The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have come to Washington. You can admire them, berate them, dismiss them as fake humans, or feel just slightly terrified by their energy and single-mindedness, but any way you look at it, they plan to be heard. These kids plan to name and shame members of Congress who have been bought and sold by the NRA, and they’ll be backed up by more than 800 student-led demonstrations planned in the United States and internationally this Saturday. Their actions and protests have already resulted in private companies, among them Delta, Dick’s Sporting Goods, and Hertz, reordering their own relationships with the gun lobby. They’ve also stood behind a new gun bill in Florida that passed a Republican-dominated Legislature.
These students know the next step is to translate all this energy into votes. There are plans to register thousands of young voters this weekend, with a goal of having 4 out of 5 young people sign up to vote in the upcoming midterms. The marchers are buoyed by the fact that almost three-fifths of millennial voters—a group that’s a bit older than the demographic represented by these high school–age marchers—identify as Democrats. But young people are consistently unreliable voters, especially in midterm elections. And so, the question is, will any other groups follow the students’ lead this November?
Female voters are an obvious choice. A Quinnipiac University poll released in December revealed a “wide gender gap” with respect to gun control, with 69 percent of women supporting stricter gun laws and 26 percent opposing. The split for men: 47 percent in support and 47 percent opposed. If these young people can manage to activate older women, and especially their mothers, to vote on this issue, there could be reason to believe that meaningful change will follow.
There’s been some confusion in recent weeks over the interplay between Moms Demand Action, the Brady Campaign, MoveOn, the Women’s March, and the student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas. The Women’s March, for instance, had put its weight behind the national school walkout on March 14. Other groups are supporting an action on April 20, the anniversary of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School. But despite this lack of clear consensus, the truth is that the Parkland, Florida, students have benefited tremendously from the pre-existing machinery that these other groups have created. As Rolling Stone reports, “the day after the shooting, members from the Tallahassee chapter of Moms Demand Action were already on the ground protesting at the state capital. The next day, Everytown had rolled out a five-point plan to remove NRA-backed politicians from office. Days after that, [shooting victim and former member of Congress Gabrielle] Giffords had rolled out a six-figure ad buy targeting Governor Rick Scott for his coziness with the NRA.” And in the weeks following the Parkland attack, Shannon Watts, who heads up Moms Demand Action, had launched Students Demand Action, adding 115,000 new volunteers.
Indeed, the “crisis actor” contingent has been quick to point out that Everytown and Moms Demand Action were suspiciously early supporters of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students. This, notes the fever swamp, makes the students “pawns” in George Soros’ well-financed gun control machine.
Maybe. Or perhaps these kids are surprisingly effective messengers who have managed to direct a whole lot of big money both to their own actions and to those of existing gun groups. They have managed to use those groups in ways that amplified their own words and have also raised awareness of other gun control projects. The Stoneman Douglas organizers have accepted help from established organizations when their agendas align and allowed for adult leadership where it was needed. But the truth is women’s groups have been right behind them from the start. According to the Washington Post, since Parkland, about 1.7 million new people have signed up with Moms Demand Action or its umbrella group, Everytown for Gun Safety, to receive emails or text messages or to make a donation. Meetings that usually garner a few dozen participants have drawn hundreds. Everytown is now launching a massive voter registration drive in concert with Saturday’s march. That group has also launched an initiative, “Throw Them Out,” to elect pro–gun control leaders.
Perhaps the most symbolic effort to recruit adult voters to the Parkland agenda was launched by a pair of Stoneman Douglas students, juniors Adam Buchwald and Zach Hibshman. The boys started an initiative called Parents’ Promise to Kids, which has children and their parents sign a contract in which the adults pledge to vote for candidates dedicated to gun control. The contract is pretty simple. Parents simply pledge that “I/We [parent name(s)] promise to [child name(s)] that I/We will vote for legislative leaders who support our children’s safety over guns!”
Moms are obvious recipients of the Parkland kids’ message. Millions of American parents have watched in fear as their children have gone off to schools that are at the mercy of lockdown drills and daily fear, without hope of government action. As Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action has written, “as parents, our kids are the center of our world and the future of this country. Their lives are on the line every day in our schools and communities—and their voices deserve our full attention.”
The March for Our Lives was explicitly modeled on the Women’s March because the underlying concerns—about violence, the Trump administration, and the ways in which Washington is captive to special interests—are so similar. And indeed, the line through #MeToo and #TimesUp and #NeverAgain is a straight one. All of these are messages about frustration and citizen action, about seizing power back from an apparatus that protects corporations and the wealthy at the expense of victims. But more pointedly, they’re all about giving voice to those who feel that they have been unheard, marginalized, or condescended to for too long.
But perhaps the real reason female voters, and mothers in particular, will be moved and activated by the March for Our Lives stems from the poignant reality of what it means to raise children and watch them separate as they grow: If anything can motivate a mom, it’s the complicated stew of guilt and pride that allows us to recognize that we have wholly failed to protect our own children, and also that we somehow raised them adeptly enough that they’re capable of fighting for themselves.
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