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Resist: You marched, here's what to do next

by by Christina A. DiEdoardo

A protester at the March 24 March for Our Lives against gun violence in San Francisco shows how one sign can be worth a thousand speeches. Photo: Christina A. DiEdoardo
A protester at the March 24 March for Our Lives against gun violence in San Francisco shows how one sign can be worth a thousand speeches. Photo: Christina A. DiEdoardo  

Given that between 15,000-25,000 people crammed in front of City Hall March 24 for the March for Our Lives against gun violence in San Francisco, the odds are good if you're reading this sentence that you were there or knew someone who was.

Which begs an important question: what are you going to do next?

Or, as Cathy Richardson, the lead singer of Jefferson Starship and one of the speakers at the rally, after pointing out that her band had provided the soundtrack for San Francisco's iconic protests during the 1960s, said, "Here we are, 50 years later. Same shit, different assholes."

If we'd like to increase the chances that someone 50 years from now won't say the same about us and our time, one step would be to challenge our own preconceptions.

I think back to the powerful and passionate speech Leo Mercer, a young black activist with the Urban Peace Movement, gave before the march, where he patiently walked the (largely white and cis) audience through how gun violence in his community is often police violence before asking rhetorically, "Can you blame me when I say, 'Fuck the police?'"

I also remember the white and cis couple behind me who, after Mercer said those words, audibly hissed at him from the crowd and said, "Watch your language!"

The level of obliviousness required by that couple to make a comment like that in that moment still staggers me. It's also an example of why many black and other persons of color (and others) have criticized the policy objectives sought by the organizers of March for Our Lives, contending that they stigmatize the mentally ill without even attempting to address the vector of police violence, which primarily affects non-white communities.

It should be pointed out there's two lists of objectives floating around. On its website, organizers of the march call for universal background checks, "bringing the [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms] into the 21st century with a digitized, searchable database" (whatever that means), funding the Centers for Disease Control [and Prevention] to research gun violence, and a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines.

In contrast, journalists at the Eagle Eye, the student newspaper of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where the February 14 mass shooting took place, released what's been called the "Parkland Manifesto" a day before the march.

Besides the goals articulated by march organizers, the Parkland Manifesto would also ban bump stocks, which can make a semiautomatic weapon fire more quickly, create a national database of gun sales and background checks and (for reasons unclear) locate it within the Department of Defense, and weaken privacy laws to allow mental health professionals to communicate with law enforcement. It would also close the "gun show loophole," which in most states, other than California, allows buyers to purchase weapons from private sellers at gun shows without going through a background check, raise the age to purchase a gun to 21, and increase funding for police on school campuses as well as for mental health services.

Based on California's experience, the proposed bans on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines seem well taken. Enabling the CDC to study the problem as a public health issue also makes sense. However, giving law enforcement greater access to the mental health records of people who are already marginalized is frankly terrifying, as is the prospect of dragging the DOD into a law enforcement role and giving law enforcement still more power and resources (which, if experience is any guide, will be used against those with the least privilege, not the white cis men whom statistics tell us are responsible for most mass shootings).

It may be that those who wrote the manifesto and set out the march's objectives haven't had any direct negative experiences with law enforcement, been affected by mental illness, or had to jump through hoops set up by mental health gatekeepers to get things others take for granted, like medical treatment. If that's the case, it's incumbent on both groups to sit down with members of those communities that have been impacted by police violence or the stigmatization of mental illness before recklessly plowing ahead with "solutions" that cause more problems than they solve.

While the Bay Area may not have a direct role in those conversations, there is an opportunity for action locally. On March 8, both this column and the Bay Area Reporter's editorial page called for an end to gun shows at the Cow Palace, one of which is scheduled to take place April 14-15. This column also suggested that if the Cow Palace was unwilling to cancel the show, attendees should be met by demonstrators making it clear that the NRA and their sympathizers weren't welcome in the Bay Area.

One would think that this would be a prime opportunity for those who attended the March 24 event to put their principles into action by following up with directly confronting gun owners. Sadly, as of press time, no one has announced any plans to take up that challenge.

There's still time to make that happen. It will likely mean showing up without the security blanket of permits, being able to shelter behind armed police and having to confront people who oppose gun control, but that's what real activism requires.

Otherwise, to borrow Richardson's words, it really is nothing more than the "same bullshit, different assholes."

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