Organizers of a rally against mass shootings planned for next month in Washington are expecting up to 500,000 attendees, according to an event permit application.
The application filed this week with the National Park Service indicates the “March For Our Lives” will be March 24, although a location hasn’t been determined. The rally, organized by survivors of last week’s school massacre in Parkland, Fla., will have “sister marches” in other major cities, organizers said.
The event will include “student speakers, musical performers, guest speakers and video tributes,” according to the permit application, with 14 Jumbotrons and 2,000 chairs.

This is one more example of the sophistication, energy and media-mastery of the students, who have earned affection and admiration from millions of Americans.  There are some lessons to be learned, I think, from previous mass demonstrations in the Trump era.

First, the more that the march and movement is about regular Americans, and not politicians or celebrities, the more impact it will have. The students are far more earnest and effective speaking for themselves than are even well-meaning advocates who share their views. Give the students and other people affected by gun violence — including families, teachers, first responders — center stage. Let the politicos, celebrities and the leaders of established groups play a supporting role.

Opinion writers Jonathan Capehart and Jo-Ann Armao discuss the organizing power of the Parkland, Fla., students. (The Washington Post)
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Second, do not turn this into a rant about the National Rifle Association, although the NRA richly deserves a chewing out. The object here is to mobilize people who don’t already agree with them and to get gun owners, as well as people who haven’t focused on the issue and those who’ve supported the NRA in the past, to rethink their views. Besides, the NRA would relish the attention. The better strategy is to address some of its arguments (e.g., why more guns in school is a terrible idea) and to create a positive, broad-based push for new laws.

Third, build the organization by first knowing who is there. Who came? Where do they live? Will they lobby? How do they find other people in their community? Since this should be just one step — not the final step — in the movement, it would seem critical to cull that information from as many participants as possible.

That brings us to the next item: What do they want people to do after they leave? It’s impossible for 500,000 individuals to decide on a particular bill to support or even to decide whether state or federal (or both) lawmakers should be their focus. The notion that everything and anything (e.g. background checks, limits on magazine capacity, mental health funding, school retrofitting, age limitations on purchase of weapons) that can be done should be done is a wise philosophy at this stage. However, if there is a basic message, they might consider this: The best way to prevent kids from being slaughtered is to make it harder for dangerous people to get weapons of war. If they can get lawmakers, mayors, governors and other public officials to buy into that — an implicit recognition that the Second Amendment is not absolute and does not guarantee unfettered access to AR-15s — that would be a tremendous accomplishment.

Finally, the NRA has been successful because it can mobilize single-issue voters who are passionate about this one item. The march offers the opportunity to show that people who differ on all sorts of issues (taxes, gay rights, the environment, abortion, legalizing pot, etc.) can agree to prioritize this issue (e.g., ‘pro-life’ means surviving to graduation). The prospect of millions of voters who will care first and foremost about new gun safety laws may help to shift the political calculus for some politicians. A focused campaign, for example, of gun safety forces against an NRA absolutist like Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.), who likely will run for Senate, could be a test run for the new movement.

We are in uncharted waters on guns, which in and of itself is a dramatic change from decades the NRA monopolized the discussion and dominated legislatures. If a grass-roots, student-focused group can offer a positive, simple message to persuade Americans that kids, not those who want to own AR-15s, should be our first concern, we may see new laws that no one a month ago could have imagined passing.

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