Complicated feelings about the March For Our Lives, and what to do with them

March 25, 2018


I have a lot of complicated feelings about the March For Our Lives protest that happened in DC, and in cities all over the country and the world, yesterday. I’d like to parse through some of those feelings, and also what I think I can do with them.

First, I am against guns. I want that to be an unequivocal statement. I’m against the weapons of violence, whether they are held by the State or by others, and it is a core value of my theology and my politics to look toward that Kingdom of God where such weapons are made into tools of farming and food, whether they are pistols, AR-15s, drones, or bombs.

I’m also against the NRA. I believe it is a horrible organization, a death cult, a group with blood on its hands. I believe its supporters have given themselves over to all kinds of idolatry and evil, that they need to be resisted and the politicians that support them need to be resisted.

I support the recognition that gun violence, wherever it occurs and whoever it involves, is always political. It has political causes and it will have political solutions.

Those things aren’t the complicated parts, for me.


What is complicated

I’m much more skeptical of generic gun control policy than I used to be. I have come to believe that unless it is intentionally anti-racist, gun control will be racist. It will rely on criminalization and surveillance of communities of color. Unless it is intentionally anti-xenophobic, it will be xenophobic. It will rely on no-fly lists that just happen to be full of Muslims.

Unless it is intentionally based on defending victims of domestic violence it will harm women, and especially Black women, and especially women who feel they have no option but to defend themselves from domestic violence because the State isn’t taking care of them. Unless it is explicitly pro-trans it will ignore trans people who are murdered. Unless it is explicitly pro-Native, it will ignore the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. And so on. Not to mention the explicit violence of the police, of prisons, of the military. So my default position toward gun control proposals these days is a bit of skepticism.

But beyond that, I seek to be open, to listen to people who advocate for specific policies, try to evaluate the policies in light of things above, and it does cause complexity for me. I’ve listened to the Parkland students, to their school newspaper, to the Broward County youth who organize with Dream Defenders, I’ve read the main March For Our Lives platform. I realize that there’s a range of perspectives that advocates have, even within the Parkland school itself.

For example, the Parkland school newspaper has two policies on its list that I think are toxic (see the link for details on what they mean by these policies):

  • Change privacy laws to allow mental healthcare providers to communicate with law enforcement
  • Increase funding for school security

But the march itself does not have these policies, and some students I’ve heard have endorsed additional policies to these. Other students have come alongside the Dream Defenders, who rose up in Florida after Trayvon Martin was killed, and they have endorsed other policies. Chicago students have their own analysis, and it’s quite radical. It’s not a problem for me that this movement has folks with different perspectives, but it does make the march complicated, especially knowing who will have their perspectives amplified.

What can be done

There’s of course nothing I can do in an immediate sense about the platform, either of the march or of the Parkland students. But I think what I can do is point people I know, whether they are students or people energized by students, to move the analysis they have. I can point them to organizers, to thinkers, to resources, that can help them engage with people of color, with radical politics, with radical policies around gun violence. I can point them to people who have thought through the implications of gun control policies, and how they can themselves be weaponized against already marginalized and criminalized people. It’s not easy to see this, when our whole lives have been built around not seeing it.

I think there may be students, especially, who will be radicalized by this moment, as many people in my generation were by 9/11 and the Iraq War. I didn’t have a great analysis back then, I just knew I didn’t want a war as a response to a terrorist attack. I think many people now, especially if our political leaders continue to refuse to act, and especially if people begin or continue to listen to organizers like the Dream Defenders, can come to a different analysis of gun violence and what can be done about it.

The response

What is complicated

More than anything these students have or haven’t done, the response to this moment from everyone else is complicated. On one hand, I like that people are showing up. That a mass of people who have probably never been in the streets marched yesterday. That they took a tool – direct action – which is used by people who have been failed by all the systems that exist, and they acted. That is a good thing.

Many of the marches around the country, both yesterday and the day of the school walkouts, had radical speakers. Many had radical, young Black organizers as speakers and some had them as leaders. I’m thankful for this.

But the overwhelmingly positive response to this march, to this moment, has been striking. A few things I’ve been struck by:

None of these things happen at Black Lives Matter marches. It’s not even necessary, at this point, to recount the ways this does not happen.

What can be done

I think this stuff can only be called out. It brings the overt racism out where people can see it. Some of the Parkland students have, themselves, called this out and I believe it will be essential as we move on.

Many people have done great work to tie this issue of school shootings to school funding, to domestic violence, to police and military violence, to all the issues I mentioned earlier and more that I haven’t remembered, and this must continue. Gun violence must not be allowed to be an issue that is isolated to largely white schools and the students that attend them.

The church

What is complicated

I mostly move in mainline church circles these days. It isn’t controversial for mainline churches to favor gun control. Many churches, including countless Minnesota churches, marched yesterday when they have never showed up for Black lives, when they didn’t show up for Jamar Clark, or Philando Castile, or even Justine Damond.

Many churches here didn’t show up for Native organizers in Minneapolis to support water protectors, have never shown up for the annual missing and murdered indigenous women march, and have not been willing to see their complicity in any of these things. But they’re willing to show up for gun reform because it might be their kids, in their schools, and because it doesn’t cost them much. Most of their members won’t be offended.

Further, many churches and people of faith have talked about this march, this moment, as the time when the church recovers its legacy of spiritual protest. As if it lost this legacy at some time in the past, maybe after the imagined masses of white Christians showed up to march with Martin Luther King, or maybe just because it forgets that the Black church has always tied together protest and prayer, spirituality and activism.

What can be done

Of course people of faith must continue to call this out, as many have. When we protest as white people of faith, as part of our faith, we step into a tradition that the vast, vast, VAST majority of us have always opposed in this country, even as some of us have found the Spirit leading us there and found the Kingdom of God manifesting when we got there. But that tradition didn’t die when King did, and it certainly didn’t revive for the first time in 2018.

More specifically, I believe there’s a lot of room for churches and people of faith to engage in liturgical protest around this issue. As an example, we have a local organization, The Center for Prophetic Imagination.

This group is organizing an outdoor Tenebrae service, a Maundy Thursday tradition in which candles are gradually extinguished leading to Good Friday. For this version, folks will meet outside in a park that is close to several churches, and will remember Jesus’ public execution by the State, and at the same time will remember Jamar Clark, Philando Castile, Justine Damond, and the 28 children killed last year by police.

This service will point toward police abolitionist organizations, especially our local MPD150, that believe a world without state-sponsored gun violence is possible, indeed that it is connected to a world without gun violence like that which we see in schools.