Another wave of mass shootings has grabbed national headlines this spring. The most recent incident occurred in Louisville, Kentucky on April 10 when a gunman armed with an AR-15 rifle killed five people and wounded nine others at a downtown bank. Two weeks earlier, an assailant also armed with an AR-15 killed three adults and three 9-year-olds at a Christian school in Nashville, Tennessee.
When three Tennessee Democratic state representatives joined thousands of student protesters at the state Capitol calling for gun control measures, two of them — both young black men — were expelled and lost their seats. A third representative, a white woman, held onto her seat by one vote.
Manuel “Manny” Oliver, whose son Joaquin was killed in the 2018 Parkland, Florida high school mass shooting, visited Nashville to speak out after the shooting there. He and his wife Patricia both left their jobs immediately after their son’s death and formed a small nonprofit called “Change the Ref.” Oliver quit his dream job as the creative director for an art agency, believing the fight to end to gun violence required a full-time commitment. Oliver was arrested at the U.S. Capitol on March 23 for disrupting a House hearing on gun violence. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Oliver, who discusses his call for a national education strike in response to this latest “inflection point” among many in the fight for gun safety.
MANUEL “MANNY” OLIVER: I have been in many tipping points. I saw how Uvalde was a tipping point and Santa Clarita was a tipping point and I could name many others. Actually, Parkland was a tipping point, and I tried, along with my wife, to do everything that we could after losing Joaquin, a little over five years ago. But there’s always some distraction in the way. There’s always a collective intention to go back to how we were before, accepting this as a normal situation and keep on enjoying America.
So, as a society – and I’m not even talking about politicians here, I’m talking about us – as a society we are afraid of any uncomfort zone; we need to keep on with our perfect lives, even if that means some others won’t be able to. Gun violence is hitting anyone at any place. It’s really impactful when it happens inside a school with 9-year-old kids, 7-year-old kids, 6-year-old kids.
The bottom line is that yes, I do believe this is a tipping point, again. But I do like the reaction that I see today. Like, I have been motivating in every single speech, in every single interview, the fact that we should get out there and try to put together a national strike. And people are following that idea because we all understand that that might be the way – we don’t know, but it might be the way.
MELINDA TUHUS: Now, when you talk about strike, at first I thought you meant a teacher strike, then I wasn’t sure if you meant the students as well, and now I’m wondering if you mean a general strike.
MANUEL “MANNY” OLIVER: Yes. I invited students first and of course, teachers. Teachers should be concerned about their place of work. And they should be concerned about their students’ safety, period. What I saw yesterday, they called it Students Demand Action. They put together a national walkout day, yesterday, and from my understanding it was very successful. There were a lot of kids outside, along with their teachers.
However, corporate America needs to get involved, and that’s when I started thinking and envisioning a national strike. We all know that in Walmart, as far as I know, there have been two mass shootings inside their stores. And they keep selling ammunition and they keep selling guns in some Walmarts. And that’s just an example.
In Fedex, they had a mass shooting not so long ago and Fedex hasn’t brought out a statement about that. Where do you stand? Do you stand with the youth?
So, when you talk about national strike, I think it’s a snowball effect. Starting with the youth, by not going back to school – I’m not talking about a walkout, I’m talking about a walkaway, okay—until you do this.
And I also mention what I want to see: I want to see a universal background check, a ban on assault weapons, I want to see red flag laws, safe storage laws and permits and registrations – in a federal way.
That’s the only way we can move forward, by asking for everything. Instead of asking for baby steps or begging them to please, consider my loss and my pain, and do something about it. I’m sick of that. I think we need the power to negotiate and the only way to do that is with a strike.
On that initial looking for answers and watching the news, I saw how our politicians – our referees, the ones that should make the right calls – are actually receiving money from one of the “teams.” They’re actually receiving money from the gun industry for their political campaigns and that makes us play against another team in a very unfair situation.
MELINDA TUHUS: And just lastly, Manny, you said you work with some of these bigger groups. Can you give me any sense of how far along, organizationally, this idea of a national strike is? Have you talked to them about that? Are any of them onboard, or not onboard?
MANUEL “MANNY” OLIVER: Everyone is onboard, but not onboard. What does that mean? They will be onboard, once someone starts this. I respect that. It pisses me off because we could all do way better if we start, but I also understand that some of these groups cannot take this risk, this social disruption figure, right? These guys are lobbying and other stuff that I don’t do. So I get that.
Change the Ref is the rebel face of the gun violence prevention movement. We’re proud of being able to do that. So, what happens with the strike, we had a few conversations. Some of them are waiting for the Big Bang. In the meantime, I am trying to get the Big Bang together.
For more information, visit Change the Ref’s website at changetheref.org.