Long ago, I got involved with the parent teacher association at the community French immersion school my younger daughter attended, and learned a lot about the power of moms. It was women who attended the PTA meetings and did things like run the weekly hot dog lunches. They were multi-taskers who got things done.
It was a friendly, community-oriented school. The principal and vice-principal stood in the hallway each morning to greet students, and parents helped patrol the school yard at lunch time. We used part of our PTA fundraising (those hot dog lunches) to buy special pins the principal presented to celebrate students who had done good and constructive things.
We took part in the PTA because we believed that parents had a role to play in helping the school serve the community. Nobody ever wrote a news story about us, and because this was before Twitter, not a lot of people knew about what we did.
These days, people can post about what they are doing, usually with pictures. And for a while now, I have been following Moms Demand Action, which has been working to make their US communities safe from gun violence. And, having just read Shannon Watts’ book about the group, I recognize these moms. I met a lot of them in that PTA.
This is how they describe themselves on their website:
“Moms Demand Action is a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. We pass stronger gun laws and work to close the loopholes that jeopardize the safety of our families. We also work in our own communities and with business leaders to encourage a culture of responsible gun ownership. We know that gun violence is preventable, and we’re committed to doing what it takes to keep families safe.”
They are an active group, posting regularly on Twitter about their activities at schools, communities, and legislatures in the US. But it puzzles me that I’ve only seen a couple of news stories about their work (at least in the national news media). Maybe it is because they are a grassroots group that is active all over the US; maybe it is because they are primarily women (although they welcome both “mothers and others”); maybe it is because they are moms.
Maybe that is why their achievements are not as well-known as they should be. Because those achievements are quite amazing.
Moms Demand Action began with a Facebook post by Shannon, a stay-at-home mom and a former communications executive, the day after the Sandy Hook school shooting tragedy. She started a Facebook group (initially named One Million Moms for Gun Control) because, as she says in her book: “I can no longer sit on the sidelines. I am too sad and too angry. Don’t let anyone tell you we can’t talk about this tragedy now – they said the same after Virginia Tech, Gabby Giffords, and Aurora. The time is now.” That was in 2012.
Within minutes, “incensed moms across the country joined her and Shannon understood that she had tapped into a ‘tsunami of rage’ among American moms,” says Julianne Moore, who wrote the introduction to the book.
“This was the unwavering power of a million mom’s hearts all channeling their love, their rage and their strength into something momentous,” Shannon says in her 2019 book, Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World.
It is an extremely readable book – part history, part guidebook for organizing, and part sharing of the values that underlie the movement. It’s full of good and practical advice for women who want to create change, and it’s full of stories.
Moms Demand Action has grown to become a powerful grassroots network of nearly 10 million supporters with a chapter in every US state and is partnered with Everytown for Gun Safety, the largest gun violence prevention organization in the US. In their signature red (and sometimes orange) shirts, Moms volunteers have blocked the halls of Congress and state legislatures with “stroller jams”, organized “momcotts”, worked for and elected gun sense candidates, run for office themselves, and lobbied for gun safety legislation at city councils, school boards, state legislatures, and the US Congress.
“In dozens of states, we’ve defeated permitless carry, proposals to allow guns in K-12 schools, and bills that would force colleges to allow guns on college campuses. We’ve helped pass eleven red flag laws – eight of them” since the 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school in Florida.
There are 80 million moms in the US and they know how to multi-task, because that’s what they do every day. If they unite, they’re unstoppable, she says, because the issues that unite moms cut across party lines. But it’s not just moms that are members these days – there are men, and women who are not moms. “Since the earliest days, we have said that Moms Demand Action is “for mothers and others” – but to be clear, women are taking the lead.” It’s worked hard to be inclusive and to reach out to marginalized communities.
The recent passage of the first major US gun safety law in nearly 26 years, the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act, shows the strength of the grassroots power of Moms Demand Action, says long-time volunteer Marie G. Delus, who lost her nephew to gun violence in 2008.
“Working with survivors now and helping them tell their stories is so impactful”, she says. “I’ve always said in order for others to know the impact of gun violence they need to hear the stories; they need to see the faces.”
On Sept. 1st, Everytown for Gun Safety, Moms Demand Action, and Students Demand Action celebrated recent massive wins in state legislatures in 2022. “So far this year, state legislatures passed at least 45 gun safety laws and blocked 95% of the gun lobby’s agenda, including hundreds of attempts by the gun lobby to weaken gun laws. In addition, over $860 million was allocated to gun violence prevention programs by state legislatures — a new record. Tens of thousands of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action volunteers made this work possible through countless emails, phone calls, in person and virtual visits throughout legislative and special sessions.”
Well done, Moms! Always knew we could change the world.
She founded Moms Demand Action for gun reform. 140 of its volunteers won office. Washington Post, Dec. 8, 2022
Cover image: Office of Cory Booker/Wikimedia Commons