Streams of women and men wearing bright red T-shirts trickled into the back room at the Footnotes café attached to Bookmarks in Winston-Salem on Friday afternoon. Each held a hardback titled, Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World. A few minutes later, the author herself graced the stage.
“The day that the tragedy happened, I was folding laundry,” Shannon Watts said to the crowd. “I can remember being in my bedroom watching the news come in… that there was an active shooter in Newton, Conn. And I can remember thinking…, Please don’t let this be as bad as it seems… and even now, six and a half years later, it is hard for me to fathom that 20 first graders and six educators were gunned down inside an American elementary school.”
“The day that the tragedy happened, I was folding laundry.”
Watts founded Moms Demand Action — a grassroots movement made up mostly of mothers who stand against gun violence. She spoke with Liz Noland, the co-lead of the local Moms Demand Action chapter, during the event. A crowd of close to 100 people gathered to hear the author and activist speak, many of whom were wearing the movement’s signature red shirts.
A mother of five from Zionsville, Ind., Watts explained that she began Moms Demand Action after grieving for the children killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut in 2012.
“I started getting really angry,” Watts said. “A, that this had happened, but B, that I was seeing pundits and politicians on television telling me that the solution was more guns.”
A little more than six years later and the movement that Watts started through a Facebook group has grown to more than 6 million supporters and a chapter in every state in the country. Fight Like a Mother, Watts’ recent book, covers the founder’s journey from the beginning of the movement and what she hopes the future looks like.
Watts mentioned the many victories, including legislation that supports background checks and red flag laws in dozens of states, fighting thousands of bills backed by the NRA and helping get what Watts calls “gun sense” politicians into office.
During the Q&A, Watts encouraged attendees to get involved by talking to school board members and looking up politicians’ gun stances online while Noland spoke about the efficacy of canvassing door to door.
Malishai Woodbury, the chair of the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County School Board, attended the event and said that she hopes that the new partnership with the sheriff’s department to have at least two school resource officers in each high school with more than 1,000 students will help keep schools safer.
“I’m taking the recommendation on the lead law enforcement agency to secure our children,” said Woodbury. “The sheriff has been very intentional about proposing to us that the SROs will look different than in the past. That this person will be very proactive about building relationships authentically with our students and helping them to make better decisions.”
Woodbury also brought up a point made by Watts that active-shooter drills in schools do more harm than good. Watts noted that according to data, the drills can cause anxiety and depression in children and often don’t help in situations of actual violence.
Woodbury said that she’s interested in learning more about the issue and that she would be open to bringing a motion to the school board to change the current active-shooter drill procedures.
“I wouldn’t want to put [students] in any phycological harm because of the need to see how to act in a bad situation,” she said.
After the event, mothers and volunteers with Moms Demand Action lagged behind to recap the event. Laurie Valentine, a mother of two rising seventh-grade twin daughters said she was inspired to attend the event to learn more about how to become a stronger proponent for gun safety.
“I’m very concerned about gun violence in our country,” Valentine said. “This is an epidemic and it just seems like we are at an impasse.”
While she considers herself an introvert, Valentine said she would try to email legislators and cavass through texting for the upcoming elections.
“It seems like when we talk about gun control, it equals in many minds gun confiscation and the conversation shuts down,” Valentine said. “There’s a lot built upon that fear in our society about taking guns away. We have a problem in this country that no other country comes even close to and so are there things that we can do like background checks or talking about how we keep guns safe, magazine capacities that make it harder for somebody to mow down 20 first graders?… What I hear sometimes is, ‘Well the bad guys are still gonna get guns.’ Well does that mean we can’t even try? I mean we have more regulations for our cars or for our allergy medicine than we do for guns and it’s just out of control.”
“We have a problem in this country that no other country comes even close to.”
In the wake of mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, and as the school year gets started this week, Watts urged attendees to be patient and to keep working for gun safety.
“This is like any social movement,” she said. “It takes time. It’s hard work. It takes grassroots effort on the ground that eventually points the president and the Congress in the right direction… and if it [doesn’t], that momentum isn’t gonna dissipate and there will be hell to pay in the 2020 elections.”