This Father Lost His Son in Parkland. Now He Wants America to Vote the NRA’s Influence Out of Office
With the midterms just weeks away, activists like artist Manuel Oliver are campaigning for gun control around the country, hoping to remind Americans that mass shootings happen all too often.
Oliver’s investment in the movement is personal: his 17-year-old son, Joaquin, was killed in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida earlier this year. Moved to prevent others from suffering the way his family has, Oliver worked with other advertising creatives to design a symbolic statue known as The Last Lockdown.
The 3D-printed structure depicts a life-sized, terrified young girl, hiding under a school desk. Statistics about gun violence are etched into the desk’s surface—”22 kids are shot every day in America,” “nearly 60% of teens say they are worried about a shooting happening at their school”—along with a number to register to vote.
The statue is representative of a school shooting, but Oliver said it pertains to all victims of gun violence.
“I did lose my son in Parkland,” Oliver told Fortune. “Joaquin was shot, dead, inside his school, but that’s not the main message here. The main message here is this epidemic situation that the whole nation is going through.”
With 10 of these statues in tow, Oliver, his organizational colleagues, and student activists are hosting statue reveals and voter registration events across the country. The statues will be placed in 10 different cities where they say the gun control debate is the most contentious.
According to Giffords, one of the leading organizations in the Last Lockdown campaign, these locations are Parkland, Fla.; Las Vegas; Denver; Minneapolis; Irvine, Calif.; Milwaukee; Houston; Sarasota, Fla.; Spokane, Wash.; and Philadelphia.
Oliver attended a statue reveal in Huntington Beach, Calif. (near Irvine) last month, where he says he and other organizers made speeches outside of three different congress members’ offices, addressing the policies of Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, Mimi Walters, and Ken Calvert.
After that, the Last Lockdown statue went viral, said Oliver, but there’s still work to do: awareness alone won’t change gun policy, require background checks for gun ownership, or outlaw assault weapons.
“Whatever we are doing right now, it’s creating reaction. And that is the first step,” said Oliver, who founded the nonprofit organization Change the Ref to educate people on issues like gun safety. “Now we need the action: just voting for the right people.”
According to Oliver, this means electing representatives who are not connected to the National Rifle Association, which often fights legislation that aims to restrict gun sales or ownership.
“The whole plan needs to start by choosing the right people [who are] not intoxicated with the gun lobby money,” says Oliver. “As long as the NRA or the gun lobby is putting money into politician’s campaigns, it’s pretty hard to believe in that guy.”
Oliver compares the influence of the NRA to that of drug cartels: they pay the politicians so that no laws are changed, allowing everyone to continue on with their business, and it doesn’t matter if people get hurt along the way as long as they’re making money.
“That said, we will make sure that whoever is elected is not part of that clan, is not part of that group of people that is only concerned about making more and more money, and not concerned about saving our kids’ lives,” says Oliver.
When people actually go out and vote, says Oliver, “that’s where the magic arrives.”