Valentine’s Day is when we’re supposed to give heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and flowers to those we love.
For Manuel “Manny” Oliver, Valentine’s Day is something different. His 17-year-old son Joaquin was shot and killed that day in 2018, at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
“Guac,” as Joaquin was affectionately known, was one of 17 people killed in the massacre perpetrated by a lone gunman, a former student armed with a semi-automatic weapon. Seventeen others were wounded. That’s why Manny Oliver, in the cold, pre-dawn darkness at 4 a.m. this Valentine’s Day, was clambering up a 150 foot construction crane just a block from the White House, carrying a message from his heart for President Biden.
“45K PEOPLE DIED FROM GUN VIOLENCE ON YOUR WATCH!” read the banner that Manny and another activist unfurled. It also had a portrait of Joaquin and a website, ShockMarket.org, which a coalition of three gun control groups, March for Our Lives, Guns Down America, and Change the Ref, developed to pressure the Biden administration to act.
Manny sent out a video from the crane as the sun rose over Washington, with the National Mall and the Washington Monument behind him:
“The whole world will listen to Joaquin today. He has a very important message. I asked for a meeting with Joe Biden, a month ago. I never got that meeting. So now I’m back with Joaquin. Now you’re going to have to deal with him. Good luck with that…Happy Valentine’s Day to all of you, from Joaquin Oliver.”
As police gathered below, Joaquin’s mother, Patricia Oliver, and Parkland massacre survivor David Hogg, a classmate of Joaquin’s, readied another banner nearby, this one an electronic message board mounted on a truck. It, too, highlighted ShockMarket.org.
“Today is the four-year anniversary of what happened at Parkland, when 17 of our classmates and teachers were shot and killed in our high school,” Hogg, now a student at Harvard University, said in a video. “Today we are in front of the White House, and we’re going to be driving around with this truck to talk about the number of gun deaths and injuries that have happened since Biden took office. He has promised a number of things that he could do as president right now but has yet to do so through executive action. We are demanding that he take action to save lives before the next Parkland happens.”
“Shock Market” is a play on “Stock Market.” The activists want the Biden administration to monitor gun violence statistics as seriously as the countless economic indicators that drive so much policy in Washington. The mobile billboard Hogg drive through DC displayed the following figures, taken from the independent, nonpartisan Gun Violence Archive, current as of Valentine’s Day, beginning from Biden’s inauguration on January 20, 2021:
Gun Deaths: 47,734
Gun Injuries: 42,641
Mass Shootings: 718
Minors Killed: 1,652
Minors Injured: 4,387
Unintentional Shootings: 2,057
Any one of these figures is shocking. Together, they paint a grim picture of gun violence in U.S. society. We are truly unique in the world, with hundreds of millions of guns in circulation, many designed for the sole purpose of killing human beings.
The Shock Market activists are demanding that President Biden establish a National Office of Gun Violence Prevention; that there be public investment in community-based gun violence intervention programs; that the federal government hold the gun industry accountable; and that Biden use the bully pulpit of his office to drive the issue of gun violence prevention onto the national agenda. They have issued Biden a deadline of the State of the Union address to offer a detailed plan of action.
The NRA has long dominated the political landscape around gun control, ensuring that no meaningful legislation passes through Congress. In recent years, though, the NRA has been rocked by scandal, with its head, Wayne LaPierre, and other executives caught spending on lavish personal trips and clothing. According to leaked financial documents obtained by the pro-gun news website The Reload, the NRA’s membership has dropped by half in the past five years, and spent 20% of its budget fighting its mounting legal problems.
Meanwhile, nine families of victims of the 2012 Sandy Hook massacre, in Newtown, Connecticut, this week announced an historic $73 million settlement with Remington, the now-defunct manufacturer of the semi-automatic rifle used to kill the 20 children and six staff members at that school shooting.
Manny Oliver’s peaceful Valentine’s Day protest atop the crane ended with his arrest. The organization he and his wife founded in Joaquin’s memory, Change the Ref, posted a photo of Manny being led away in handcuffs, with the caption, “A father’s work is never done.”
This column originally appeared in Democracy Now!