After a series of rallies around the country the March for Our Lives organization came to the offices of one of their main targets – the National Rifle Association. Several hundred students, parents and supporters brought signs calling out the gun rights organization.
With news reports of the Russian financial ties with the NRA many of the signs protesters held were themed as much – one woman even came dressed as the now infamous Maria Butina holding a bottle of vodka and for some reason a large dildo (I apologize, that I didn’t ask why).
The March for Our Lives and pro-gun reform ralliers weren’t the only ones at the NRA buildings this past weekend, there were thirty or so gun-toting, flag waving federalist paper quoting people making their voices heard too. And boy they were making their voices heard. Using megaphones and just screaming at the top of their lungs the no-gun-reform side was immediately struggling with police who were trying lamely to keep to two groups separate.
The moment that the buses arrived and released their passengers at the rally David Hogg and his crew from March for Our Lives immediately tried starting a dialogue with the pro-NRA counter-protesters across a lightly enforced police divide. It did not go as well as some of the videos you may have seen – this crowd was not being swayed. This was a much farther right crowd that i have usually seen counter-protesting the March for Our Lives students. There was one with a Qanon flag, a young child yelling at the MFOL side wearing a Confederate flag t-shirt and a gun carrying man with a yellow star of David badge that read “gun owner” on it. That one surprised even the March for Our Lives students that I talked to.
The rally on August 5th was more than just another stop on the MFOL road trip. It was a celebration for the 18th birthday of Joaquin Oliver. Well, it would have been his 18th birthday, if he hadn’t been murdered in the Parkland school shooting earlier this year.
Joaquin or ‘Guac’ was a star basketball player and the son of Manuel and Patricia Oliver. His parents founded ‘Change the Ref‘ as a way to prevent gun violence and create leaders that would fight against groups like the NRA from having as much power in our nation as it does.
From their page: Change The Ref (CTR), a Non-profit 501 c-3 Organization, was formed to empower our Future Leaders. CTR gives the kids of today the tools they need to be empowered to make changes to critical issues that affect our nation, through education, conversation, and activism. It uses urban art and nonviolent creative confrontation to expose the disastrous effects of the mass shooting pandemic. It also brings focus to the NRA’s corrupt maneuvers to buy lawmakers, while forcing solutions which are essential to healing mass shooting victims’ families’ lifelong grief. Change The Ref’s ultimate goal is to give the young generation of survivors and victims a disrupting voice to help lead the way to change – a more peaceful future. #NeverAgain.
Manuel described the NRA as a cartel, which is appropriate as the gun group isn’t just citizens it’s made up and funded by the large arms manufacturers to keep people buying their product. He also emphasized the importance of getting the kids registered to vote as this midterm election was an opportunity not to be missed while the momentum was strong.
He wasn’t sure though that the 35% or so of America that stands by Trump no matter what was redeemable (my word) – saying, “This is another culture, not just another point of view.”
The last purchase that Joaquin made was sunflowers for his girlfriend which is why hundreds of the flower were handed out the kids in the crowd and lay down at a makeshift memorial for him. Each person connected with Joaquin dealt with the birthday differently, his girlfriend broke down while speaking about him, Manuel directed his anger to the counter-protesters and the NRA and Patricia, his mother solemnly, took in his memorial.