Today is the 20th anniversary of the Million Mom March. That day changed my life. It was Mother’s Day of 2000. A friend asked me in November of 1999 if I wanted to go to this march organized by a woman named Donna Dees-Thomases. I knew nothing but of course I said yes. It didn’t take long for some friends and members of the local League of Women Voters to hold a meeting about how we could do a local event and get local people to the Capitol in DC for the march. It was an exhilarating time. Many meetings were held and we raised enough money to fund a bus full of local women to get on a bus and take a very long trip to DC to march with 750,000 mothers and others. We had no idea that so many people would come to the event. It was pretty overwhelming for the organizers but iw demonstrated the pent up frustration of so many people that nothing was happening to stem the epidemic of gun violence that had only just begun at that time.
It was because of the shooting incident at the Jewish Daycare Center in Los Angeles that Donna Dees-Thomases decided that something had to be done about shootings involving small children. And then the Columbine shooting happened. The country watched in horror as 12 innocent people were gunned down by 2 young teens who got their guns through a friend who bought the guns at a gunshow in Colorado with no background check.
I flew to DC with a group who went ahead to go to a reception and to the office of he organizers. There we met Donna and a few others of the women who made this all happened. Some groups were invited to a speech on the White House lawn and ours was one of them. We scrambled to call the bus riders to get their information for the secret service so we could all get into the event at the White House before the march. President and Mrs. Clinton both spoke on a stage full of children and others who had been affected by gun violence. It was a thrill to hear the common sense words of our President about his desire to do something about gun violence. I met the President as he walked off the stage into the crowd to chat.
It was a very hot humid day as the march began. Our group was overwhelmed by the crowds and eventually met up with the bus full of people from the Twin Cities as well. We marched with our own Minnesota sign and with now deceased Senator Paul Wellstone. I value the photo I have of me with him as he joined us that day.
It’s so hard to describe that day. Seeing so many people with tee shirts, hats and signs with the names of loved ones was very emotional and affirming for me. It’s so easy to feel alone after a loved one has been shot and killed and then not knowing how you can do something about it. The march was my inspiration. I connected with women from all over the country but most importantly I connected with many women from my community who have become my friends and co-leaders in the movement to end gun violence.
After returning home we formed a local chapter of the Million Mom March and began our journey to becoming an active, vibrant group that made connections with local elected leaders, law enforcement and other organizations. We held meetings; we held vigils; we dedicated a memorial bell garden above the Lakewalk on Lake Superior- the only one in the
country dedicated to victims of gun violence; we marched; we organized; we went to the state capitol for meetings and lobby days; we testified; we held signs and rang bells; we raised money; we published editorials and letters to the editor and over time, we tabled at local festivals and other events, we learned how to talk to the media and become thought leaders about the issue of gun violence prevention.
We attended national meetings in D.C. where we learned even more about how to organize and speak about gun violence. At these meetings we met victims of gun violence who became our friends and confidantes. We pushed for national legislation to renew the assault weapons ban, to expand background checks, to stop the gun industry immunity bill and the Tiahrt Amendment. We lost many battles but we were there. Our voices were and are still strong.
Today I received a thank you bouquet for the work I have done. It was a recognition of the fact that I and many others around me have persisted. We are mothers, grandmothers, sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, friends and others who support keeping our communities safe from gun violence. We are supported by the majority of Americans who agree with us. Along with many others, we will prevail.
Since Mother’s Day of 2000, 700,000 Americans have died from gun violence due to suicides, homicides or unintentional shootings. That is why I and my fellow marchers keep marching.
Happy anniversary Million Mom March. I am proud to be a member. Thanks for making my journey a meaningful one in the name of my sister and all victims of gun violence.