|the sublime emma gonzalez|
kevin mazur/ getty images
i assumed that the live coverage of last weekend's "march for our lives" would be hard to watch, and in some ways, it was. however, i did not expect that it would feel so joyful and empowering as well.
the idea that "joyful" can be used in the description of a rally around the subject of violence and death seems bizarre, and certainly many of the speeches were anything but. however, it was difficult not to watch things unfold on saturday and not have the feeling that there is a spirit of positive change. young people, younger than the much-discussed millennial demographic, are taking it to the powers that be and those powers be shakin' in their shoes.
it's hardly surprising that cheeto benito ran off to golf for the weekend rather than stay and face the music of arianna grande and common; after all, he spends every weekend on a taxpayer-funded golf holiday. nor is it surprising that congress's most vocal critics of gun reform apparently spent the weekend exploring underground bunkers or black holes or wherever it is that they go when they need to not exist for a little while. nor is it surprising that some high-profile pro-reform lawmakers were seen in their home districts showing their support. [it is mildly surprising that josh kushner, brother of jared, showed up to march and donated $50,000 to the cause.]
speakers at the principal rally in washington made it abundantly clear that the gestures that congress has made thus far don't come close to meeting the demands of those marching. the truly odious comments thrown at them, the group of spokespeople that have emerged from high schools [and elementary schools] haven't blinked and haven't faltered. for the first time, at least in my memory, lawmakers are up against opponents who simply don't care what others say about them, and opponents who are better equipped than they are for a long battle.
and high profile gun ownership supporters have been lobbing verbal bombs: the national rifle association, republican representative steve king, former republican senator and presidential hopeful rick santorum have all made headlines in recent days. as formidable as the parkland survivors and the people whose voices have been raised alongside theirs appear, the devotees of the second amendment are digging in for the fight as hard as they ever have. but, for people like me and those who marched on saturday and for those who support them, this is where the joy comes in: the battle is only in the short-term because the war has already been won; those opposed to gun reform are simply negotiating the terms of their surrender.
sounds crazy, right? well, yes, if you listen to what the media is saying. but the media is like a buoy, bobbing on the ocean of the perpetual present. when you look at the facts of the matter, the bigger picture comes into focus.
first, let's look at current public opinion, which does get reported. support for legal reform is now at around 67% nationally. that's higher than it has ever been, and includes support from 50% of gun owners [compared to 44% who don't want tighter reform]. and while support for gun law reform has traditionally spiked after high profile mass shootings, this wave has been rising steadily for the last two to three years. and that 67% is just an average. when you look at specific proposals like strengthening background checks or barring people with mental illness or violent criminal backgrounds, support gets much higher. so, yes, the nra might be pouring money into the coffers of specific politicians to keep legislation stalled in congress, but they are out of step with what the country wants. and the gun lobby has never had to face a sustained challenge like the one being mounted by young people right now.
where things get really interesting, though, is when you look towards the future; that is where it becomes obvious that the wayne lapierres and rick santorums of this world are politicizing on borrowed time. first of all, the current republican administration, personified by donald trump, is hemorrhaging support. now, the fact is that trump was tremendously unpopular even when he was elected, but he won the election [assuming we discount the activities of any russian gnomes] by motivating a base made up of lower-educated whites from blue-collar states, evangelicals, wealthy white suburbanites and foreign policy hawks [often including military members and their families]. in his first year, every one of those groups has lost at least some faith in him, and those who didn't like him to begin with like him less now. i don't expect elizabeth warren and kamala harris will be winning over the family research council anytime soon, but disappointed and disillusioned supporters are less motivated to actually get out and vote, while anger and frustration on the other side is rising, making people more likely to vote. there have already been hints of what that could mean, with democratic candidates scoring massive electoral upsets in alabama and pennsylvania. but a quick look through elections around the country in the fifteen months since this administration took over shows that even when democrats are losing, they're losing by far less than they have before.
but even more important is that demographics are firmly on the side of the reformists. for starters, the trend towards liberalism that started with the baby boomer generation has continued and, if anything, picked up strength. although there is a tendency for people to become more conservative with age, there's no sign that millennials are about to shift en masse to the republican party the way that boomers did for reagan. millennials who identify as democrats or lean that way outnumber those who identify as republicans by a two-to-one margin, and that gap is widening. so, if anything, that generation is getting more liberal. and generation x, all of whom are on the train to middle age if they haven't reached it already, has been growing more liberal for nearly twenty years. those statistics don't even include the newly minted "generation z" members, who are entering the electorate at a rate of two to three million per year. that's the parkland generation. millennials are already the largest generation, and if their liberal leanings are shared by an overwhelming majority of those younger than them, and a modest majority of those a generation older, there's not a lot that anyone else can do to stem the tide.
likewise, the electorate is getting more diverse. black voters, and in particular black women, were what nudged the alabama senatorial race over to the blue column and you'd better believe that the locus of power will shift towards them in the future. ethnic minorities lean massively towards the democrats in american politics, be they black, hispanic or asian [no one ever talks about that last one]. gun ownership is most common among white men. and, if anything, the coming power of non-whites is understated. as the donald himself proudly declares, unemployment has reached historic lows in america. while there are different opinions on the exact level of structural unemployment that is normal for a developed economy [i.e., the number of people who will be without jobs for some reason other than not being able to find one], it seems clear that america is reaching that level. but in order to grow, there need to be people available to take on new jobs. this isn't tied to birth rate either: children born today won't enter the workforce for twenty years, so we already know what we're dealing with in terms of a domestic pool. and it's not enough. to sustain growth, america needs immigrants. and more immigrants means more diversity. hell, even if you limited yourself to immigrants from "white countries", you'd have an influx of people raised with the idea that healthcare, employment benefits and social services are important.
finally, the american population is growing more urbanized. sure, everyone likes to think about the purple mountains' majesty and the amber waves of grain, but the fact is that jobs are found in metropolitan areas and the population is becoming increasingly concentrated. it's well known that urban voters lean democrat, but what's particularly interesting is that the liberal/ conservative gap in cities is far greater than in rural areas. the suburbs are a fairly even split, which is why the prevailing wisdom is that this is where elections are won and lost. however, with the increasing move to the cities, the real question is whether or not that urban population can be motivated to get out and vote.
[side note :: the presence of assault rifles is greatest in states where urbanization is most pronounced. texas, which leads the way in registrations per 1,000 residents, has gone from blood red to more of a plum, as its cities have grown and immigration has increased. but it's no surprise that the states with the highest number of machine guns [which includes the ar-15 for the purposes of atf statistics] have wealthy enclaves: 60% of ar-15 owners have more than one [the average is 2.6] and 80% bought the weapon new. heavy-duty weapons are not the choice of cash-strapped country people trying to protect their property: they are used by a small, affluent minority. and the majority of their urban and suburban neighbours want things to change.]
gun lobbyists and the politicians who work for them have been extremely successful in rallying poor rural voters in their cause, even though it's not those voters or their guns that are being discussed. but in every way, there is a reckoning coming. the conservative right guard is on its last legs, and that's not because anyone is doing anything to harm them, but just because things change. the choice now is whether they will acknowledge that truth or if they are going to persist in the bizarrely destructive path they've been blazing. there's no question that these people are capable of doing a lot of damage, but they're not capable of withstanding the tide that is currently rising against them; i don't care how many assault rifles they have in their arsenal.
the "march for our lives" rally ended with jennifer hudson's version of "the times, they are a-changin'". the millennial singer delivering a soul version of the baby boomer anthem, surrounded by the newly minted generation z activists. it was a perfect visual metaphor for what this intransigent conservative block is up against, how long it has been building, and what it has turned into.
for me though, thinking of the intransigence of the opposition to gun reform brought to mind lyrics from one of dylan's other songs:
I’m a-goin’ back out ’fore the rain starts a-fallin’
I’ll walk to the depths of the deepest black forest
Where the people are many and their hands are all empty
Where the pellets of poison are flooding their waters
Where the home in the valley meets the damp dirty prison
Where the executioner’s face is always well hidden
Where hunger is ugly, where souls are forgotten
Where black is the colour, where none is the number
And I’ll tell it and think it and speak it and breathe it
And reflect it from the mountain so all souls can see it
Then I’ll stand on the ocean until I start sinkin’
But I’ll know my song well before I start singin’
And it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard, it’s a hard
It’s a hard rain’s a-gonna fall
history doesn't look kindly on the people who use power and violence to fight popular change. best to lay down the weapons and come inside before the storm hits.