It has been over a week since March for Our Lives, the largest protest against gun violence in history. Students showed up, gave moving speeches, and inspired us all to imagine a future where mass shootings are rare.
But before the March for Our Lives, there were dozens of smaller, regional events. The “Moms Demand Action” rally in Saint Paul on March 1, 2018 didn’t garner national media attention. And, to tell the truth, I almost didn’t go myself. I could have easily skipped showing up; no one would know either way. I really didn’t need to rally at the Capitol — to be one body among many — to get my position across. My spouse and I are on a first-name basis with our state representative and state senator. I can call them up or email them to make sure they know my position, although we are generally on the same page. Plus, I needed to go to the grocery store before I picked our youngest daughter up from preschool. But something compelled me to go anyway.
At the march, I saw plenty of suburban-looking moms taking group selfies with their friends, wearing the provided matching t-shirts. I even loaned my pen so they could fill out the literature we were giving to legislators because some did not bring their purses. They did not know what it would be like, if there would be metal detectors, or restrictions on what they could carry. “No worries,” I smiled as I replied, “I’ve been here before; you learn how it goes.” Then the moms returned to their group conversation about the party one of them was throwing for the cause with a ‘90s theme.
Did any of us really need me to be there? Nobody except me.
I needed to show up to the rally for the same reason I need to pray, which is not to influence anybody else but so I might be changed. Martin Luther explained every petition of the Lord’s Prayer with observations like:
- The kingdom of God comes without our prayer, but…
- The good and gracious will of God is done indeed without our prayer, but…
- God gives daily bread without our prayer, to all, but…
What Luther was getting at was God doesn’t need our prayers to do God’s work in the world, but that doesn’t mean we should stop praying. We are not changing God’s actions by doing so, but we are asking to be a part of God’s work. Our prayers ask that God would accomplish it among us, even in and through us. The power of our legislators, or even the democratic power of voters who might be affected by media coverage of a rally, cannot compare to God’s power. Legislators and voters alike exist in echo chambers of our own choosing, so there may be a shred of hope that my body present at a rally has some influence, but probably only a shred. What I know for certain is that it moves me.
We are all kinetic learners, on some level. To do something physically, with our feet, our hands, our voice, brings our “commitment” into a different sphere. I am acknowledging that not everything can be solved by thinking hard enough, nor is rational thought even part of making public policy sometimes. We have to attend to the emotional responses of ourselves and others, the loyalties and how they are cultivated, if we are to make any progress.
Showing up at rallies, marches, and other demonstrations links me with others who are feeling the same burden, some in different phases of engagement from myself. Showing up at the “Moms Demand Action” rally connects me with the suburban moms there for the first time. I once heard that the purpose of sending young adults on a mission in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints may be stated as spreading the faith, but the effect is to solidify the commitment of the messengers to the movement in their adulthood. In order to evangelize it, you have to internalize it. In the same way, I am more likely to show up the next time, to claim my place in the movement, because I have shown up on my legislators’ doorstep and tried to say my piece.
A mass action, if nothing else, should garner media attention, which we saw in the aftermath of March for Our Lives. Yet, even in smaller rallies, people who gather together in God’s name are defined by that experience, and all the protests and mass actions matter. Through these experiences we become people who protest, who speak up, who call out injustice. #BlackLivesMatter, the Women’s March and #MeToo are normalizing public outcry, which used to be the activity of those on the margins only.
The margins keep moving, though, and I need to keep learning. For my own sake, I had better keep showing up.