Road to Change: March for Our Lives & Black Lives Matter Town Hall

Rocio Lopez,
Kevork Sassouni

Summary:  Public meeting in South Central Los Angeles brings together youth activists from March for Our Lives and Black Lives Matter for discussion of different forms of violence affecting US youth and the need for a total change — Editors

On Thursday July 19th a panel was put on by March for our Lives. Black Lives Matter LA cohosted the event which took place at the California African American Museum in South Central LA. March for Our Lives is a movement started by young survivors of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida, that got hundreds of thousands to protest for more regulations on guns. The panel mostly consisted of non-White people and teenagers all of whom were either survivors of shootings or relatives of those lost to gun violence. The seating was full with around 100 seated and many (including two IMHO members) left standing.

The eight panelists talked about police brutality and domestic violence. They made clear that most gun violence affects poor people of color in the United States. Two young White mass shooting survivors talked about how it is the rarest form of gun violence and White privilege. It was very inspiring to see this solidarity. A young woman who survived the Las Vegas mass shooting said that she had felt quite safe living in a suburban part of Los Angeles and that she’s had to do a lot of listening to catch up and find out how much more of a threat gun violence there is for poorer people and people of color. A Black teen on the panel mentioned that because of mainstream media portrayals of the protests she initially did not realize that it was a movement that is also involved in a discussion on gun violence affecting mainly Black and Brown youth and police shootings and not just mass shootings. Once she saw they were serious about these issues she joined the tour. One young White Parkland survivor even mentioned that disarming domestic abusers is going to involve disarming a whole lot of cops. The panelists at different times recited names of people, mostly POC, who have been killed by arbitrary police violence, creating a heavy atmosphere filled with grief and anger amongst audience members. They alluded to the minimalist training police undergo and how they are not prepared well to deescalate situations. They also made clear their thoughts on the dehumanization which occurs when people remember the name of the perpetrator of attacks but fail to remember the names and faces of victims.

Two Black mothers who lost their children to more common forms of gun violence spoke. The sister of Parisa Siddiqi, a woman who was murdered by her husband at the Thousand Oaks Mall, also spoke. She said his gun had been taken away three years ago after a domestic violence arrest but after her sister dropped charges he was able to get back the same gun that he later killed her with. Edna Chavez from South Central LA, who gave a speech at the March for Our Lives DC about seeing her brother murdered in front of her home, made an appearance and was glad to see that the movement was still continuing.

When the panel asked the audience to raise their hands if they had been affected by or had someone close to them who had been affected by gun violence, the vast majority of people in the room raised their hands including both members of the IMHO. It is worth noting that the audience was much Whiter than South Central LA is (where the panel was held). While gun violence disproportionately affects poor people of color in the United States, even middle class Whites deal with far more gun violence than their counterparts in other developed countries.

Impressively the speakers also talked about how profit was at the root of proliferation of guns and why getting regulations on them is so difficult. The Parkland students spoke of seeing the NRA ruthlessly counter-lobby against very minor reforms they had lobbied for in Florida just to make sure gun industry doesn’t see any of its profits eaten into. They communicated their disbelief in NRA propaganda and how fallacious their arguments such as “the good guy with the gun” are. One panelist noted that “goodness” is not an indefinite state, and that one might be “good” at one point in life, “bad’ and murderous at another. In this way they brought out a discussion on mental health and how important it is to talk about it, but also noted that it is easily taken for granted or dismissed for the sake of profit. One other panelist also shut down the NRA-backed argument of having more security in and around schools by presenting multiple cases where, even in the presence of armed security personnel, it was not enough to stop the shooters from entering the premises of schools/clubs.

A 12-year-old girl asked an extremely eloquent question during Q&A period part asking why guns are so normalized in our country. Youth lead this movement and they were quite present in the audience and they egged each other on to not let adults tell them that their voices do not matter. There seemed to be an overwhelming belief among the young panelists that children and youth are the vanguard of the movement against gun violence and the proliferation of guns in society. They expressed concern over the fact that they (high school students) are leading the struggle and that it is no child or teen’s wish to be put in such a situation, but that there is much to gain from it in terms of politicization of youth and that they cannot stand silent in front of bureaucratic inertia, vigilant NRA lobbyists, and those who condone these acts of terror. Emma Gonzalez mentioned that if adults cannot do it then it is on the youth to get it done. Panelists also appealed to youth and non-youth alike to involve themselves in this struggle, to be active voices in calls to regulate gun laws and to participate in elections. One panelist said: “Go out and vote, and if you cannot vote, drive your neighbors to the polls.” The great grasp of issues along with the eloquent and powerful delivery that activists have at such a young age was quite impressive. Also impressive was the amazing show of cross-racial solidarity, which grounded itself in a critique of capitalism and its profits as root cause of many socio-economic and political issues that POC, as well as white people, are subject to in their communities. The unwillingness of youth to put up with the status quo anymore seemed to be an inspiring call for action. It’s clear these young activists are just getting started.

 

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