Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Hero in My Eyes: Shannon Watts, Founder of Moms Demand Action


I remember where I was when I first saw the “Breaking News” on my iPhone: there had been a mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  I was sitting in an elementary school classroom with a cadre of teachers—we were there to learn new strategies for teaching reading. 

I remember how my heart sank. I remember what it felt like to be a mom wondering how those moms—and dads—of the fallen Sandy Hook children could possibly cope with such broken hearts. I wondered how I could live in a country that lets massacres like the one at Sandy Hook happen, and Columbine, and the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, and all the countless other tragic places that shootings have happened.

Apparently another mom, in another city, had the same reaction.  But she turned her shock and horror into action. That mom is Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Shannon, who lives in the Indianapolis area, is a mother of five. A former communications executive for high powered companies, she was at the time of the Sandy Hook shootings a stay at home mom.

In a recent interview on the Katie Couric show, Shannon described how she started what would become a national grassroots movement by simply posting a page on Facebook.  I remember seeing that page when it had only several hundred likes. Now it has over 152,000 likes, and the non-profit organization Moms Demand Action has a webpage and chapters in every state of our nation.

And it turns out that determined Moms can have a very powerful voice.  When visiting the nation’s capitol building in Washington D.C. Shannon and her fellow Moms realized that when they had diaper bags and strollers in the hallways, legislators couldn’t get by without talking with them and listening to their concerns. “Stroller Jams” are now a strategic tool to get lawmakers and other stakeholders to listen.

When they learned that Starbucks had banned smoking outside their restaurants, but were allowing people to carry guns inside, the Moms mounted a successful campaign to pressure Starbucks to change their gun policy.

And more recently, the Moms’ voices were heard by Facebook, which agreed to block postings of gun sales that don’t require a background check and to block minors from seeing postings of gun sales. 

Shannon says she isn't out to take guns away from people; she supports the Second Amendment. But she is adamant that “with rights come responsibilities.”  There is an “epidemic of gun violence in this country,” she says. The stark statistic is that eight children and teens are shot and killed every single day. With this in mind, her goal is to change easy and unregulated access to guns with common sense laws.

But it’s not just Shannon’s fervor and organizational skills that make her a hero in my eyes. This woman and others in the organization have faced physical intimidation by armed bullies at rallies and when meeting in restaurants.  I guess you know you are making waves when the opposition turns out toting AK47s and rifles to face you down—you with your strollers and diaper bags.

For one minute after the Sandy Hook tragedy I thought that maybe this country was doomed. But now I know different.  Shannon Watts and more than a hundred and fifty thousand Moms have decided they will not live in a country filled with gun violence. And they do not plan to leave.  They plan to make change.

Check out Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. If you are a Mom, you might want to add your voice to theirs. And if you are not a Mom, but want common sense gun laws and an end to the epidemic of gun violence in America, I’m guessing they won’t turn you away.