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The Profound Political Lesson of March for Our Lives

The Profound Political Lesson of March for Our Lives

David Masciotra

 

Politics is boring. It has become easy to confuse public policy and administration with entertainment as the President of the United States finds himself embroiled in a soap opera starring adult film actresses, fitness models, and Russian agents. But the legislative process, along with the tasks of daily governance, as anyone who has passed a civics course can attest, is an exercise in tedium. 

 

 

The organizers of recent grassroots movements have too often allowed the mass and social media distortions of politics as drama to direct their efforts at transforming public discourse and law. Occupy Wall Street and Black Lives Matters exceled in political theater, but largely failed at politics, because they did not seize the opportunity they created through the initiation of a cultural conversation with a direct plan of political action.

 

The Tea Party, as much as it might induce vomiting to acknowledge, did not commit the same error. With the help of massive corporate funding – an advantage left-of-center movements do not enjoy – they arranged town halls, voter registration drives, and internal Republican Party agitation to ensure that they would elect a large number of Congressmen, Senators, and state officials to advance their agenda of acrimony against the poor, public institutions, and multicultural America.

 

March for Our Lives, a nationally coordinated effort to publicize the critical necessity for tighter gun control measures following the Parkland, Florida school shooting, took place on Saturday. For all of its emotional resonance, and for all the moments in which it was impossible to hold back the flood in one’s eyes – especially when Emma Gonzalez closed with a moment of silence for her friends and classmates who died in a hail of bullets – the most striking and encouraging aspect of the event was its political sophistication.

 

The teenagers, who are now leading the movement out of the urgency only death can harvest, demonstrated a brilliant triumph of civics over entertainment.

 

During an MSNBC interview with David Hogg, a Parkland student, and several other teenage activists, Chris Matthews asked how the campaign will parlay the success of the march into actual political victory. Their answers were flawless.

 

Hogg set the clear goal of doubling voter turnout among citizens between the ages of 18 and 29. Voter registration, he explained, is the current step and the next step in storming the inner sanctum of power. The teenagers also articulated their plan to conduct town hall meetings in every contested Congressional district possible to demand clear and specific answers on firearm policy from all candidates. Politicians who refuse to participate, or speak with honesty and accountability, will not receive their support.

 

The most impressive moment of the exchange was when Hogg ended with a promise to “direct attention” to state legislatures. “Many of these issues,” he said, “are decided at the state level.”

 

The most fatal error of Americans, especially liberals and leftists, is the maintenance of myopia on national politics. Most of the energy of citizenship, to the devastation of communal projects of improvement across the country, empties into presidential gossip and pontification.

 

With the obvious exception of foreign policy, almost every issue of social, financial, and moral consequence undergoes state and local manipulation before the president – no matter how compassionate or cruel, competent or capricious – can intervene.

 

Residents of Indiana can walk into any in-state gun store, and without a background check, leave with a lethal weapon. In Illinois, extensive background inquiries take place before any legal purchase is possible.

 

There are many fully functional and funded Planned Parenthood facilities in Massachusetts, but in Mississippi, there is only one clinic that offers pregnant women the option of abortion.

 

The quality of social services for the sick, disabled, and elderly vary dramatically from state to state.

 

Few working or middle class families would disagree that property tax rates are much more important in determining home ownership, and location of residency, than any federal income tax rate. It is through the levying of local taxes that public schools receive their funding, and state leaders and school boards craft curriculum with more power than most national education policies.

 

The organizers of March for Our Lives have the intelligence and maturity to keep their concentration on the tedium of politics, rather than the theater of secondary media events. For Hogg to articulate such an elementary, but often forgotten and neglected, truism of state politics demonstrates an inspired and informed ability to truly alter the local and national future of public policy and debate.

 

He and his coleaders provide profound wisdom and instruction to fledging campaigns of external agitation throughout the country. Black Lives Matter, for example, succeeded in attracting attention, but their actionable agenda always remained mysterious. Why did activists scream at Bernie Sanders but not pressure mayors and governors to reform the standard operating procedure of law enforcement and criminal justice? Why did Occupy Wall Street fail to even attempt to build a coalition of elected officials to challenge Tea Party legislators in Washington DC and state capitols in every region of the country?

 

An inquiry into failures of past movements underscores the importance of March for Our Lives. The movement has already succeeded in theater and mobilization. The paranoid-schizophrenic theory that the march was an event in big money astroturfing collapses under the weight of the numbers – hundreds of thousands of participants in every large city – but also the locational diversity. Hundreds of marchers kept their feet on the street in small towns like Frankfort, Illinois and Highland, Indiana.

 

March for Our Lives now need only to execute the excellent design of voter registration and participation. If they do they will achieve nothing less than changing the country.

 

 David Masciotra

David Masciotra (www.davidmasciotra.com) is the author of four books, including Mellencamp: American Troubadour (University Press of Kentucky) and Barack Obama: Invisible Man (Eyewear Publishing).

 

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