Section: Opinion

Protests are valuable but political change comes at the voting booth

On Friday, April 20 at 10 a.m., Kenyon students will participate in our own walkout organized by Kenyon Students for Gun Sense in an effort to pressure legislators to pass gun control laws. I am not against this organization’s efforts, because peaceful protest is a necessary part of any social justice movement.

I am, however, disappointed in the performative nature of the event. Everyone wants to be an activist when there is an audience, but nobody wants to do the work of calling or writing to Ohio lawmakers.

With each new mass or school shooting that gets national attention, the debate over gun control resurfaces momentarily, before the lobbying powers of the National Rifle Association (NRA) silence the conversation without a single adjustment made.

The NRA’s most powerful weapon against policy makers and the friends and family of mass shooting victims is the Second Amendment.

In light of the most recent shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., there has been greater pressure for gun control. High school students are hosting walkouts all over the country, and supporters of new gun laws are marching through major cities.

On social media, it is common for social justice movements to become hashtags, often gaining media attention before fading into distant memory as new, more trendy movements arise.

The term “slacktivism” is used to identify the act of posting hashtags, such as #BlackLivesMatter and #TimesUp, as though this is an effective form of activism.

Slacktivism is a hole I fear we are sliding into, especially in the case of #EnoughIsEnough in our fight for more gun restrictions.

We cannot hope to end mass shootings with a hashtag and we cannot hope to intimidate legislators if we are too busy tweeting to show up at local elections.

While peaceful protests like walkouts are necessary when trying to raise awareness about issues that deserve national discussion, they are not enough to enact real change.

According to the Facebook invite sent out by Kenyon Students for Gun Sense, the purpose of the walkout is to let “our representatives Bob Gibbs and Rob Portman … know that we will not stand for these atrocities to continue.” While walkouts have been important and necessary forms of protest in our nation’s history, standing outside for 17 minutes on a Friday morning is maybe one step up from posting political opinions on social media.

Protesting now is nothing compared to protesting during the civil rights movement: Every student at Kenyon knows they will not be threatened by police if they participate in that walkout, just as every student and faculty member who went to the March for Our Lives was fairly certain they would not face tear gas and night sticks the way those who marched from Selma to Montgomery in 1965 did.

Marching, walkouts and other forms of protest are a step in the right direction, but we are more than one step away from our goal.

There is an upcoming election in Ohio on May 8, but the deadline to register to vote is April 9. Information about the candidates’ positions on gun restriction laws and whether or not they are a member of, or receive funding from, the NRA can be found online in the same amount of time it takes to compose a tweet.

In a state like Ohio, the image of privileged liberal arts students protesting from the comfort of their campus will not be enough to pass legislation.

Legislation that restricts gun ownership and saves lives is in the hands of our lawmakers. But the choice of who to put in office, who is allowed to make these decisions, is in our hands.

Elizabeth Iduma ’20 is a film major from Silver Spring, Md. You can contact her at iduma1@kenyon.edu.

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