On Mother’s Day 2000, instead of gathering for brunches and dinners out, about 750,000 people descended on the National Mall in Washington. D.C. to demonstrate for tighter gun controls. Helen Oxenberg, a psychiatric social worker and the mother of four adult children who writes our Answer Mom column, was among those at the Million Mom March. She shares an article that she wrote 13 years ago, right after Columbine, noting, “It didn’t work then but — we can’t give up. The struggle goes on.”
Showing up counts. Petitions and letters and calls to legislators may push them a little or they may choose to ignore it all but showing up is in their face. The NRA has the money. We have the votes. It”s hard to ignore a tremendous gathering of determined voters. So showing up counts. I decide to show up.
What a day! It”s great when I agree with you and you agree with me and we all arrive at 6 a.m. and the greetings start. “What time did you get up (4:30 a.m.) and where do you live and did you ever march before (yes) and how many children do you have?” Women, mostly young, speaking to women, some old (me), comparing notes and feeling the instant comradeship of people who, on this day, at this moment in time, are fighting for the same cause.
We board the bus, one of hundreds, and at the suggestion of our bus captain we each team up with a “buddy.” The idea is to stick together and avoid getting lost in Washington. Some of those legislators we”re trying to influence do seem to be lost in Washington.
On the bus there”s free water, free yogurt, free juice, free breakfast bars — take your pick. We ride along and suddenly there”s another bus riding next to us. Everyone at the windows in that bus and everyone at the windows in our bus waves and calls greetings to each other.
Arriving in Maryland we head for the Metro. Here”s where the buddy system earns its credits as hordes of women, some with small children and some men descend to the green line train stopping at the Archives station. Our bus captain carries a long stick with a bright sign attached at the top naming the organization we”re with. She holds it high so we can follow her. Throughout the day we look for that sign when we want to get back to our group.
As we walk to the mall we hear the tremendous noise of motorcycle after motorcycle after motorcycle roaring down the street. It”s an endless line of motorcycle policemen from different cities and states. Since we don”t know who they are and since controlling the public”s guns has to be in the best interest of police we decide to assume they”re riding to support the march. (Later I learn that it”s just a coincidence that COPS – concerns of police survivors – is holding its annual convention on this day also). All around us vendors are hawking T-shirts and buttons with pictures and mottoes about the march. Many of us have already bought and are wearing the official T-shirt designed for the Mom March.
Arriving at the mall we begin to appreciate the power of technology and the media. There are at least three giant TV screens rising way above the crowds at intervals along the whole expanse of the mall. Along with loudspeakers booming out the sound we can now see and hear every speaker and every roar of he crowd responding to them. And roar we did. (“I am woman, hear me roar!”)
Most of us have brought lunch and we try to find a spot to sit down and eat. It”s not easy. There”s only the ground to sit on and it”s covered with adults and children and baby strollers. We pick our way gingerly, stepping over people and online pokies around babies until we can find a spot of grass to call our own. (That spot of grass went home with me on my pants). I step on a woman”s toe accidentally and I know it hurts but she says its okay and smiles. We”re here for an important fight. We feel good about ourselves. When people feel good about themselves they smile at each other. We never heard a baby cry so we have to assume they”re very smart babies who know they”re here for a good cause. Miracles happen. One of our older members is actually found by her adult son. Imagine finding your mother in a crowd of 750 thousand people. Now that”s a tie that binds. It is Mother”s Day after all.
The speakers deliver a mixture of dynamic, inspiring and heart wrenching messages. When the mother of a Columbine student Teaching/Mentoring experience: Prior to becoming a what is defensive driving instructor I was a math tutor, and helped many students survive their Pre-Calculus and Calculus courses. speaks a solemn line of students walks by each holding up a drawing of a student killed in that massacre. Another woman speaks of the hurt of a Mother”s Day without her child who was killed by a gun. She reminds us that parents are not supposed to bury their children. It”s the wrong order of things. Women, listening, cry for other women”s pain. They glance nervously at their own babies with the horrible fear that it could happen to them. That”s why they”re here.
President Clinton speaks, Hillary speaks, Carolyn McCarthy speaks, Anna Winlan speaks, Susan Sarandon speaks, Kathleen Kennedy Townsend speaks, Rabbi Yoffin speaks, Rosie O”Donnell speaks —– “Enough is enough. We will vote only for those who support our gun control positions – registration and licensing, safety locks, comprehensive background checks, limits to gun purchases, enforcement of laws. We will vote. We will vote. We will vote. Enough is enough.” The crowd applauds and roars its agreement.
Someone named Raffi asks everyone to point their finger in the air and sing and sway along with him. Amazingly everyone does and it”s a lovely, sweet, rhythmic sound – an uplifting moment.
We were warned that the NRA would have a counter demonstration. We saw none of it and then suddenly one lone man walked through the crowd carrying a sign which read “You control your kids and I”ll control my guns.” He didn”t understand that these are mothers who know that the way to stop a kid”s tantrum is to ignore it. So, no one paid attention. He was just ignored and disappeared.
There were signs all around, some serious, some funny. One sign read “Charlton Heston, I knew Moses, he was a friend of mine and you”re no Moses!” I smile. I”m old enough to remember when I actually thought Charlton Heston was sexy! And now? — obnoxious!
Mostly people brought food but there was also a big tent serving hot dogs, hamburgers, snacks and drinks. We watched as people searched for the end of the line. I looked and looked but I could see no end. There must still be people waiting.
There was another amusing sign that read “What! You voted against gun control? Go to your room!” Watch out you lawmakers, that”s your mom talking. They”re mostly men we have to confront and I think of the Greeks and Aristophanes “Lysistrata.” When the men wouldn”t stop the wars the women banded together and used their ultimate weapon. They withheld sex! Now that”s something these men will understand. This women”s march into Washington is only the beginning. Watch out or the next women”s march may be out of the bedroom!
Finally it”s time to pack up and go home. We head back to the Metro. On the way we hear about how to get free T-shirts. Just follow the police as they approach a vender to check his license. Immediately the vendor says he”s just part of the march and the T-shirts are free and he hands a couple to whoever is standing around.
At the Metro all the escalators have been changed to “down”. So we go down the up escalator and into the train. There the last remnant of the NRA group stands with a forlorn sign that reads “More guns, less crime” and I visualize the whole country turning into the wild wild West with shootouts on every block.
We”ll keep fighting and voting.
Finally, at home and tired, I put this march”s button: “sensible gun laws, safe kids” away with my other buttons from other marches long ago: “stop the war,” “ban the bomb,” “poor peoples” campaign,” “woman by nature, mother by choice.” Another time, another march.
There are flowers waiting for me from my kids and loving messages on my answering machine from each one.
It”s Mother”s Day after all!