I’m not sure I have much to say about the botched gun votes last week that hasn’t already been said. Maureen Dowd wrote a nice piece about President Obama’s failures to engage Congress (yet again) and how he provided us with a lot of words but little action or influence. James Fallows wrote a great rant over at the Atlantic about how it was all a consequence of our failed filibuster reform attempt. Even The Onion came through with an article titled, “Jesus, This Week”—it is funny and sad and pretty accurate.
For me, the missing substance in these post-guns online conversations is why we should even care. I’m not talking about the policies themselves—why background checks or assault weapons bans are positive steps we can take as a society. In a word: duh. What I’m more interested in reading is why progressives, and particularly feminists, should give a hoot about the failed gun vote last week because of what it means for other issues we care about. Here are three reasons:
First, I hope we all made note that the entire gun debate was white men talking to other white men about white men’s issues. Sure, a few ladies were involved—North Dakota’s Heitkamp and New Hampshire’s Ayotte are feeling heat for opposing background checks. Gabby Giffords is not only making a courageous recovery, but endeavoring to influence the debate and make positive change. But when it comes down to it, this gun conversation has been about white guys and their guns and other white guys wondering about how much leeway they have to change policies impacting white guys and their guns.
Inside the Senate especially, the fact that the key players are all white guys making decisions about our collective well-being and safety is a pretty big deal when it comes to other issues, including access to contraception and other reproductive health issues. If the gun vote tells us anything, it’s that true progressive change will only happen when the U.S. Congress becomes representative of the country. On that note, President Obama should not be able to invite all of the women Senators over for dinner at the White House—women Senators should not be able to fit around a freakin’ dinner table. Until there are at least 50 of them, we’re not dealing with a truly representative government.
Second, we lost the opportunity to save lives and build safer communities because of the influence of the NRA. Study that influence. When upwards of 90 percent of the country says they’re good with a policy change, a bipartisan group of Senators tries to make it law, and it still doesn’t happen, money and influence interfered somewhere along the way. When you look at the vote breakdown in the Senate, it’s pretty obvious where that interference happened.
It’s a tough lesson that “business as usual” wins the day in Washington, D.C., but if we progressives want to win, we’re going to have to work harder on the money and work harder on the influence. It’s foolhardy to think that because some wide majority of Americans support a good progressive policy, that it will be an easy lift to make it into law. The NRA exists for all of our issues of concern. It’s worth accepting and it’s worth fighting fire with fire.
Third, the power of a democracy to affect change in representative government is real. I heard a little quip on Morning Joe this week that stuck with me: if five percent of Americans opposed the very minimal gun violence prevention policies being forwarded last week, each and every one of those five percenters called their Members of Congress. From my pleasant spot in politics, I couldn’t agree more. Who among us 95 percenters—in this case, folks who support sensible gun control measures—actually called to tell our representatives?
Like the NRA, the five percenters exist for all of the issues we progressives and feminists and bleeding heart liberals care about. And they are really motivated people. Who cares why—they care, they vote, they call. We’ve got the numbers, but we don’t have the motivation to participate in our own democracy. Without it, progressive politics will never succeed.
The Pleasant Progressive