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It’s difficult to determine when performance begins and outrage ends. When this year’s first “March For Our Lives” got thousands of people in the street in every city and town across the country, activists felt vindicated. After decades of trying to get elected officials to take a stand on gun violence, it seems like headway is being made.
Students from schools around the country walked out together, and some brave students even walked out alone.
While it felt good to see elected leaders scrambling to take a position on such a vital issue, the scrambling wasn’t for a lack of time to plan. People have been asking for these changes since Sandy Hook in 2012 and since Columbine nearly 20 years ago.
We see the rage spike and then watch strongly worded statements roll in. It’s only in hindsight that we understand that our representatives saw what we perceived as a time for solidarity as an opportunity for political gain. Our struggle is how to identify these performances and how to respond.
Protect The Brand
Many of the elected officials and public interest groups who showed up for the March For Our Lives had special signs printed up with for the event. While some featured just a hashtag or a statement, several representatives held big banners with their own name on them. Given that this is an election year for many, this was a great opportunity to take photos for late summer mailers and social media.
These representatives have a platform to speak from whenever they want. They were out there performing for cameras, doing it for the likes. They’ve bought into the fantasy that their time is precious and that their presence has meaning.
Thankfully the kids who organized this event and whose peers are in danger of losing their lives outnumbered the opportunistic adults. As long as they steer clear of the cynical politics of their predecessors, we are in good shape.
Allies and Opponents Are Temporary
On July 4, 2017, Washington Post mogul and former heir Lally Weymouth held a party out in the Hamptons. Rubbing elbows at the party were big figures in Democratic politics like donor George Soros, senate minority leader Chuck Schumer and congresswoman Carolyn Maloney.
Between the handshakes and hors d’oeuvres, a few other regular guests squeezed into this annual Hamptons affair. Their numbers included Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump along with Kellyanne Conway.
In a post-modern political context, where reality can be spoken into existence and tweets have as much weight as executive decrees, symbolism has never mattered more. Symbolically, this reminds even the most casual political observer of the absurdity in post-modern politics. Literally, it means that when an elected official calls for an end to alternative facts while rubbing elbows with their inventor, someone is being hoodwinked.
While compromise is important, we’re often sold a line that so many of the conflicts in value cut to the soul of who we are as citizens. Rather than maintain this existential struggle, the mask falls away when the cameras turn off.
There’s no compromise because there was no struggle. There’s merely a performance and a consolidation of power. There’s an appearance of forward momentum, but it’s just a fleeting condition that’s as fragile as the egos of those who work the gears.
Our Only Weapon Is Focus
Our best bet is to try to avoid falling into the rage traps, clickbait, and strongly worded statements released by our representatives. We need to avoid heroic politics, as we will only be disappointed. Our criticisms, our questions, and our goals need to be as specific as possible and our loyalties need only to be long as each of these specific campaigns.
That same outrage about gun violence was absent in mid-May 2018, just six weeks after the march, when the new US embassy opened in Jerusalem. Thousands of Palestinians were injured or killed by Israel’s military as the ceremonial opening occurred. The same elected officials who were decrying gun violence were silent or even supportive of the president’s action.
Our own loyalty shouldn’t be galvanized by incumbency. It should be as fragile as the will of our leaders. Our outrage is our capital and we need to spend it wisely or else we risk blowing it on the wrong things.