Race to Change
I chose to study this topic because Columbine impacted my family, devastated my community, and had historical significance across the country. While it was difficult for me to critique any school safety organizations, the gravity of the issue makes it ever more important to recognize the shortcomings of current activism. Researching this topic left me curious about why so much media attention, money, and action is devoted to gun violence in white suburban schools, while gun violence in urban communities of color is overlooked. I believe that organizing is the most accessible form of political and community engagement; yet upon careful reflection of my research, I recognize the outcomes of organizing are racialized.
Researching this topic made me realize how the narrative of this country surrounding gun violence is not representative of the communities affected. The media disproportionately covers violence at white suburban schools. The platform granted to white communities is elevated above that of people of color—an especially disturbing fact given that gun violence is more prevalent in urban communities of color (Kelkar 2018).
The Center of Disease Control and Prevention conducted a study on gun violence, finding that black children are ten times more likely to be killed by guns than white children (Dvorak 2018). Public reception of the Parkland activists was far more welcoming than of Black Lives Matter. Racialized success of grassroots organizations is unjust. Equality of attention remains a goal to be obtained and equity must continue to motivate communities to push beyond equal representation.
This project strengthened my perspective that gun violence cannot be an accepted norm of our society and unequal representation must be combatted. I was heartened by efforts of Parkland activists who sought to bridge the divide between communities and acknowledge that organizing around gun violence in communities of color has been occurring for decades. Their efforts raise the question of whether they have a moral obligation to do so. If they did not use their platform to recognize this relevant social injustice, what is the social opportunity cost?
In addition to the articles I have reviewed, I ask that you explore the third tab “Race to Change,” which highlights some poignant articles describing and assessing the role of race in community organization around gun violence. I argue that authentic grassroots organizations elevate the voices of community members, but what happens when the voices of some communities are elevated over others’? Racial inequities are perpetuated and the fight for social justice must continue.
When I began this project I did not fully recognize how racialized this topic would be–a reflection of my positionality privilege. There is progress to be made not only on school safety, but also on the equal representation of communities. The collaboration between grassroots groups of different faiths and of regional chapters gives me hope that coalitions can also be formed to address racial inequity of gun violence prevention. Inspired by the powerful efforts of organizers and community members, I know I will continue to participate in programs to make schools safer and will educate others on the importance of a representative narrative.
This project reinforced my understanding that organizers may unleash the power of the people and guide them towards self-sufficiency. I grapple with the irony that it takes a great leader to create a self-sufficient community. Does the need for an organizer diminish the authenticity self-sufficiency? Perhaps. However, any irony regarding self-sufficiency does not diminish the actual power of communities.
True grassroots organizations must strive to liberate communities. The people must have power over the decisions and direction of the organization, independent from experts, leaders, or large donors. For example, the Parkland organizers only accepted money from donors willing to give without strings attached. Discourse is the most effective tool with which to ensure that the opinions and knowledge of every individual is valued. Financial capital is often vital for daily operations and programming; however, money cannot come with strings attached or philanthrocapitalist goals in mind.
The National Rifle Association, one of Washington’s most powerful lobbying groups, made me think critically about what can be counted as a grassroots organization and what is ‘astroturf.’ While it may have had humble beginnings, it seems like the power has transitioned from the members to leaders in the association and the gun industry. This is evident in who has authority over decision and the dissemination of information.
Overall, the project gave me tangible examples of the concepts we have learned in class. I was able to use the readings, philosophy, and content of the course to formulate my own opinions on grassroots organizing surrounding gun violence prevention.