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March for Our Lives in Portland: Notes & Impressions

Updated: Feb 16, 2019

The morning was rough, raw, overcast and cold, temperature in the forties when I arrived downtown at 9:10 and strolled from the bus stop at SW 5th and Washington to Powell's City of Books where I would pass some time browsing and avail myself of the facilities before joining the demonstration slated to commence in the North Park Blocks at 10.

I was not alone in setting out early. Several passengers on the bus I boarded at 8:55 gave off a je ne sais quoi aura of protester that left little doubt where they were bound. A woman with a sign who got on the bus shortly after I did was even more clear-cut.

Downtown a steady stream of students, parents with toddlers, and comrades of my generation and older proceeded north on Broadway and 10th Avenue, presumably having taken MAX downtown to Pioneer Courthouse Square, undeterred by weather conditions that could not be described as inclement but were not all that far from it. More than a few gathered outside of Powell's at Burnside and 10th, a convenient spot to rendezvous with friends, or went inside the bookstore to browse, buy coffee, avail themselves of the facilities, and generally while away the time before the rally began.

The gathering was peaceful but determined, serious but not somber. Those present came with purpose and good spirit. They were people who believe there is a moral imperative to try to do something about gun violence and gun regulation has to be part of the equation. We took our stand and joined hundreds of thousands in DC and many more in cities across the US and around the world. The president has thus far been silent about the protests. He is reported to have spent much of the day at his golf club in Florida.

We proceeded up Broadway to Pioneer Courthouse Square. I pealed away after that, opting not to stay for the speakers and the band Portugal. The Man. The square was packed by the time I got there, and I believe there were more people in the march behind me than were ahead of me.

It may be worth noting many people have fought the good fight for gun control for a long time and continue to do so, with lamentably little to show for it but more than if they had not fought at all. The students who inspire us all are not initiating a movement but rather they are breathing fresh life into an existing one. They bring the energy and idealism of youth and maybe too a measure of the self-righteousness and naïveté you need to think that you can make the world a better place where others before you have tried and thus far fallen short. They are young and full of piss and vinegar, as the saying goes. We can do with some of that these days.

Was the Parkland shooting one of those tipping point things? The NRA and allied groups remain powerful and determined. They will not go away. The NRA has the resources to mount slick PR campaigns, lobby political leaders, and mobilize their supporters. Their opposition to any but the most minor restrictions on gun ownership remains staunch, and they oppose even some pretty minor ones.

Conventional wisdom holds that the gun-rights crowd are single-issue voters who support and vote for candidates on the basis of their position on guns alone. Compromise is tantamount to betrayal. For gun-control advocates, guns are one issue among many and are less likely to be treated as a litmus test. They tend to be more amenable to compromise. All this may be changing.

Wayne LaPierre, Dana Loesch, and the rest have not overplayed their hand. At the rally anti-NRA sentiment ran high. "No more NRA" was prominent among the chants taken up time and again as we milled about the North Park Blocks and continued on the march to Pioneer Courthouse Square. The NRA is the face of the gun-rights movement. But the organization has also become the face of a gun-rights absolutism that many see as indefensible.

What was accomplished? Will the march be anything more than a feel-good moment? In one respect it is a gesture that we can hope will not prove to be futile, a modest way to take a stand. Beyond that, the number of people who took to the streets today in so many cities sends a message to those in power and to those who do not believe as we do that guns are part of the problem and gun control regulation must be part of our attempt to address that problem.

The sense of solidarity and feeling that one is not alone engendered by events such as today's is no small thing. It is not just easy to be discouraged when mass shootings assault us again, again, and again. It is reasonable to be discouraged. It is human. Today's marches and the shining example of students throughout the nation in the days since Parkland give us heart and resolution to keep at it.

To those who always offer thoughts and prayers, I say that thoughts and prayers are not enough. Your words ring more hollow after each terrible event. Yours is the empty gesture.

All we can do is keep at it in whatever ways we can. March together. Educate ourselves. Contact our elected representatives. Vote. Be as kind to one another as we are able. Keep the faith.

Memo from the Editorial Desk

Minor edits for clarification were made within twenty-hours after this piece was originally published. The paragraph beginning "Conventional wisdom holds" was inserted.

This morning (Sunday, March 25) Oregon Public Radio reported the Portland Police Bureau's estimate that approximately 12,000 people participated in the March.

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