Usually, this is a blog about food, restaurants, and photography. This month’s post is a bit different. Last weekend, I attended the March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C., and I feel I have to write about the March, and its goals.
Much like my favorite blogger, John Curtas of Eating Las Vegas, who, in the wake of the Las Vegas shooting, interrupted his food blog to post a diatribe against gun violence http://www.eatinglv.com/2018/02/thoughts-prayers-ass/ , I have to do the same.
You’ve seen the coverage of the March for Our Lives, the cross-country events coordinated by the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida. The marches were a powerful display of democracy in action, a high school civics lesson writ large. Somewhere between 200,000 and 800,000 people clogged the streets of D.C., waving signs, chanting slogans, and by all reports, demonstrating peacefully for a three-plank platform of gun control: https://marchforourlivespetition.com
We were able to attend the Washington D.C. march, traveling with relatives and friends from Ann Arbor, MI. We spent the night in Tyson’s Corner, VA, and were surprised to find students from MSD in Parkland were staying in the same hotel. We had chances to talk to a number of the students. It was touching to realize they’re just kids. Kids like mine; maybe kids like yours.
But kids marked by tragedy. Kids who experienced a day when 17 of their schoolmates were gunned down by a youngster with an assault rifle.
We took a shuttle bus to the train station, and rode the Metro into the heart of the city. Along the way, we spoke with a number of fellow marchers.
What we found was rather surprising.
What we found was that every person we spoke to was a bit different than the expected profile. Sure, we were expecting young people, and Democrats, and blue staters, and people that want to do away with all guns.
But that’s not who we met.
We talked to a number of people. In each instance, we simply gave them our first name, and asked if we could ask them a few questions.
With that permission, we asked about where they were from. We asked if they owned guns, or hunted. We asked why they were here. We asked a bit about their politics.
What we didn’t do, was telegraph a viewpoint. Our introduction was neutral, so we hoped they would be open in their responses to us.
For what it’s worth, we think they were.
In the hotel restaurant, we met a father and two of his sons, from the southern tip of Illinois. They’re gun owners, hunters, and conservative voters. They were there to march, because the dad wants his kids to be safe when they go to school.
At another table, we met a family from Iowa: mom, dad, two kids. Conservatives, gun owners, hunters. There to demonstrate for safer schools. They stated Parkland had been a tipping point for them. It was the moment they said “Enough!” and went from watching to doing.
On the shuttle bus, we met an older couple from Kansas. Senior citizens, conservative, gun owners and hunters. They were here to march because they want their grandchildren to be able to safely attend classes. They drove from Kansas, a cross-country trip they made into a vacation, with the goal of ending up in D.C. in time to march.
On the Metro, we struck up a conversation with an elderly couple from North Carolina. They seemed to be with a larger group from an Episcopalian Church in their hometown. They were conservative voters, had no problem with gun ownership, but simply were in Washington to do what they could to get the school/mass shootings to stop.
During the March, we didn’t talk to a lot of other folks. We were in a group of six, with two others on the fringes, trying to hear the speeches from the stage, and photograph the signs and people around us.
The crowd was large, very large. It appeared to cover at least six long city blocks, and at least two block deep on the open side. Rooftops and stairs were covered as well. We would guess it to be to the higher end of the range. It was certainly the largest crowd we had been in the midst of.
From what we could see, all age groups were represented, from the very young, to the senior citizens we had met on the trains and shuttles. It appeared the crowd skewed younger, as was expected.
The March was well-organized, and the speakers shared stories of personal losses, and calls to action. Some were emotional, recalling friends or relatives now gone due to gun violence. Others were more action-oriented, calling for voter registration, the specifics of their platform, and leading chants of “Vote Them Out!”
Some of the loudest cheers were for three women:
- Naomi Wadler, an 11-year old from Alexandria, VA, who was there to represent the female African-American victims of gun violence whose stories aren’t told.
- Sam Fuentes, a Parkland shooting survivor, who, midway through her poem, divested her lunch on the stage, then stood up, announced she had thrown up on international television, then finished her poem, ending her speech by leading the crowd in a chorus of Happy Birthday, dedicated to her classmate Nick Dworet, who would have turned 18 on the 24th, but was killed in the attack.
- Emma Gonzales, the shaved headed female symbol of the Parkland kids, who stood in silence for much of her time, demonstrating the 6 minutes and 20 seconds of chaos in her school.
Their speeches were moving.
The songs were rousing, from the opening with Andra Day and Common, through the duet of Lin-Manuel Miranda and Ben Pratt, to the rousing close by Jennifer Hudson, channeling Bob Dylan in “The Times They Are a-Changing”.
When the program was over, several hundred thousand people starting moving toward the Metro and bus stations. We found a comfortable spot, and a good conversation:
This is Dr. David Feingold, a physician from Connecticut. He’s a gun owner, a fisherman, and an avid believer in the Second Amendment.
We had a lengthy discussion on the March, and the platform being pushed by the Parkland kids: Universal Background Checks, a ban on extended capacity magazines, and a ban on assault-type rifles, such as the AR-15.
David is in firm agreement with these, but feels the AR-15 ban will be the most difficult to pass, as it is the actual ban of a gun. Regardless of the fact the Brady Bill had banned these weapons for several years, he believes it will be difficult, perhaps too difficult, to get the ban reinstated.
He also stated that he sees no practical use for either an assault rifle, or an extended capacity magazine. He feels that reasonable people can agree on reasonable controls for deadly weapons, or accessories that contribute to making a weapon more deadly: bump stocks, or other items for full-auto conversion.
We told him of “Guns,” the Stephen King essay that talks about civilized individuals perhaps abdicating some portion of their rights, for the greater good of their society -you can order it here for free: https://www.amazon.com/Guns-Kindle-Single-Stephen-King-ebook/dp/B00B53IW9W/ref=sr_1_1?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1522123362&sr=1-1&keywords=guns+stephen+king&dpID=3167D-lfywL&preST=_SY445_QL70_&dpSrc=srch
He hadn’t read it yet, but he quickly grasped the concept, and we had an enjoyable discussion.
We also shared stories about the makeup of the crowd, the number of red staters, gun owners, hunters, and Second Amendment advocates we had each met during the day. We agreed the politicians are missing this, that the March was far more bipartisan than anyone had expected.
The March had a bit of the feel of the 2016 election. The pundits and politicians were calling it one way, when the reality was something else.
In 2016, it was Hillary in a landslide.
That was wrong, grossly wrong, as middle America had been overlooked.
In 2018, it was a March organized by kids, enabled by Democrats and liberal manipulators, that would quickly fizzle out.
This also feels wrong, grossly wrong, that again middle America is being overlooked. That conservative voters attended the March in appreciable numbers, and may be voting that same line.
It seems we’ll find out the answer to that in 225 days, during the midterm elections.
But if I were up for re-election, I’d certainly consider the lesson of the 2016 election.