March For Our Lives shifts to new strategy
March for Our Lives demonstration in Washington D.C. in 2018. The organization is now joining forces with Black Lives Matter. | Jose Luis Magana/AP

WASHINGTON—March For Our Lives, the massive student-led anti-gun organization that poured youthful activists into the streets—and into voting booths—two years ago, is shifting strategy, but its platform stays the same, with one big new emphasis.

That emphasis, said co-founder David Hogg and Executive Director Alexis Confer, both now college students, is to link up and work in unity with Black Lives Matter and its movement against entrenched U.S. racism, since that racism constantly appears in daily gun killings of Black youth on U.S. streets, often by militarized white cops.

Confer and Hogg discussed the evolution of the movement in an August 11 televised Q&A with Washington Post reporter Jacqueline Alemany, one of a series the paper is sponsoring with newsmakers, top officials, thinkers about a pandemic-ridden nation, and other leaders. The focus of the session was supposed to be the youth vote in 2020, but it turned to battling and ending gun violence against youth.

The movement’s main goal is still the same as it was two years ago: To energize the nation’s youth and get them to register and vote for officeholders who will preserve the future, and their lives, while not letting young people get blown away in shootings, fall victim to U.S. entrenched racism, or choke to death on an increasingly polluted planet.

Campaigning against gun violence and for specific controls gave March For Our Lives spectacular success in the 2018 mid-term elections. Youth turnout more than doubled and provided margins of victory, the movement claims, in ousting 26 gun-nut officeholders, including six GOP congressmen.

The ensuing Democratic-run House passed strong gun-control bills, which died in the GOP-held Senate.

“Now, there is a willingness and a hunger to go out and do that, especially in Generation Z,” the youths coming up behind Hogg and Confer, she said. “They’re not future leaders; they’re current leaders.”

The leaders, though, had to adapt, due to the coronavirus pandemic. The movement’s mass marches attracted half a million people to the streets of D.C. and millions more nationwide in 2018 and untold thousands the following year.

But 2020 brought the pandemic with it. Some 5.117 million people have tested positive since it was officially declared on March 13. And 164,137 have died, as of 2:30 pm on August 11, according to the most authoritative source, Johns Hopkins University.

It’s also had an outsized impact on Black and brown youth, Hogg and Confer told Alemany, just as gun violence has. So while stopping the carnage among youths of color was always a leading priority of the movement, they said, it’s even more so now.

“One thing March For Our Lives focuses on is police violence” as well as gun violence, Hogg added.

The result is that the movement is stepping up its efforts to reach those youths of color, and the wider voting public—meaning parents and grandparents—in a variety of ways.

One is a hard-hitting national advertising buy, which declares, among other things that “Black Americans are still being killed for being Black in America.” It’s running in nine swing states.

“We refuse to stand by and watch Black people be murdered…Join us.”

“All gun sales should be licensed and weapons of war should be banned,” it also says. March For Our Lives also strongly opposes U.S. militarism and militarizing the police, too.

The other tactic is to keep its 300 nationwide chapters activated through social media, which is also the way the organization began. Their best communication method now, the two said, is youth-to-youth.

The point, they said, still is to ensure young people’s voices are heard on the campaign and heeded by those seeking office. “When politicians are too comfortable, they don’t do anything,” Hogg said.

And while the organization can’t stage big marches any more due to the pandemic, it still arranges smaller events. The most recent came last week after New York State Attorney General Letitia James indicted the notorious gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, and its leaders for massive fraud, for looting the lobby to feed their own lavish lifestyles, and for violating its New York charitable charter.

James, New York’s first African-American and the first female Attorney General, also demanded judges at state Supreme Court in Manhattan break up the NRA. A check of March For Our Lives’ website shows the group hired probers and a law firm that, two years ago, turned over its evidence of NRA wrongdoing to her predecessor, an acting AG.

That evidence included the NRA chartering a plane for $100,000 to fly its spokeswoman and two aides to Florida to debate survivors of the 2018 Valentine’s Day massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School of 14 students and three union teachers. The massacre launched March For Our Lives. Its members wiped the floor in the debate.

So when James indicted the NRA, March For Our Lives hired a U-Haul van, loaded it with big empty cardboard boxes and drove it to NRA headquarters in D.C.’s Virginia suburbs. The cartons “were to help them move,” Hogg said. “We’ve known for a long time the NRA is corrupt.”

But as March For Our Lives canvasses among young people to encourage turnout and voting, they’ve run into one big problem, Hogg and Confer admit: Students who say “my vote doesn’t count” because they live in virtual one-party states, such as in the South.

Though the movement doesn’t endorse specific candidates its answer to skeptics—including students unenthusiastic about presumed Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden—is “yes, it does.” That’s because lower-level officials, from Congress down to school boards, have huge influence on the causes the movement champions. Indeed, Hogg cites the election of James in 2018 as a prime example.

And, he forthrightly declares, “You could say young people want to elect someone who addresses climate change, gun violence,” and institutionalized racism. “A lot of young people realize” Republican President “Donald Trump is not doing that, and if he’s re-elected, it could end our generation and possibly end the human race.”

Still, this election’s results would be far from the end of the march’s campaign. “If you think one election won’t make things 100%, you’re right,” Hogg tells the doubters. “It’ll take election after election after election…And if we don’t learn from our errors, we are destined to repeat them.”


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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