By Carlton Joseph
“Never again” has become the rallying cry for students in Florida who survived the recent mass shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 people dead.
One student, Emma Gonzalez, said “If the president wants to come up to me and tell me to my face that it was a terrible tragedy and how it should never have happened, and maintains telling us how nothing is going to be done about it, I’m going to happily ask him how much money he received from the National Rifle Association. It doesn’t matter, because I already know: $30 million! And divided by the number of gunshot victims in the United States in the one-and-one-half months in 2018 alone, that comes out to being $5,800. Is that how much these people are worth to you, Trump? … To every politician who is taking donations from the NRA, shame on you.”
This is one of the voices of the new generation; its members are learning very quickly that the current political system is not working for them and they are already taking to the streets, and speaking their truth boldly to the political power elites in Congress.
Unfortunately, it takes a crisis to move people to action. Back in the 1960s, it was the Vietnam War. The draft was in full operation and young people were being sent to Vietnam to fight a war that had absolutely nothing to do with them. When the body bags started coming home, the young people demanded that the US “Stop the War.” The President and Congress ignored the call for many years but eventually had to comply with their demands. Richard Nixon had to end the war.
Today, we see a convergence of issues. Black lives Matter (BLM), an international activist movement, originating in the African American community, campaigns against racism toward black people and especially against police killings of Afro Americans and people of color, racial profiling, gun violence, racial inequality and other issues. The “Me Too” movement spread virally as a hashtag used on social media helped demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace and the “99 % ” protesting against extreme income inequality. These are not isolated developments; underneath it all are people not having money and a feeling of hopelessness. The common denominator in these issues is the lack of action by Congress to solve them.
In response to the activism following the recent school killings, Congress has been floating its usual talking points. Republican Senator Tim Scott said the issue raised by the Florida shooting is that the FBI could have prevented the shooting and added that he thought Congress “will get something done this year” on the gun background check system. Democrat Senator Christopher Coons is “not optimistic that until there is real action by the American public to demand change in Congress we’re going to see real action to confront gun violence out of this Congress.” The shooting has not persuaded Trump to consider tighter gun laws or banning the sale of assault rifles to civilians.
I believe that we are at that critical juncture when everyone is impacted. Body bags are not coming home. They are already right here at home filled with victims gunned down by police armed with assault weapons and military equipment. This is not the policing of the ’60s; this is military occupation to ensure that the citizenry obey orders.
The President and the politicians are so beholden to business and their lobbyists that they seem totally oblivious of the negative impact of their policy decisions. They talk about mental illness as though it exists in a vacuum. When people are not able to satisfy their basic needs, they become stressed, depressed and violent. When students have to worry about losing their lives to gun violence, they cannot focus on studying. When Black people have to live in constant fear of their lives from racists whites and the police, they cannot achieve their potential. The result is a nation in decline.
Things are going to get worst if the President, Congress and Judiciary do not get their act together. The government is supposed to be “for the people, by the people.” Giving tax cuts to the rich and spending money on wars and making bribery legal by calling the bribers “lobbyists” and the bribes,“campaign contributions,” do not serve the people. Citizens United law making political spending a form of protected speech under the First Amendment, and allowing corporations or unions to spend money to support or denounce individual candidates in elections, does not serve the people.
Trump boasts that the stock market is doing great and unemployment is low. What he does not say is that less than 50 per cent of Americans invest in the stock market, wages are stagnant, people do not have healthcare and most are underemployed or have part time jobs. How can politicians tell us that the economy is doing great and that the economy is in “recovery” when 78 per cent of the US. population now lives from paycheck to paycheck?
How can things be “okay” when nearly half the men, ages 18-34, now live with their parents? How can it be “normal” when the richest 10 per cent of America owns 75 per cent of the nation’s wealth? People have been going to work, year after year, but instead of earning more over time, they are actually earning less, in terms of what their wages can buy. The middle class is disappearing and millions of people in America are desperate, and believe they have no way out. This hopelessness and desperation will lead to radical politics, racism and more violence.
After the school killings, there is no urgency on Capitol Hill to deal with the issue of gun violence. Congressman Ryan said that public policymakers “shouldn’t just knee-jerk before we even have all the facts and the data.” How much additional facts and data does he want? Ryan and other Republican leaders say that existing laws attempt to prevent mentally ill people from “slipping” through the cracks and being able to purchase guns. Some say they need to conduct hearings and talk to the experts and find out what kind of tools might be available to them. Most of them are in the pockets of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and serve the NRA’s agenda.
It is high time that the three branches of the government serve the people. However, the “adults” in Congress, instead of taking action, are waiting for us to demand that they do something. I hope that these young high school activists, BLM, Me Too, and the “99%” combine forces and put pressure on the government to do their job and represent “We The People,” rather than corporate interests and the rich.
(Trinidad-born Carlton Joseph who lives in Washington DC, is a close observer of political developments in the United States.)