Diversity in Nonviolent Resistance Movements: The March for Black Lives by Mandee Mapes @ Skidmore College
Boston’s March for Our Lives
The year is 2018. The day: March 24. 50,000-100,000 people are lined up in front of Madison Park High School, Boston, MA. “Youth” are asked to walk in the front, families (and “others”) are asked to walk in the back. (Weird activity to segregate.)
My friend and I are running late and start marching in the back with the others. I see posters that say: “books, not bullets,” “protect kids, not guns,” and, “thoughts and prayers = they don’t care.” People chant: “hey hey ho ho the NRA has got to go.” Moms and dads hold children’s hands. I love when parents bring their children to marches to introduce them to civic engagement, but I realize this is the first march I’ve been to where the issue directly affects the children there.
People line the sidewalk, others sit on their stoops, some stand on their balcony or lean out their window. Everyone cheers and waves. One man holds a sign that says: “I’m proud of you, kids!” and I feel a sense of belonging; we are all in this together. I think this is what patriotism feels like.
Behind us, a couple white men chant: “No Drumpf, no KKK, no fascist USA.” My friend and I join in. No one else does. It is awkward. I know why this chant wasn’t popular: this is a gun control rally, not a black lives matter one. Stick the issue at hand. Don’t convolute the message.
We make our way toward the front, looking for people we know. There are more signs: “my uterus is more regulated than your gun,” “the only thing easier to buy than a gun is a Republican,” and “if I die in a school shooting, lay my body on the steps of Capitol Hill.” People chant: “hey hey NRA, how many kids have you killed today?” A group of students chants: “black lives matter!” It dies out quickly, once it is apparent it is not catching on. This happens several more times.
We walk next to two drag queens, both holding photos of Pulse shooting victims. I tear up a bit, thinking about a friend of mine who managed to escape alive.
Boston’s Rally for Our Lives
The march ends and participants are asked to rally at the Boston Commons. Again, the front is saved for the youth, the back for the others. A DJ plays hip-hop, reggaeton, and EDM and the organizers on stage tell us to dance. We all look at each other confused. Dance? We just marched for murdered children. You want me to shake my booty for that?
We have to wait twenty minutes for the everyone to arrive. The organizers keep asking us to dance. It is very uncomfortable.
Finally, everyone is here and the rally begins. One of the organizers, a young, black woman, comes on stage with a microphone. “Look at all these colors!” she says, motioning to the other organizers. She is, of course, referring to the skin colors of the organizers. The March for Our Lives has put a lot of (much needed) energy into making this a movement for all lives, not just white ones. Once the applause dies down, she adds “before we begin, I want us to acknowledge that we are marching on stolen land,” the audience goes wild. People are obviously pleased that this is being addressed. “Land that rightfully belongs to the…” she mispronounces Wampanoags. She mispronounces it again. The audience is silent. She apologizes and laughs it off. It takes a little time for the audience to get back into it.
There are six speakers: the first is a Parkland student who speaks about the mission of the movement; the second and third are sisters, one a Parkland student and the other a Parkland alumni, who perform a slam poem in which they acknowledge that “the only thing that sets the people of Parkland apart is our wealth and the color of skin”; the fourth is a student at a local Boston high school who has worked with legislators to pass regulation to protect suicide by gun; the fifth is a teacher at a local Boston elementary school who served in the United States Marines and warns against giving teachers guns, giving them the power to and responsibility of taking or saving a life; the last speaker is an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of Congo who spent his childhood as a child soldier and his adulthood as a black man in the US and speaks to the horrors of gun violence in all settings. I cry and so do the people around me.
The Efficacy of Nonviolent Protest
All in all, the march was successful. But was it effective? According to Erica Chenoweth, an American political scientist professor at the University of Denver who specializes in civil resistance, nonviolent protest is more effective at creating change than violent protest, but only if it includes a couple of features, one of which is diversity.
Throughout the march and rally, I was impressed by the inclusion of black lives and gun violence committed by the state. Not only do I think this will increase the size of the movement by engaging POC who want gun control, but I think it will consolidate the movement around the issue of gun control, as opposed to school shootings. And the same goes for the inclusion of mental health and suicide. (There was even a brief mention of domestic abuse and gender-based violence.) Not only does reaching across these groups engage people that would not otherwise participate in a movement for gun control, it redirects the problem back to guns. That is, this is not a black problem, this is not a mental health problem, this is not an isolated school shooting problem, this is a gun problem and the solution is not being more obedient to the police, curing “crazy” people, or just hoping and praying your school isn’t next, the solution is gun control.
While it is still too early to speak to the effectiveness of MOL, if it continues to focus on gun control that protects “all ethnicities, religions, and sexualities across the country,” I remain optimistic.
*Photo taken by author