On March 24, an estimated 85,000 people voiced their support for gun reform at Chicago’s March For Our Lives in Union Park. A vocal minority were self-identified socialists or communists.
“My 11-year-old brother shouldn’t have to live in fear,” says Ashley, 17. “And neither should I.”
Ashley is a socialist, a high school student, and a gun-control activist. For her, these identities are intermingled.
“Capitalism makes all of us feel unsafe by being inherently violent. But Parkland reminded us once again that school is not a safe space,” she said.
Ashley spoke at her Northwest Side high school’s walkout and went on to organize another student protest. At March for Our Lives, she handed out pamphlets with the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
“As an aspiring teacher, I hope that my students will feel safe and empowered to speak up,” she said.
Ashley was far from the only high school student organizer present. March for Our Lives was led by young survivors of the February 14 mass shooting in Parkland, Florida with assistance from gun control lobby Everytown for Gun Safety. Chicago’s rally followed suit, allowing student groups a dominant leadership role in its organization and speaker lineup. This led to a morning full of poetry, pop music, and lively oration booming through a chilly Union Park.
Most marchers were not students themselves. However, the popular placard “protect our children, not your guns” summarized the sentiment held by many that the day was about defending young people from yet another tragedy enabled by easy access to powerful firearms.
“The kids I work with deserve better,” said Brian, stepping away for a moment from his International Socialists Organization literature table.
Brian works with adolescents in the mental health field who regularly encounter guns in their communities. He believes that incidents like Parkland only clarify more pressing, constant violence perpetrated in and by America.
“I don’t think it takes having children in your life to recognize that we live in a fundamentally violent society which must change. We have to realize that military and police action are gun violence, too,” he said.
Seemingly everyone at the march communicated some grievance about the National Rifle Association, sometimes via crass signs, but Brian’s plea was personal.
“The NRA has made sure that the CDC can’t research mass shootings or provide us with accurate information about this epidemic. As a mental health professional, that’s data I could be using. We have to prioritize health and safety.”
Ugo Okere is also frustrated with the gun lobby’s influence on policy. “The degree to which politicians are reluctant to act meaningfully on something with such widespread support says something about the profoundly undemocratic nature of our system,” he said.
Okere is an openly socialist candidate for 40th Ward Alderman and member of the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America.
“Money is overriding the will of working people. We are standing in solidarity with students of all ages along with everyone concerned with the state of our democracy,” he said.
While Okere’s socialism may have been in the minority among marchers, his critique of legislators’ allegiance with gun manufacturers and his call for investment in Chicago’s poorer communities were shared by many.
“Yes, we are here for the students of Parkland. But we are also here for the students in the South and West sides of Chicago,” he said.
This motivation was echoed nearly verbatim by the march’s very first speaker. While socialists may not all see eye to eye on how best to address gun violence, it is clear that this debate will not be fading from mainstream attention anytime soon.