Nearly a million US students walked out of class to protest gun violence on 14 March. They marched in response to February’s brutal mass shooting at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School in Parkland, Florida, where former student Nikolas Cruz gunned down 17 students and staff.
This month’s walk-outs will be followed by national mobilisations on 24 March. Teachers and students are planning further actions on 20 April, the anniversary of the 1999 Columbine High School massacre.
Donald Trump’s ludicrous response was to call to put more guns into schools by arming teachers. Since Trump raised the proposal, two different teachers have already accidentally fired shots at school.
Trump also used Parkland to grandstand about how he would have run into the school unarmed to confront the shooter himself. The suggestion that he might stand up to the reactionary National Rifle Association (NRA) lasted barely a few hours. So far Trump’s only substantial move has been to ban bump stocks, the attachment that allows semi-automatic weapons to fire bullets nearly as fast as machine guns.
School shootings are disturbingly common in the US. According to the Gun Violence Archive, there have been at least 239 of them since the Sandy Hook massacre in 2012—that is an average of five school shootings every month. In that time 438 students have been shot and 138 killed.
Every time there is a mass shooting the right claims that it is not the time to discuss politics. Democrats call for more policing, background checks, incremental reforms around assault weapons, and the age at which people can buy guns.
But the reaction to Parkland is unusual. Within days of the shooting thousands of students marched on the Florida capitol building condemning politicians who take National Rifle Association donations and hitting back at officials’ “thoughts and prayers” that offer no solutions to spiralling gun violence.
It’s significant that the student walkouts were coordinated by the groups who called the Women’s Marches, which last year brought up to five million people into the streets against Trump’s inauguration—the single largest day of protest in US history. And since last year the #MeToo movement against sexual violence has exploded online, after decades where sexism has plagued the entertainment industry.
These flare-ups and the student reaction to the Parkland massacre reflect a growing sentiment across the country: there is something deeply wrong with the system and the kind of oppression and violence it breeds. For many people, Trump is a manifestation of this sick system.
Violence at the heart of American life
Any meaningful change needs to look at the intense violence and alienation that pervade American capitalism. War is glorified and a culture of militarism is inescapable.
Cruz was in fact trained to use a gun by the US army’s Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, which recruits in schools all over the country. He was also part of a rifle team which received a $10,000 grant from the NRA while Cruz was at school.
Student demands to pull NRA money out of schools and politics are an important step for confronting the violence.
There is no more shocking example of this violence than the black lives lost at the hands of racist police. Last year 590 people were killed in mass shootings—but police killed nearly double that number in the same period!
Students walking out after Parkland are making these connections. High schoolers took a knee in Atlanta, Georgia in the style of football player Colin Kaepernick, who kneeled on field to protest police brutality against people of colour.
In southwest Chicago students walking out issued demands to fund schools in black and brown neighbourhoods with the $95 million currently earmarked for a nearby police academy. This kind of action has the potential to link up with the Black Lives Matter movement and feed the resistance against Trump’s racist bigotry.
Shooters often have a background of untreated mental illness—a point Trump has raised several times. Cruz had a history of erratic behaviour, suspensions, and unresolved mental health issues.
As his sixth grade teacher commented following the shooting, “it shouldn’t be this hard to get someone the help they need.”
But Trump’s latest budget will make it even harder to access care. Over the next decade it would rip $1.4 trillion out of Medicaid, which covers healthcare to 70 million people. In 2015, 21 per cent of adults with mental illness and 26 per cent of those with serious mental illnesses accessed care through Medicaid.
The post-Parkland mobilisations have the potential to ignite wider movements against Trump. And they are an inspiring opening to begin challenging the horrific violence of capitalism.
By Sophia Donnelly