPierre and Trump respond by demonizing their opponents and pushing concealed carry, they make the students’ efforts a little easier.

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The kids are alright: young activists brace for the NRA onslaught

emma gonzalez david hogg

Emma Gonzales and David Hogg, seniors. Two of the many strong young leaders from Stoneman Douglas High.

As soon as the brave and committed Parkland students revealed that “thoughts and prayers” would not be an adequate response to the mass shooting they lived through, ardent gun supporters set their sites on the kids. Social media provide ready access for offensive and outlandish claims.

So, opponents charge the students are not, in fact, students, but actors or plants, paid to undermine resistance to gun control;

or that the killing of 17 people at a public high school was fabricated, a “false flag” to justify gun control;

or that the kids, informed and articulate, are stooges of manipulative adults determined to foist gun control on the United States;

or that the traumatized students are understandably emotional, but certainly not able to offer wise policies on a complicated issues. (This last bit is from Bill O’Reilly, disgraced talking head, attacking young people in hopes of regaining a little public attention. I confess to a bit of schadenfreude to see him desperate for the spotlight.)

The strategy of discrediting the activists in a movement you don’t like as corrupt or naive is a familiar one, and the Parkland students have tried to prepare for it.

Stoneman Douglas students arrive at state CapitolRemember, until the mass shooting, these kids weren’t in a gun control movement, they were preparing for AP exams, auditioning for student plays, waiting for admissions decisions from colleges, or working in student government. A tragedy reset their agendas, and they are responding heroically.

A core group of more than a dozen student leaders rallied around Cameron Kasky’s #NeverAgain idea, to support each other, and to make something useful of the tragedy they are living through. They camped out on the floor of Kasky’s living room, sharing information, reaction to their tweets, and developing strategy.

The leaders of this campaign are high school students, and they know every move they make will face extraordinary scrutiny. Although they understood common sense ideas about how to make schools safer through gun control, they are studying the issues so that they never make a public mistake. They are earnest and informed in way that should shame many politicians, certainly including the president.

But they are teens; I expect that most have said something frivolous or posted a stupid picture online. I expect that trolls are digging, looking for material to embarrass them. But the more important point is their purposeful action, taking responsibilities that high school students shouldn’t have to shoulder.

Students demand action on gun violence in front of the White House (picture alliance/AP Photo/E. Vucci)The first activist responders inspired other Parkland students, and other students in high schools across the United States, who are organizing their own campaigns. Today, when Donald Trump pretended to listen to a select group of survivors who demanded action, students across the country walked out of their classrooms to support the Parkland kids and #NeverAgain. Some marched to Washington, DC, or to their state capitals.

Meanwhile, Stoneman-Douglas students rode buses to Tallahassee, to demand their state legislators respond to their pain and their concerns. First steps are so obvious, that the sharp rejection they received must have been disheartening.

If the activists can keep going, they will take more flack, politicians will respond, but they will offer as little as they possibly can. Trump’s initial response, offering support for a bump stock ban, and streamlining the transmission of background information among government authorities. The National Rifle Association doesn’t oppose these bills, modest positive steps toward safety.

The #NeverAgain students know they need more, and will have to work hard for a long time to make progress. Very wisely, they have focused on the NRA, demanding politicians reject its support. This is absolute, clear, and extremely sensible.

I hope that they won’t let opponents or allies talk the students off it.

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Gun politics notes (1)

About 17 students initially laid down in front of the executive mansion for three minutes to symbolize the time it took Nikolas Cruz to kill the same number of people with an AR-style rifle at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday. (Twitter)

Following the inspirational lead of the Parkland students crusading for sensible gun regulation, Washington, DC students staged a die-in today in front of the White House, demanding action.

The Parkland activists have called for large demonstrations on March 24, and other groups have announced student walk-outs to demand regulation for safe schools.

As activism on this issue will develop over the coming months, I want to use this post to address some fundamental issues in gun politics that won’t necessarily fit into posts that address the day to day about current debates.

  1. The battle over guns in the United States really extends a half century, at least, to the  Gun Control Act of 1968, which began as a response to the assassination of John F. Kennedy. (Yes, you’re right, that was in 1963; gun legislation takes a long time.) In the wake of the 1968 assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy, Congress passed a bill that banned mail order purchase of some weapons, and prohibited felons and people judged mentally ill from possessing weapons. The National Rifle Association supported it.
  2. The National Rifle Association was not always so fundamentalist, nor has it always opposed federal regulation of firearms.Ambrose Burnside (at right), a union general in the Civil War, started the group after the war’s end, in response to the poor shooting and safety skills demonstrated by soldiers during the war. Founded in 1871, the NRA focused on teaching marksmanship and gun safety. Its core constituency was comprised of sport shooters and hunters. The group didn’t routinely oppose regulations on guns until after the passage of the 1968 Gun Control Act.
  3. The NRA supported that Act, officially, but some members were disappointed about the restrictions the government imposed. Over the next few years, a revolt within the organization led to a more aggressive anti-regulation group that focused increasingly on the political process. The group also shifted its focus from sports shooting to the use of weapons for self-defense.
  4. The second amendment to the US Constitution reads: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Amateurs and legal scholars have argued vociferously about what those words mean, and relationship of those two clauses to each other, and to the contemporary regulation of guns in America.
  5. No state or federal regulation of firearms was struck down by the Supreme Court for violating the Constitution until District of Columbia v. Heller (1968).
  6. Heller, decided 5-4, was the first time the Court found that the Second Amendment provided an individual right to bear arms for self-defense. The ruling struck down a DC law that prohibited the possession of unregistered handguns, while simultaneously refusing to allow most citizens to register guns. A departure from previous jurisprudence, it was a controversial decision.
  7. Written by Justice Antonin Scalia, Heller provided the most expansive decision on the Second Amendment to date. Justice Scalia described the right to keep and bear arms as fundamental, and analogous to the First Amendment right to free speech.
  8. Justice Scalia was clear that the right to keep and bear arms, like the right to free speech, was subject to reasonable restrictions for the public good. He wrote:

Like most rights, the right secured by the Second Amendment is not unlimited. From Blackstone through the 19th-century cases, commentators and courts routinely explained that the right was not a right to keep and carry any weapon whatsoever in any manner whatsoever and for whatever purpose….. For example, the majority of the 19th-century courts to consider the question held that prohibitions on carrying concealed weapons were lawful under the Second Amendment or state analogues….Although we do not undertake an exhaustive historical analysis today of the full scope of the Second Amendment, nothing in our opinion should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings, or laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms.

Heller clearly allows states and the federal government to regulate the sorts of weapons available, the people who might (or might not) be allowed to possess them, and the conditions under which guns are bought and sold.

I think the decision is important for activists on both sides of the issue. According to Heller the Second Amendment does not block all regulation of guns or gun owners. It’s therefore a mistake to allow it to dominate the debates about public safety and personal freedom. It’s also a mistake for advocates of regulation to focus on repealing the Second Amendment, as New York Times columnist, Bret Stephens has argued. Such efforts are extremely time-consuming, distracting, and unlikely to be successful. Jurisprudence on the Second Amendment continues to develop, but presently Justice Scalia’s opinion allows government substantial flexibility in crafting sensible regulation of firearms.

 

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Is this school shooting different? Teens take over!

Emma Gonzalez is mad, informed, engaged, and powerful. If you haven’t seen this yet, it’s worth 10 minutes of your time.

Emma survived the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where a 19 year old man, armed with a semi-automatic weapon, killed (at least) 17 people. She’s announced her determination to make Parkland the last school shooting, by forcefully demanding government action.

It’s hard to remember that the tragically high numbers of deaths from gun violence in the United States are eclipsed by many more survivors, more poised for political action than ever before. Emma is great, sharp, smart, and committed. And she’s not unusual or alone:

Fifteen year old Christine Yared cracked The New York Times op-ed page with a powerful description of living through the shooting:

My friends, classmates and teachers are dead. I see the media portraying them as good children who were smart and kind, but they were much more than that.

My friend Gina is dead. I had just talked to her that morning in art class. We laughed together, we sang together, we smiled together. We will never do that again. How could someone be this despicable? When I think about it, I start bawling.

We can’t let innocent people’s deaths be in vain. We need to work together beyond political parties to make sure this never happens again. We need tougher gun laws.

Student survivors filled every social media channel, posting about their pain and their commitment, and demanding that adults do better. Several students also cracked the television news shows.

Cameron Kasky was one of a group that made the rounds of the Sunday shows, and announced the student strategy. On ABC News he announced a new focus tied to a familiar tactic:

People are saying that it’s not time to talk about gun control. And we can respect that. Here’s a time. March 24th in every single city. We are going to be marching together as students begging for our lives.

This isn’t about the GOP. This isn’t about the Democrats. This is about the adults. We feel neglected and at this point, you’re either with us or against us.

Any politician on either side who is taking money from the NRA is responsible for events like this, At the end of the day, the NRA is fostering and promoting this gun culture.

These young people are not going to be satisfied with thoughts and prayers, or cooled out by politicians expressing their heartfelt concerns and sympathies. They know that the repetition of mass shootings isn’t a normal feature of life in advanced democracies. They know that gun control helps.

Their plan is to mobilize teens–and their supporters–across the country, and rather than focus on a particular set of reforms, focus on the toxic role of the National Rifle Association (NRA) in the political debate. Emma proclaims that she will ask President Trump how much he received from the NRA, but won’t depend on the accuracy of his answer; she already knows: $30 million. Cameron outlines the plan to stigmatize any politician who takes money from the group–and it’s almost every national Republican.

Might this time be different than all the other times after all the other horrific shootings?

We’ve been through it before, in Tucson, Arizona, where Rep. Gabby Giffords was among those shot by a crazed gunman, and in Newtown, Connecticut, where a crazed gunman targeted an elementary school.

The NRA and its supporters stay quiet while outraged supporters of gun control stage events and issue demands, and then everything stalls in Congress, where NRA-supported politicians have been able to stop anything from happening. States often pass laws around the margins, but roughly half the time, those laws make it easier to get guns. And then other issues crowd out guns for most people.

This time?

The student initiative is building on not only a foundation of fatigue and horror, but also political organizing that’s taken off since Newtown, and particularly in the last year. The students have linked not only with gun control groups like Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, but also with large and powerful Resistance groups like the Women’s March, which is planning its own student walk-out day to protest gun violence.

The focus on the NRA also provides local activists a blueprint for their own organizing. Groups like Indivisible, already prepared for engaging in the 2018 elections, have been pressuring their elected officials to meet with their districts and explain their positions. Adding the question of NRA support to the obstacles politicians must navigate is reasonably clear.

It’s unlikely to be decisive in some districts, but in many others, where modest gun control measures (bans on assault weapons; full background checks; ending the gun show loophole) are broadly popular, embattled incumbents will have to handle voters passionate about changing unpopular policies and politicians who support them.

This time, the Republican Party is led by a president who is particularly inept at expressing empathy or concern. Donald Trump’s jaunty Florida photo op (thumbs up!) surely made students madder, and the president would be crazy to meet with these kids, who are better informed and more articulate than he is.

A few Republican politicians will desert him, calling for modest measures and distancing themselves from the NRA to try to protect themselves–and maybe their students as well.

In this Congressional term, I suspect the national legislative impact of the shooting and the student activism will be to stall a bill that would allow anyone allowed to carry a concealed weapon in any state to carry a concealed weapon in every state, supported by the NRA and 213 House cosponsors.

Chants of 'no more guns' break out at Florida school shooting vigilSafe schools and sensible gun regulation will take a different Congress, and more activist effort over years.

The kids from Parkland are tough and smart; the gun debate will test their endurance.

 

Over the long haul, I’d bet on the survivors.

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Greensboro lunch counter sit in anniversary, 2018

It’s the anniversary of the start of the sit-in campaign in Greensboro, North Carolina. I’m always moved and encouraged by the audacity of those young men. 

 

There was once a store called Woolworths.  It sold dry goods, mostly cheap stuff, including paper and pencils.  Many Woolworths also housed a cheap restaurant where you could get coffee and a grilled cheese sandwich, also cheap.  Fifty-three years ago today, a
Woolworth sit-inWoolworths in Greensboro, North Carolina, was the site of a new phase in the civil rights movement, the beginning of the sit-in campaign.

On Monday morning, February 1, 1960, Ezell Blair, Jr., Franklin McCain, Joseph McNeil, and David Richmond, wearing their best clothes, went shopping at the Woolworths, bought some school supplies, then sat down at the lunch counter and tried to order coffee.  The four young men, freshmen at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical College,  knew the store wouldn’t serve food to black people, so they waited.  Woolworths shut the lunch counter down.

The next day, black and white students filled the lunch counter at Woolworths, and by the end of the week, every lunch counter in downtown Greensboro was filled with students protesting segregation–and organizing a boycott of the downtown businesses that practiced segregation.  Over the next weeks, sit-ins spread across the segregated South, led by student activists.

The four freshmen, no not the singing group, had all been active in the NAACP’s youth council, but none of them saw the large organization as a good foundation for a more activist and confrontational phase in the civil rights struggle. Pushed by the heroic Ella Baker, the NAACP launched an initiative to create a new student-based civil rights organization, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which staged dramatic education and direct action campaigns across the South for most of the rest of the decade.

Today is a great day to commemorate the sit-in movement, but anniversaries can be slippery.  When I tell the story to my classes, I usually start with the long Sunday night conversation when the brave young men talked themselves into action.  You could start the story much earlier, with the sit-ins organized by the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) organized decades earlier, or with the sit-down strikes organized by the Industrial Workers of the World at the start of the 20th century, even before the founding of the NAACP.  You could also start the story with the Montgomery Bus Boycott and Rosa Parks, or the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954.  The Greensboro students knew all those stories.

Anniversaries help us remember important events and twists in history, but they invariably simplify longer and more complicated stories.  The drama of the Greensboro sit-in makes for a good entry into thinking about the civil rights movement, and into thinking about how regular people sometimes make history.  The names of Baker, Blair, McCain, McNeil, and Richmond are not particularly well-known today, not like those of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, John Lewis (who would lead SNCC), or Thurgood Marshall.  The names of the thousands of young people crusading against segregation with them are even lesser known.  But movements are only possible and potentially effective with people willing to take risks without counting on seeing their names in the history books.

Woolworth lunch counter

 

The lunch counter itself, or at least a portion of it, has been reassembled at the American Museum of National History (Smithsonian) in Washington, DC.  There are only four seats on display.  When we think about the civil rights movement, however, we need to extend the counter a long way.

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