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Protests in the Wake of the Parkland Tragedy
History is a closed circuit, the reaction of every event serving as the catalyst to another. No revolution is ever isolated, no reform ever random, no movement ever unprecedented.
As such, a flowing of activism is unequivocally prefaced by an ebbing of action.
The debate surrounding Second Amendment rights has been in the limelight of political contention for decades. The tragedy of Parkland, however, has made the conversation mainstream. Through a strong social media presence and a sensational depiction of the Second Amendment as the issue of the students, the Parkland shooting has become linked to the heart of gun control. This tragedy has been politicized.
A manipulatively effective mode of appeal has been adopted by the leaders of the Parkland crusade. Given, today’s surge of reaction against violence in schools carries along with it a wealth of history. As students throughout the United States are walking, marching, and protesting in acts of demonstration, the media has been quick to draw parallels between this movement and such iconic campaigns as the American Revolution or the fights of suffragettes. By painting their movement in the same light as that of a Malala Yousafzai or a Nelson Mandela, or a Martin Luther King, they legitimize their effort with the unique ethos of history.
As such, this is a precarious analogy to construct. While it is valid to note that a precedence of activism is central to the American identity, historical fights for justice and freedom are not entirely comparable to today’s wave of walkouts.
The differences are glaring: It is not difficult to walk out of class. Being shot for attending school is difficult. It is not difficult to spend seventeen minutes in silent reflection. Spending twenty-seven years in jail is difficult. It is not difficult to take the banal punishment of an unexcused absence. Starving in protest is difficult. Where civil disobedience has painted the legacy of history’s movements with an important background of sacrifice, the “fight for safer schools” is underlined by an unfortunate but pervasive sense of partisanism.
Yet, for change to truly be achieved, there must be a shift in policy - not simply a shift in behavior. While walkouts and marches are signs that the country is calling for change, they are not actions to achieve that change.
A push for change will always bring resistance. Given the democratic nature of the United States, there will always be a difference in belief. While the assertion that free speech must be protected is an ever-valid American truth, that truth must apply for all. One’s right to free speech does not negate the right of opposing viewpoints to be heard, as well. Yet, demonstration against the Second Amendment is being applauded as democratic, while those on the other side of the isle are being dismissed as promoting an outdated way of thinking.
In this respect, there is an important distinction to be made between yesterday’s plights for freedom and democracy as compared to today’s push for gun control. The March for Our Lives is not a resistance against an infringement upon liberty or a discriminatory practice. It represents one side of a complicated argument - one which deserves to be carefully debated. It is not a fight to denounce oppressors, but a plight to promote a belief - a belief which may be democratically countered, may be democratically argued, and may be democratically refuted.
To create a movement and not a moment, it would be wrong to glorify the legacies of famous activists as something that they are not. Their movements were not created with the expectation of instantly met-demands, but with the conviction to proceed in an enduring campaign for a fair compromise. Their movements were not created under a republic of representation, but under a government of self-servance. Their movements were not created to promote a partisan belief, but to fight for an unfulfilled human right.
Inherently, in the distinction between their fights and ours lays the true definition of democracy: A freedom to disagree. A freedom to debate. A freedom to compromise.
In the United States, that right to democracy, in all that she has to offer, must not be forgotten.