The tragic Parkland shooting has spawned a new movement for gun control and safety. The consistent and effective campaigning of student survivors has led to an international March on Washington this Saturday. While the focus is on changing US gun policy, its political impact has the potential to be much more widespread and dramatic. It represents perhaps the beginnings of a intersectional movement for broader social transformation.
Indeed, almost from the beginning the attention given to this Parkland shooting has been criticized for ignoring the everyday gun violence faced by young people of color and those in less economically advantaged communities. This reinforces broader questions of “whose life matters” in the US and why. The efforts of the students and March organizers to look beyond their privilege to directly address these concerns and include marginalized populations to often ignored, reflects a positive shift in progressive identity.
The goal of this March, therefore, must go beyond substantive reform of our gun laws. It must serve as a spark for creating an inclusive intersectional movement for progressive change. Its success will be judged on the revolutionary solidarity it is able to build and maintain across race, class, gender, and generation.
Building a Progressive Identity
Despite a growing resistance to Trump, there remains a deep cleavage among resistors for those who support identity vs. class politics. Importantly, this division is more a media creation fueled by the political mainstream than it is a reality. Progressives have sought from the beginning to balance its championing of universal reforms with those that reflect the specific challenges faced by discriminated against populations. Nevertheless, there remains a perception that those calling for radical change are not only politically naive but also (intentionally or otherwise) ironically reinforcing racism and sexism.
These differences are witnessed in the ongoing conflict between “progressives” and “Liberals”, linked to supporters of Sanders and Clinton, respectively. Liberals charge progressives as ignoring racial injustice and the gender based discrimination in their call for democratic socialism. To this end, it is assumed that socialism is a privileged political position as those who are made most vulnerable by Rightwing policies and rhetoric cannot afford the luxury of a political revolution or assuming that Democrats and Republicans are identical.
However, the facts on the ground challenge this common sense. Instead, it has been progressive movements that have contributed to the election of local candidates that are most directly addressing civil rights and economic justice issues in the country. For instance, it was a broad based coalition of progressives, civil rights leaders, and poor people who elected Larry Krasner as DA of Philadelphia who now in office has put forward the most forward thinking program for ending mass incarceration. Or the election of Mayor Chokwe Lumumba in Mississippi who states explicitly that he is “a revolutionary, not a liberal”.
Crucial, is the ability to use this shared anger into building a progressive identity. This movement is evident in the young people currently leading the charge. They have continually stressed an “us vs. them” attitude, where the “us” are all those regardless of race, class, gender, or sexual orientation threatened by the gun lobby. This has extended to a wider critique of police brutality and the corruption of the political system generally. Just as significantly, it reflects a clear desire to create a common identity that simultaneously respects diversity while stressing a sense of unity in common progressive purpose.
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The danger, of course, is that the marginalised voices will continue to be less heard than their more privileged counterparts. The very invocation of an “us” brings to the fore serious concerns about who is defining this term and who is being ignored? The idea of a progressive identity poses its own risks of further marginalising people of colour, the LGTBQ community, and women in the name of “universal” change.
Yet one of the most heartening parts of the March for Our Lives is the young activists use of their privilege to begin to deconstruct and ultimately dismantle it. In response to critiques that their tragedy was garnering much greater public attention than their young counterparts in black and brown communities, the Parkland survivors have repeatedly highlighted this discrepancy. Instead of using a common identity to mask these inequalities, they have drawn upon it to give them greater airing.
Thus when it was suggested that there was a need for more guns in the classroom, rather than simply repeat liberal media talking points, the students stated loudly that this would put black teachers at greater risk of being shot by police. Or when it was proposed that schools need more security, they declared that this would not only fail to make them safer but would also lead to the increased arresting of black youths.
What is being shown are the seeds of genuinely spirit of intersectional solidarity. It is one that refuses to sweep racism, sexism, and homophobia under the rug. Instead it is build on weaponizing white privilege for its own self-destruction and the creation of a united popular front against shared injustice.
Our Lives Matter
The name of the protest is telling and significant. They called it “Our Lives Matter” signifying that no life should be ignored or treated as collateral damage for the profit of an elite status quo. The risk, obviously, is that it will fall into the same trap as the Conservative “all lives matter” reaction against the impassioned cry of “black lives matters” protestors. Yet while this danger should not be minimized, there is also cause for real optimism. Emerging is a resistance that is at once inclusive and radical, creating an “our” that acknowledges how diverse identities distinctly experience these oppressions and with different intensities.
This is truly a “March for All Our Lives”. It is saying that if we do not address gun violence we will all suffer as a result, though not necessarily equally. It is proclaiming that we share a common humanity and are united in our desires for a more progressive, free, and safe world. Yet it also demands that as part of this shared identity we never forget that some are asked to the bear the brunt of this repression more than others. In taking to the streets, these students have banded together to build an intersectional progressive movement that seeks justice for everyone.