By Annabelle Linders
On February 14, 2018, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida experienced a school shooting, leaving 17 students and staff dead. In response to this tragedy, 28 survivors founded March for Our Lives (abbreviated as MFOL), a non-profit dedicated to preventing gun violence in the United States, with a focus on school shootings. In their first year, they registered 50,000 new voters on a tour across the USA and registered another 800,000 people to vote in the midterm elections on National Voter Registration Day. Although it is difficult to determine how much of an effect they had on the 2018 midterm election, it is notable that this midterm had the highest ever youth voter turnout, with an increase of 47% from the previous year; there were also 46 NRA-backed incumbent candidates who lost their seats.
MFOL has used various forms of alternative media in their activism, including social media, speeches to legislative assemblies, and interviews on national television. They have implemented various tactics and forms of DIY media. They have used ‘price tag buttons’ with the amounts donated by the NRA to state legislators. They have also created a ‘Color For Our Lives’ colouring book and they wrote a song performed during their march in Washington in March 2018, and published an online zine with open submissions from supporters across the US. Most notably, they have encouraged the use of homemade protest signs at their rallies across the country, which have included satirical messages, quotes from activists, and anti-gun-violence slogans.
The price tag buttons feature the amount per state that the National Rifle Association (NRA) has donated to legislators divided by the number of students in that state. For example, the Florida price tag calculates the price per student to be $1.05 and includes the names and donation amounts for five politicians. The central themes present are the commoditization of students by politicians, as well as critiques of the NRA. These are shown through activists using their bodies as a medium in combination with these price tags, as they satirically present themselves as objects that politicians and the NRA negotiate with. The text reading “Florida politicians who receive NRA blood money” associates NRA donations with incentives for politicians to avoid stricter gun restriction, despite the frequent occurrences of mass shootings.
The protest signs featured many issues, as there have been thousands of handmade signs in cities across America. However, the most prominent one has been the young ages of protestors. This can be seen through connecting the sign to the person carrying it through text and symbols, using their bodies as a medium of protest as was the case with the price tags. An example of this reads “I am the future pls [sic] protect me!!” on pink bristol board. Using ‘I’ language forces the reader to consider the 11-year-old protestor holding the sign.
Second, the theme of depicting a choice of ‘the right to life’ versus ‘the right to guns’ which challenges primarily the NRA’s protection of the second amendment. This argument is used often in challenging the NRA, politicians, or the general public to consider which option is more important; the signs often tie this notion back to the identity of the protester with language such as “When you right to own a gun outweighs my right to live, there is a problem”.
Stoneman Douglas High School’s Drama Club wrote a song entitled “Shine”, which was performed at the March 2018 rally in Washington. The song highlighted resilience in the face of gun violence and government inaction toward youth activism. Their lyrics go as the following “together we have the power to change the world around us”, and “we refuse to be ignored by those who will not listen”.
In the context of MFOL, chronotopes have been used by Mainstream media to shift the focus away from gun violence and toward “the identities of the protestors”. Chronotopes are used by media to bring an event or movement closer to their audience; for example, CBC Ottawa might interview an athlete from Ottawa at the Olympics to make Ottawans more interested in the event through this connection. The use of the chronotope by Mass media in their coverage of the MFOL showed the sympathetic approach towards protestors taken by mainstream American media.
ABC News’ coverage of MFLO focused on the young ages of protestors, the commoditization of students, and government inaction toward youth activism. They highlighted signs that focused on the age of the attendees, such as a sign that read “am I next?”. They also showed and explained the price tags, juxtaposing them with the response from Senator Marco Rubio, whose quote was presented as quite apathetic towards MFOL. They used a chronotype in the form of an interview with Stoneman Douglas’ school newspaper photographer which provided another connection between the movement and the young age of those involved. They noted at the end of the segment that many protesters were still not old enough to vote, again referencing their age.
NBC News included many shots of protest signs, including one held by a young child which read “Not One More”, alluding to the ‘Enough is Enough’ slogan. However, the focus of their coverage was on the speeches of activists, including Edna Chavez who said that she “learned to duck from bullets before [she] learned how to read”. This quote once again emphasizes mainstream media’s focus of the young age of those in attendance.
Fox News’ coverage focused on two interviews, one with MFOL founder David Hogg and one with pro-gun survivor Kyle Kashuv. They allocated 50% more speaking time to Kashuv, a conservative activist challenging MFOL’s agenda. They also covered which celebrities were performing at the rally, which none of the other news networks mentioned in more than one line.
CNN’s article about this protest used the words young, youth, teenager, or child many times in their coverage. All the photos featured in their article included either price tag buttons or handmade signs. They also included a chronotope of Lucia Smith, age 6, holding a sign that read “Your right to rifles, my right to life, choose”. This reminds the audience of the age of the protesters. Although Smith was protesting near the US Embassy in Spain rather than in the US, the photo of a young girl protesting paired with details about her life creates a connection between the movement and the viewer.
Three of the four networks placed emphasis on the age of protesters, a theme that is also found in the handmade posters. However, the other critique of the NRA such as the commoditization of students and government inaction were not dominant over the mainstream media. The DIY media of the protestors created a more sympathetic image of MFOL protesters in mainstream media, but this positive attention was mostly driven towards the young age of protesters. The DIY media created a sympathetic audience but were not enough to deliver all of the protestors’ critiques and demands.
Annabelle Linders is a third-year student in the Public Affairs and Policy Management program, specializing in Communication Technology and Regulation. Annabelle has written about social and health policy as a staff writer for Kroeger Policy Review, a student publication at Carleton, and is an executive member for AKCESS. She is from Halifax, Nova Scotia and enjoys painting and soccer in her free time.