Mass protests are only the first step to gun control – there is much more work to do

Freedom of speech can act as a door to change, but it’s just that – a door. The real work comes next, after most of the people rallying with you have gone back to their day jobs

Hope Howard
Saturday 31 March 2018 10:31
March For Our Lives: Martin Luther King's grandaughter Yolanda's speech in Washington DC

As an American, I’m worried that the most recent political marches aren’t promoting change – rather they represent a diffusion of responsibility.

Last weekend’s campaign, known as the March for Our Lives, took place across the world and was meant to honour the victims of school shootings in the United States and raise awareness about senseless gun violence.

I applaud the people who took the time out of their day to advocate something bigger than themselves, but I have to ask: after marching with your community for an afternoon, how do we ensure that the conversation doesn’t just end with your posters being tossed in the trash?

At one time, marches were actually effective.

In the 1960s, marches for the civil rights movement took place across the country, demanding equality among black and white people in the States – and activists didn’t stop there. They fought in the courts, lobbied elected officials and created committees to work towards nonviolent change.

Ultimately, this multifaceted campaign was successful and pressured Congress to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964, as well as the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Subsequently, marches have lost their power.

In the late Sixties and early Seventies, thousands of Americans protested against the Vietnam war by marching throughout the country. Yet their protests didn’t change the direction of the war. Instead, they fuelled the American people’s distrust in the government.

With time, a pattern developed in the US. The people protested, and the US government didn’t listen.

For example, the first gay pride march in the US occurred in 1970, but for 45 more years gay marriage wasn’t considered a right. During the same year, 20 million Americans marched on Earth Day for the environmental movement, but the current administration has rolled back its participation with the global, historic Paris agreement on climate change. In 1982, there was an anti-nuclear weapons march, but nuclear weapons still threaten the world we live in today. And, the women’s march in 2017 was empowering, but it is debatable how much impact the march had on women in their everyday lives.

After marches, some people go back to their daily routines and sleep easy, believing they took their turn at stirring the pot of political reason. In reality, they fall short of making real change.

At best, these demonstrations are peaceful, showing strength in a crowd’s ability to be cool, calm and collected. At worst, they are violent and create so much noise that people can’t even hear what protesters are fighting for.

As a writer, I believe in the freedom of speech. As an American, I don’t take it for granted, but I do hold it to a high standard.

Freedom of speech can act as a door to change, but it’s just that – a door. The real work comes next, when the hundreds of people that were rallying with you have gone back to their day jobs.

Emma Gonzalez, the teenager that survived the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and who famously called out lawmakers for their BS, didn’t change the world by standing with a crowd.

Instead, she’s become the internationally recognisable advocate for gun control by using her individual voice, crafting speeches, writing essays and making videos to shake the world.

Most likely, we won’t be able to use our voice on the same scale that Gonzalez has, and sometimes, marching as a group is needed to build a sense of community and empowerment. But be weary of this temporary high, as it is really a false sense of security. In reality, the world is the same as it was the day before.

It’s the bystander effect in full force.

Raising awareness is only the first step. Making real change requires people to get involved with grassroots campaigns, write for local papers or volunteer at nonprofits, all in the name of changing state legislation bit by bit.

After all, in the US, change is often made through the states. Before same-sex marriage was legalised nationally, it took over 37 states individually changing their legislation before Americans saw overarching change in 2015.

Americans have seen political marches as a vehicle for change for decades, but have yet to notice that they aren’t taking us as far as we would like.

Gun control is no exception to this.

It’ll take a lot more manpower, a lot of time, and a few more passionate souls like Emma Gonzalez to win this fight. And when we do, we’ll fully embrace the feelings of empowerment and social change – because it’ll finally be the real deal.

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