On March 24, 2018, March for Our Lives in Atlanta, Georgia, began at the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, a museum dedicated to the achievements of both the civil rights movement in the US and the worldwide human rights movement.
More than 30,000 people took part in the march in Atlanta, joining marchers in 800 cities in the US and around the world. The people took to the streets to support a student-initiated movement to change gun laws and end gun violence in the aftermath of the Parkland shooting that took the lives of 17 students and adults.
At the Atlanta rally, teenage students took to the podium to read poetry, sing songs, and call the protesters to action. Congressman John Lewis, who was a young man when he joined the civil rights movement, was impressed by the students leading the protest. He addressed the crowd and said, “It is amazing. It reminds me of the early days of the civil movement.”
I have never seen so many elementary and high school students marching in a rally before. They carried signs that said, “#Enough,” “Not one more,” “Loving arms, not fire arms!” One particular sign captured my attention: it said thoughts and prayers are not enough, and we need policy and change.
The rally was a site for civic education. A father near me brought his two small children, who carried signs made by themselves. The family began shouting, “NRA, go away.” As we passed by a booth for voter registration, a father told his teenage daughters, “I had registered to vote. As soon as you can vote, you will register too.”
At a time when the NRA lobby is so strong, and the Congress refuses to pass common sense gun laws, students across the country marched out of their classrooms on March 14 and took part in the national protest on March 24. Naomi Wadler, the 11-year-old fifth-grader, said at the rally in Washington. D.C, “I represent the African-American women who are victims of gun violence, who are simply statistics instead of vibrant, beautiful girls full of potential.” Emma González, 18, one of the most prominent of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas survivor-activists, asked us to remember the lives of students cut short. When adults fail to protect them, children across the nation stand up. When politicians refuse to act, students march literally for their lives!
|Marching down Martin Luther King Dr|
March for Our Lives took place the day before this year’s Palm Sunday. As students were marching in the nation’s capital, I was reminded of Jesus’ march to Jerusalem. Jesus entered the city from the east side, riding a donkey and cheered by his followers. This was a peasant procession and Jesus came from the village of Nazareth. On the west side, there was another imperial procession. Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, entered Jerusalem at the head of a column of imperial cavalry and soldiers. Pilate’s march displayed imperial power and Roman imperial theology.*
Jesus’ procession was a protest march, an anti-imperial march! Many church leaders preach about the religious significance of Palm Sunday, but completely overlook or choose to forget the politics of Jesus’ march.
On Palm Sunday, I participated in a worship service with more than 2,000 people in a big church in downtown Atlanta. Most of the worshippers were African Americans. In his sermon, the preacher said that Jesus entered Jerusalem triumphantly as a different kind of king, not like the kings in the world. Jesus entered Jerusalem to fight for us, to fight for forgiveness. He did not mention the socio-political background of Jesus’ march, nor did he refer to the march that took place not far from his church the day before. He did not say a word about a march against gun violence, which disproportionately affects the African American community.
Jesus’ march and the unfolding events of the Holy Week must be seen in the larger context of political and religious terror. In The Cross in Contexts, Palestinian theologian Mitri Raheb reminds us that “Jesus was not only a victim of state terror but also of religious terror.” This was because Jesus was not sentenced to death under Roman law alone, but also as a blasphemer, for he dared to challenge religious authorities. Jesus died because of religious terrorism. The cross, Raheb says, “becomes the ultimate critique of state and religious violence.”
Today, following Jesus means to confront imperial power of our time, and to oppose racism, sexism, heterosexism, bigotry, anti-immigration, xenophobia, and capitalist greed. It means engaging in non-violent resistance, pursuing justice, and working with our religious neighbors to foster peace. It means protecting the young and bequeathing our children a better world.
The children are marching for their lives! Are we marching with them or not?
* Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan, The Last Week: A Day-by-Day Account of Jesus’s Final Week in Jerusalem (San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006), 2-5.