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Post-Parkland Activism Growing Into Powerful Anti-Violence Movement

Post-Parkland Activism Growing Into Powerful Anti-Violence Movement

Context:

The Valentine’s Day mass shooting at a Parkland high school has produced a strong public reaction, survivors are being joined by a growing nationwide support network of sympathizers who are planning protests around the U.S to demand stricter gun laws.

In The News:

School shootings are not new. However, the rise of schoolchildren as visible and sympathetic victims has produced a more powerful anti-violence movement. Although it remains to be seen whether gun laws will be changed, the public’s response to this shooting seems unusually strong. What’s different in this case than similar efforts after previous mass shootings? Research on anti-violence movements has identified two conditions that might suggest why.

Support from Peace Science:

Successful anti-violence movements possess two criteria:

  • An “identifiable victim” [U.S. school children]  become a visible symbol of resistance.
  • Ongoing violence against the victim[s] creates a surge in public sympathy.

The first criteria is the presence of an “identifiable victim” who becomes a visible symbol of resistance. This victim is part of a larger group of victims that I call a “kin group.” This kin group then acts to counter violence against its members.

The second criteria is the public sympathy with the victims of violence that is formed because of ongoing violence against the kin group. This public sympathy has certainly existed before, especially after the shooting deaths of 20 children and six adults at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 — which produced a concerted, but ultimately unsuccessful, effort to change gun policy at the federal level.

Before the Parkland massacre, the victims of gun violence in the United States had not come from a single kin group that has identified itself as a victim. Mass killings have taken the lives of children, teenagers, concertgoers, church congregations, members of the LGBT community, government employees, service members and many other demographic groups. Any American’s family members, friends and co-workers could be shot dead at a school, church, movie theater, airport or shopping mall. Without knowing whom to protect, where and when to rally, and how to describe the perpetrator, activists have had trouble building a unified movement. But now, American schoolchildren have arguably become the new kin group. They identify with each other in terms of their young age and the traumatic experience of seeing their classmates die. Just like members of other powerful anti-violence movements, they are articulate and determined.

References:

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