The Progressive


A project of Common Dreams

For Immediate Release

A Decade Later, Million Mom March Endures As a Force to Save Lives


Ten years ago, on Mother's Day 2000, some three-quarters of a million
people gathered on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for the largest
demonstration in history supporting stricter gun laws.

constructed through word of mouth, basement phone banks and Kinko's
copies by a ragtag band of volunteers with almost no organizing
experience, the crowd stunningly exceeded expectations. The event
revitalized the national push for common-sense gun laws to protect
America's children and gave birth to a broad national network of
activists. Satellite events in 73 cities added nearly a quarter of a
million more activists to the day's remarkable place in the history of
the fight against gun violence.

As the Million Mom March celebrates its 10th anniversary,
the event has left in its historical wake a web of activists who remain
committed to the struggle against gun violence despite the difficulty of
passing federal legislation during the tenure of the Bush
Administration. Its leaders have built strong Chapters and local
coalitions that have helped to pass strong gun laws on the local and
state levels.

The urgency for national action continues: since
that day of bright skies and warm air, an estimated 872,247 Americans
have been killed or injured with firearms. .

The Million Mom
March - whose volunteers joined forces with the Brady Campaign to
Prevent Gun Violence in 2001 - has Chapters
, and volunteers have played an instrumental role in
passing both local and state laws across the country. The Chapters are
continuing their local activities and are currently working to persuade
their U.S. Representatives and U.S. Senators to support pending
legislation in Congress to close the gun show loophole.

making progress all the time. I am proud to say that here in my home
state of California, elected officials know who we are and they know
that there's a cost to crossing us," says Mary Leigh Blek, who served as
the President of the Million Mom March organization after the event on
the Mall. "We have made progress in our communities, but now we need to
turn our energy to passing federal legislation."

On May 14,
2000, with buses of activists pulling into Washington D.C. from
virtually every state in the nation, the Washington Post and ABC News
reported the results of a poll of 1,068 adults showing that about one in
10 reported having been shot at and nearly one in four had experienced a
gun pointed at them. A 400-pound bell made of melted firearms was
rung. A "Wall of Death" carried the names of 4,001 gun violence
victims. Women's movement leaders like Rosie O'Donnell, Susan Sarandon
and Melissa Etheridge were joined by elected officials including
Congresswomen Connie Morella of Maryland and Carolyn McCarthy of New
York, and many others. The crowd included thousands of children.

might have believed back then that the activists would stay committed,
but they have. In fact, two days after the 2000 March, Washington Post columnist E.J. Dionne, Jr. wrote,
"in this cynical, media-saturated time, it's hard for anyone to conceive
of something so old-fashioned as a political movement with members who
sustain their commitment over time and do unglamorous organizing work
when cameras aren't around."

It certainly has been unglamorous
most of the time, says Joan Peterson, a Brady Campaign board member and
the President of the Minnesota Million Mom Chapters.

nothing glamorous about manning a table outside a grocery store on a
cold Duluth winter day, or pulling weeds in a memorial garden, or phone
banking members of the state legislature, but that's how we get things
done here in Minnesota," Peterson said. "And I know my fellow Moms all
around the country do the same basics, so we can make a difference and
reduce gun violence."

Million Mom March founder Donna
Dees-Thomases, who once said her band of organizers had "never organized
anything more complicated than a car pool," authored a compelling book
about the March called Looking for a Few Good Moms. "From the
beginning, the idea of the Million Mom March was to affect change on gun
policy at the local level, in their own communities. More than 800,000
have died or been injured since the March, but there's no telling how
many lives have been saved through the education and advocacy of these
volunteers. While we have had many accomplishments over the last 10
years, there is still more to do," said Dees-Thomases. "Now is the time
to exercise the strength of our local Chapters to apply political
pressure on local representatives - many of whom they helped elect - to
pass strong and effective federal legislation."

The Million Mom
March Chapters
successes can be found at the local, state and
national levels. At the local level, Chapters across the country have
given gun violence victims a voice calling for stronger gun laws,
holding candlelight vigils, rallies, and lobbying their elected

At the state level, Chapters have led many successful
fights to pass new gun laws:

  • In 2001, the New
    Jersey Million Mom March Chapters
    helped pass groundbreaking
    legislation to require all new handguns to have childproof safety
    features, and last year worked with state partners to pass a new law to
    stop large volume purchases of handguns that will help combat illegal
    gun trafficking.
  • In 2005, the Illinois
    Million Mom March Chapters
    helped to pass legislation to close the
    gun show loophole in that state;
  • In the wake of the
    shootings at Virginia Tech by a mentally ill person in 2007, Chapter
    leaders in Minnesota, Texas,
    , Washington, Illinois,
    and North
    successfully pushed for new laws to ensure that
    disqualifying mental health records be uploaded to the National Instant
    Check System for firearm purchases.
  • In California,
    Chapters have helped to pass new gun laws including a ban on .50
    caliber sniper rifles, requiring all new semi-automatic handguns to have
    "microstamping" technology that will help law enforcement solve gun
    crimes, and just last year helped pass legislation to require handgun
    ammunition vendors to keep purchaser records to aid police in tracking
    down armed criminals;

Chapters have also helped to fend off
attempts by the gun lobby to pass legislation forcing colleges and universities to allow
virtually anyone to carry loaded hidden guns
into classrooms and
dormitories. The gun lobby has failed 35 times in 22 states to pass
such a law.

At the national level, Million Mom March Chapters
showcased their power in 2002 when the H&R Block company backed down
in the face of a well-publicized, coordinated nationwide protest over
H&R Block's scheme to donate money to the NRA for each NRA member
tax preparation.

Blek said at the time "H&R Block's
sweetheart deal with the NRA flies in the face of corporate and social
responsibility. Consumers and investors need to know that H&R
Block's contributions are funding a powerful political lobby that fights
reasonable gun violence prevention measures at every turn."

a barrage of phone calls, e-mails and letters and the threat of
nationwide protests by Million Mom March Chapters and state-based gun
violence prevention organizations, H&R Block was forced to quickly
change its policy.

Currently, Chapters around the country are
protesting Starbucks' decision to allow loaded guns on their
. Chapters have already participated in protests at coffee
shops in Denver; Seattle; Alexandria, Virginia and throughout
California to urge Starbucks to adopt a "no guns" policy in their
establishments nationwide. More protests are being planned.

leaders are also getting elected to office. In Missouri, former St.
Louis Chapter leaders, Stacey Newman and Jeanne Kirkton won their races
for State Representative. And recently, Eileen Filler-Corn was elected
in Virginia as a House Delegate. Million Mom March Chapters
are now setting their sights on passing strong federal legislation to
close the gun show loophole. Momentum has been building for
the pending legislation sponsored by Rep. Mike Castle (R-DE) and Rep.
McCarthy (D-NY) in the House and Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ) in the
Senate. Chapter leaders across the country have been a driving force in
securing more than 100 House co-sponsors on the bill that has led to a
pledge to hold hearings on the legislation.

The anniversary
will receive special recognition at a May 18 Brady Center event at the
National Museum of Women in the Arts in Washington DC, where journalist
Helen Thomas will also be honored. A number of other events are taking
place around the country between Sunday and May 14 to mark the tenth
anniversary. (See details,
In addition, scores of activists have shared their personal thoughts
about the anniversary and the issue at a website called

Not every battle over the last 10 years has had a winning
outcome, but the display of conviction and energy produced by these
activists has nevertheless been remarkable even when they suffer
setbacks. For example, in 2004 Million Mom March activists secured the
donation of a 26-foot recreational vehicle, had it painted bright pink
(the official Million Mom March color scheme) and drove it more than
8,500 miles around the country, stopping in scores of cities and towns
to urge Congress to reauthorize the federal assault weapons ban. The
ban, unfortunately, expired in September 2004.

As Dees-Thomases
wrote at the conclusion of her book on the March, "at the end of the
day, May 14, 2000, 12 mothers would end their Mother's Day by learning
that their child had died at the end of a gun barrel. One of the
children who died that day was B.J. Stupak, the teenage son of
Congressman Bart Stupak. He committed suicide with a gun."

Million Mom March activists have learned that with efforts to reduce
gun violence patience is more than a virtue, it's a necessity," said
Paul Helmke, President of the Brady Campaign. "People like Joan
Peterson know, though, that even the hardest Minnesota winter gives way
to spring. Progress, while slow, will come, and these efforts will be

As Dionne wrote in the Post in 2000, "these mothers
have a broader opportunity if they want to take it. A century ago,
organized women's groups, concerned about the effects of
industrialization on families and children, let loose a reform spirit
that dominated public policy for 50 years...

"The moms can win
this one. But a march is only a start."

The resolve remains,
activists promise. "What the gun lobby doesn't seem to get is that we
are in this fight to stay," said Dana Sanchez Quist, who helped organize
the 2000 March and currently serves as President of the Florida
Million Mom March Chapters
. "We're not going anywhere. We'll
never stop fighting for sensible laws to protect our kids."

Brady United formerly known as The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and its legislative and grassroots affiliate, the Brady Campaign and its dedicated network of Million Mom March Chapters, is the nation's largest, non-partisan, grassroots organization leading the fight to prevent gun violence. We are devoted to creating an America free from gun violence, where all Americans are safe at home, at school, at work, and in our communities.