The ability of the Parkland, Fla., school-shooting victims to organize nationwide gun-control rallies less than six weeks after their school was attacked is nothing short of a political miracle. Even Byron Allen couldn’t have predicted the perfect storm of demographics, inept politicians, charismatic kids and engaged media that has overtaken the nation.
What’s more impressive is how well these kids have gamed the system to create opportunities and conversations around gun policy that have slipped through the cracks of public discourse for decades.
While the face of the gun-control movement before the March for Our Lives may have been mostly white upper-middle-class kids from Parkland, Fla., after Saturday’s march in Washington, D.C., a whole slew of new voices, echoing the concerns of black lives and African-American policy goals broke through.
If you have to wrap some Black Lives Matter rhetoric in L.L.Bean and Lululemon in order to get some press coverage and meaningful change, I’m all for it.
I attended the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., after a day of intense preparation. I was expecting it to be incredibly cold, and I was prepared for huge throngs of people who didn’t know where they were going.
I was also prepared for the speeches to last all day and a conveyer belt of speakers who looked like a CW casting call. I had even steeped myself in some of the black conservative critiques of the March for Our Lives like those of Shermichael Singleton, who complained the march marginalized black kids.
I also familiarized myself with the arguments of Colion Noir, fresh off his interview with rapper/activist Killer Mike who agreed with the right of students to protest but disagreed with them being “weaponized” to attack the Second Amendment.
I had all of these thoughts swirling in my mind as I made my way through crowds of kids from D.C., New York and as far away as Florida and Ohio. I remembered those critiques as I watched speech after speech in the bright D.C. afternoon sun, and by the end of the day, I could come to only one conclusion: Every single concern and critique I had heading into the March for Our Lives was wrong. The March for Our Lives was one of the most organized, intersectional, disciplined and integrated protest marches I’ve ever seen, and I’ve been to a lot of marches.
Your typical protest march goes on way too long, has too many speakers going off-script, and by the end of the evening, the crowd is getting antsy, coming up with their own chants and bouncing around beach balls to pass the time.
Not at the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C. These kids had amazing message discipline; every single speaker got onstage, talked about gun violence in schools or neighborhoods, the need to enact policy to solve the problem, and encouraged everyone to vote.
There were black kids from Chicago, Latino kids from Los Angeles and minorities from big cities, suburbs and inner cities all sharing their stories. Naomi Wadler, that amazing 11-year-old from suburban D.C., gave probably the most-watched speech of the day.
“I am here to acknowledge and represent the African American girls whose stories don’t make the front page” –Naomi Wadler, 11-years-old pic.twitter.com/SMDgcPHHtg
— March For Our Lives (@AMarch4OurLives) March 24, 2018
The Parkland kids didn’t bring out their “black friends” as window dressing, they didn’t “share the stage” with children of color, the stage was open to everyone.
There was no mugging for the camera or virtue-signaling about having different kids from different backgrounds onstage: Everyone played a role, everyone got their say, and everyone made an impact. “Say her name” was just as resonant as “Enough is enough” and “No more.”
There were plenty of adults and politicians and celebrities present, but they clearly were taking a back seat to the message discipline and passion of the students.
When adults have an anti-war rally, there’s always somebody up there who starts screaming about food deserts or becoming overly partisan. In other words, getting off message for their own agenda. Not these kids. They were like a thousand Buddhist monks chanting the same mantra: “Enough is enough,” “Get out and vote,” “This is a public-safety nonpartisan issue.”
And the best part? They were done early. I was there as part of the media covering the event, and we all expected the rally to go from about 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Instead, the speeches started promptly at 12 p.m. and by 2:57 p.m., David Hogg was onstage waving goodbye to everyone. I can’t tell you how powerful it was that they got that much message content out there in three hours, and the whole area was cleaned up by 6.
It remains to be seen what happens after the march, but a few things are already clear. The kind of “wait your turn” incrementalist rhetoric reserved for Black Lives Matter seems to have given way to a greater urgency on the part of political leaders to do something, and if black folks can ride that wave to policy change all the better.
Barack Obama about Parkland, 2018: “too often we say wait your turn.”
Barack Obama to Ferguson when we visited the White House, 2014: “you have to take it slow, change is incremental. It’s a marathon, not a race. You can’t have everything at once.” https://t.co/KOah1kshP7
— ashley yates (@brownblaze) March 25, 2018
Further, and this is just a morbid reality, there will be more school shootings before the November elections, so the focus on voting and registering thousands of teenagers to vote won’t suddenly dissipate after summer vacation.
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, everyone at the march seemed to realize that was the beginning, not the end of the move toward more-responsible gun legislation in America.
The March for Our Lives made a conscious effort to say “All lives mattered” onstage, and for once, that was not an insult, because of the seamless organic integration of black perspectives and black lives. Perhaps for the first time, in public life, for one afternoon, it was true.
Dressed in teenage kicks and T-shirts, a bunch of high school students reminded America that everyone’s lives should matter, and perhaps, if we’re lucky, and the right policies change, they might be right.