NEVER AGAIN: THE PEOPLE’S POWER

Never again! The outcry of the survivors of the Parkland high school shooting in Florida is becoming a new expression of the people’s power. Following the tragedy that left 17 people dead on 14 February, a growing coalition of students, teachers, and parents became anti-gun activists, denouncing the National Rifle Association (NRA) and reshaping the lobbying landscape of the US private sector.

It all started on social media, on the personal accounts of Parkland students, before the networks took over offering a platform that turned the survivors of the shooting into activists and lobbyists of a new type. The “Never Again” movement is steadily growing and provoking change. It can now refer to its policy goal (stricter background checks for gun buyers) and even prepare for a nationwide protest on 24 March (called a March for Our Lives).

The initial success of the Never Again movement may not have been planned. In the past few days some of the biggest corporations, from United Airlines to Best Western, have decided to cut ties with the National Rifle Association (NRA). Most of them say they respond to the boycott calls coming from their customers and other stakeholders, and seem to no longer fear the powerful lobby association. Business legitimacy is endangered and corporations hurry to take measures that will satisfy the public, i.e. their customers and stakeholders. The tide is turning and what drives the current change is people’s power, not political action.

The First National Bank of Omaha, one of the largest US banks offering services to families and small businesses, was the first corporation to react to the Parkland shooting and to respond publicly to boycott calls. On 23 February, the Omaha World-Herald reported that the bank announced on Twitter it would not renew its contract with the NRA to issue the NRA Visa card: “Customer feedback has caused us to review our relationship with the NRA”

The people’s power

The strategic reason was spelt out. On its homepage, the First National Bank of Omaha claims it is fiercely independent and family-owned: “Doing what’s right. Helping others. Giving back. These are virtues you expect from people. For a bank, the expectations should be even higher.” The bank had clearly positioned itself on the side of the public. Remaining silent after the outcry that followed the Parkland shooting would have been too much of a reputational risk.

Interestingly, the bank’s example was soon followed by some of the most powerful corporations in the country. When Delta airlines and United airlines announced on 24 February that they will end their contract with the NRA for discounted rates through their group travel program, it came across as an opportunistic marketing campaign. But it also showed the power that people have when they massively request change in society. Indeed, when they decided to cut ties with the NRA, both airlines followed other big corporations that had been quicker to react: Avis, Budget, Enterprise and Hertz for the car rental giants, the Best Western hotel chain, the MetLife global insurance company, and another dozen corporations had stopped any marketing relationship with the NRA following the Parkland tragedy.

The NRA reacted with an official statement posted on their Twitter account, which Fox News subsequently reprinted on its website: “Let it be absolutely clear,” the NRA stated. “The loss of a discount will neither scare nor distract one single NRA member from our mission to stand and defend the individual freedoms that have always made America the greatest nation in the world.” Clearly being on the defensive, the NRA added: “The law-abiding members of the NRA had nothing at all to do with the failure of that school’s security preparedness, the failure of America’s mental health system, the failure of the National Instant Check System or the cruel failures of both federal and local law enforcement.”

The NRA, which claims a 5 million-strong membership, says it represents the people’s will that is symbolised by the Second Amendment of the US Constitution  (A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed). On 22 February, the NRA’s vice-president Wayne LaPierre said opponents wanted “to eliminate the Second Amendment and our firearms freedoms so they can eradicate all individual freedoms.”

The Parkland shooting did spark a debate on the usefulness of the Second Amendment in today’s United States. However, the Chicago Tribune argues, the attention to the Second Amendment is misplaced. Back in 2008, the Supreme Court already ruled that the District of Columbia’s complete ban on handguns violated the Second Amendment. The court said individuals had the right to own guns for self-defense, a right not limited to those serving in a militia. The current debate is not about constitutional rights or individual freedoms. It’s about finding a way to stop mass killings in US schools.

Yes, the NRA is one of the most powerful lobby associations in the United States. Or should we say it was a powerful lobby? The past weekend reactions highlight a turning tide.

Whether the protest march planned for 24 March is a success at the federal level or not will not change the fact that people have spoken and have already influenced some of the most successful brands in the US and worldwide. People’s power has started to influence politics beyond voting.

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