Widespread student activism has emerged in the aftermath of the Stoneman Douglas High School massacre in Parkland, Florida on Feb. 14. Students and teachers have united to stage protests in Florida and across the country in support of increased gun control. To belittle this movement’s effectiveness by citing U.S. divisiveness and the National Rifle Association’s influence is the wrong attitude. Controversy fuels — not weakens — political activism in the United States, and the perseverance of these activists can lead to victories in policy reform and the overall improvement of American society. While these protests may not directly guarantee students’ safety from gun violence, these students are brave heroes who have used their experiences to ignite an unwavering national movement. Their endurance could very well lead to reform — don’t discredit their efforts just yet.
Peaceful protests have the capacity to cause positive change. There have been numerous successful protests throughout American history. The Abolitionist Movement, beginning in the 1830s, advocated for the emancipation of all slaves. The movement’s supporters faced significant resistance and opposition until the 13th amendment was ratified in 1865. During his March on Washington For Jobs and Freedom in 1963, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech and later met with former President John. F Kennedy to discuss racial inequality. Following King’s movement, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were instituted. Countless protests were staged throughout the country for LGBTQ rights, including the 1993 March on Washington for LGBT Equal Rights and Liberation. The efforts of the LGBTQ community and allies eventually resulted in the legalization of same-sex marriage in the U.S. in 2015. These three movements, along with many more, emerged over controversial issues. Nevertheless, they overcame resistance and persisted all the way to triumph. How MLK became the face of the civil rights movement, the students of Stoneman Douglas High School could become the face of gun reform in the U.S.
Describing the NRA as a major economic agent fighting to diminish the gun reform movement is generous. While the NRA lines the pockets of many politicians with millions of dollars, the NRA’s power is crumbling. With #BoycottNRA trending on Twitter and multiple companies cutting ties with the association, the NRA no longer holds the pro-gun political monopoly it once did. As the NRA’s empire crumbles, Congress feels the pressure of the American public, especially in the context of the upcoming midterm elections. Led by the students in Florida, more protests and walkouts will continue to rally the public in favor of gun control, and Congress will have to discuss the problem and eventually enact policy change. The Parkland students have successfully taken over social media sites to disseminate their message. The Republican-controlled Congress may not want to hear or agree with their arguments, but it won’t be able to escape them. This movement is not giving up, and their ability to bombard senators and representatives through social media has made them impossible to ignore.
The role of social media as it maintains the endurance of this movement should give gun reform allies hope. If Congress does institute gun control, it would be the first step in a long trajectory to make the U.S. safer. However, President Donald Trump has already called for better gun control despite his ties to the NRA. Even companies such as Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart have raised the minimum age for gun buyers to 21 years old and discontinued assault-style rifles. Don’t dismiss the effectiveness of peaceful protests just yet.
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A version of this appeared in the Monday, March 5 print edition. Email Paola Nagovitch at [email protected]