From the 1913 Women’s Suffrage Protest Procession to the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom of 1963 to the Women’s March of 2017, marches have long been powerful tools of democracy and a necessary check on power. When thousands of people gather next week, inspired by the hopeful and relentless messages of the young people of Parkland, Florida, the March for Our Lives will seek to push lawmakers out of the NRA chokehold that has prevented them from taking meaningful action on gun reform for years.
“We need elected officials to lose their seats,” Colin Goddard, Survivor Fellow at Everytown for Gun Safety, told VICE Impact. “We need people to win because of their support for gun reform. In Congress, it’s largely the same folks who did nothing after Newtown. They have to lose their seats because of their position on this issue. It’s a paradigm shift, and it is happening.”
When Goddard survived the school shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, his life became forever bound to the pursuit of gun reform. He didn’t know that at the time. It wasn’t until a subsequent shooting in Binghamton, NY, two years later, when he realized he had to get off the couch and get active in the fight for gun reform.
“It was my Binghamton moment,” said Goddard. “It was the moment when I decided I was not going to sit idly by. For so many others, Newtown was that moment. And Parkland is that for so many young people in this country.”
That’s why the March for Our Lives on March 24 is so important: it gives those people who are inspired by the voices of Parkland a meaningful way to get involved. And there are so many ways to do it. The March for Our Lives in Washington, DC kicks off at noon on Pennsylvania Avenue between 3rd Street and 12th Street NW, and there are 816 sibling events (and counting) worldwide.
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The significance of the March is manifold, but the two main consequences it has are fueling the hard, gritty work that is to follow on enacting changes in gun reform and keeping the issue at the top of the news.
“The march is not the finish line, but the starting block,” said Goddard. “It’s where people secure their commitment to this effort in the long haul.”
Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action, has helped to organize many marches in the past five years, since she founded an organization of moms demanding common sense gun reform that respects the second amendment. Since the shooting at Parkland, they’ve started a new chapter: Students Demand Action.
“We’ve had over 100,000 new volunteers and 13,000 registered in Students Demand Action,” Watts told VICE Impact. “But it’s gotta be more than just joining. We need people to get off the sidelines, to come to meetings, and get involved with their state legislature. We need people to vote specifically on this issue. If a legislator has a rating from the NRA, they probably support allowing guns in the hands of domestic abusers. An A rating from the NRA should be a scarlet letter.”
In the lightning fast news cycle of online media, the connections are fast and deep but fleeting. We all saw the faces and heard the voices of Parkland survivors, but the only way to keep their cause alive is to keep acting. That’s why the March 14 walkouts held such weight. Exactly one month after the horrific attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, students across the country participated in walkouts. When the organizers of the March for Our Lives saw the results, they were inspired.
“On Valentine’s Day, we hid in classrooms, in closets,” they wrote on the March for Our Lives website minutes after the walkouts, “while 17 of our fellow Eagles were brutally murdered, and 17 more were injured. Today, for 17 minutes, countless students across the country left their classrooms and stepped outside into the daylight. At Douglas, we walked from one memorial to the next, remembering each hero as a community. 17 minutes to remember those we lost, 17 minutes for those still healing injuries, and 17 minutes of solidarity with those of us still shattered by what happened.”
But they urge the public to keep that momentum going. The March on March 24 and National Gun Violence Prevention Awareness Day on June 2 will keep the issue in the headlines as we move toward November, when a real paradigm shift could happen.
“Having so many young people getting involved in the March for Our Lives is inspiring and encouraging,” said Goddard. “This is a massive block of voters who can swing an election. If elected officials do nothing, thousands of young people will vote against them. This is changing the calculation in these elected officials’ heads.”
Find out where your lawmaker stands by joining Everytown’s Throw Them Out campaign, or contact your representatives above to tell them where you stand. Get involved with the March for Our Lives by either heading to DC or lining up with a March near you by texting MARCH to 644-33.