Young people are angry and organized, saying: hear us now or on Election Day.
An estimated 800,000 protesters took to the streets in Washington D.C. in support of gun reform. There were over 20,000 more in Parkland; 175,000 in New York; 20,000 in Austin; 15,000 in Phoenix; 100,000 in Boston; 15,000 in Houston; 5,000 in Dallas; 85,000 in Chicago; 30,000 in Pittsburgh; 11,000 in Hartford; 25,000 in San Francisco; 12,000 in St. Louis; 30,000 in Atlanta; 10,000 in Cincinnati; 5,000 in Columbus; over 50,000 in Los Angeles; 12,000 in Portland; more than 5,000 in Kansas City; and hundreds of thousands more in Philadelphia, Baltimore, Detroit, Grand Rapids, Seattle, Oakland and scores of other cities throughout the nation, as well as the international community.
Created by, organized by and led by students, March For Our Lives was a rousing success, dominating television time, social media and front pages. The mission and message was unambiguous:
School safety is not a political issue. There cannot be two sides to doing everything in our power to ensure the lives and futures of children who are at risk of dying when they should be learning, playing, and growing. The mission and focus of March For Our Lives is to demand that a comprehensive and effective bill be immediately brought before Congress to address these gun issues. No special interest group, no political agenda is more critical than timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country.
Despite the march being apolitical, as protesters chanted “Vote them out!” and “Never again!” Republicans everywhere must have realized the brutal political situation they’ve put themselves in. By allowing the NRA and special interests to wield more power and influence over their political positions in exchange for campaign cash, they stand largely opposite of the million-plus protesters. Any gun reform is going to take revenue out of gun companies’ hands. Their biggest mouthpiece, the NRA, will not take kindly to that.
Armed with words and the moral high ground — after all, protecting innocent students tends to make more sense than the right of a private citizen to purchase high-capacity, military-style assault weapons — March For Our Lives proved just how re-energized many Americans are about gun reform.
The problem for Republicans is that if they do the right thing and walk back their positions and actually push for common sense changes, they risk a primary challenge by someone further to the right who will accuse them of hating the Second Amendment. The NRA will quickly divert money from one candidate to another and publicly lower a candidate’s NRA rating. They’re a powerful organization with considerable influence and deep pockets. After all, they were able to change Donald Trump’s mind with just a few meetings after he mocked a Republican for being afraid of the NRA.
Compounding the issue for Republicans, ironically, is that they are currently in power, so reform can’t happen without their votes. They can’t sit back and vote against a bill that will pass and get to claim to the special interests that they tried to stop it. They also can’t let the Democrats carry the football and decry certain provisions of a bill as a step too far. No, if they want change, their voices, their actions and their votes are needed.
The political consequences of doing nothing are also potentially devastating for Republicans. Young people tend be both overwhelmingly Democratic and apathetic about voting. On the latter issue, even after apolitical campaigns like Rock the Vote and a 1.1 percent increase in turnout from 2012 to 2016, youth continue to vote in lower numbers than any other age demographic. If Republican positions were off-putting to 20-year-olds, they didn’t particularly care because that group tended to stay home on election day.
But the March proves that young people aren’t only fired up, they’re the ones leading the charge. There’s a clear message, with a clear goal. And they have loudly proclaimed that if their voices aren’t heard during a March march, they’ll make them heard at the voting booth.
If youth turnout doubles in the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats could go from narrow wins to historic gains.
But even with marginal increases across the board, Democrats still stand to win a number of lean-Republican races that they wouldn’t ordinarily win.
As for Trump, he took a longer route back to Mar-a-Lago, apparently in an effort to avoid seeing protesters. Out of sight, out of mind might work for now, but it won’t forever.
430 days in, 1032 to go