Since a gunman killed 17 students and adults in Parkland, Florida, last Wednesday, gun violence prevention group Moms Demand Action has seen in a surge in new volunteers ― and it’s eager to mobilize them to support the new student-led movement for gun reform.
Moms Demand Action, the grassroots arm of Everytown For Gun Safety, was founded after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. The group says more than 75,000 people have reached out online or by text to volunteer in the last week.
Local chapters of Moms Demand Action have also reported swelling attendance at events over the past few days, with anywhere from two to 10 times the usual number of people showing up at new member meetings, advocacy days and rallies.
For instance, a meeting in Maine that usually has about 20 attendees had over 250 people turn up on Sunday, a meeting in Raleigh that usually has two dozen participants had more than 350 on Monday, and an “advocacy day” calling for action from legislators in Missouri ― which about 150 people attended last year ― had more than 300 participants this week.
Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, said one of the most encouraging aspects of this influx has been how many new members are young students, mirroring the recent wave of teen activists mobilizing since the Parkland shooting. Students at Marjory Douglas Stoneman High School and beyond have been speaking to news outlets, pressuring legislators on social media and organizing national marches to call for lawmakers to take action on gun violence.
To meet these new members’ needs, Moms Demand Action has just launched a new initiative: Students Demand Action.
“When Sandy Hook happened, those were babies. They weren’t able to use their voices and express their outrage,” Watts told HuffPost on Tuesday. “These are kids who have come of age as the generation of lockdown drills. Our lawmakers are not standing up to the gun lobby, so our children are having to stand up to gunmen.”
In the wake of the tragedy of last week, there were no excuses that were good enough anymore.
Evanter Van Hoozer, 68
The Parkland shooting was the 17th shooting incident at a U.S. school in 2018 alone, and it was also a turning point for 68-year-old Ilene Evanter Van Hoozer. She attended a Moms Demand Action event in Falls Church, Virginia, for the first time on Monday, and plans to continue being active with the group.
“In the wake of the tragedy of last week, there were no excuses that were good enough anymore,” Evanter told HuffPost Tuesday. “Feeling sad wasn’t enough. Feeling numb wasn’t enough. It was time to channel it.”
As a clinical social worker who has worked with children for decades, Evanter was most excited to hear students speaking at the event, which was held at a local high school. She plans to attend next month’s student-led March for Our Lives in Washington, D.C.
“I think we’re learning from the students in Florida ― they really are giving us energy and making us as adults look at ourselves and want to support them,” she added.
Moms Demand Action is excited to support the young activists organizing now, Watts said, and has already started mobilizing its more than 4 million members to attend the March for Our Lives.
Taking on gun reform in America is “a marathon, not a sprint,” Watts said, adding that local chapters in all 50 states that took years to build up have now been essential in absorbing the thousands of new people seeking to get involved in the gun reform movement.
Since Sandy Hook, the group has had key legislative victories ― such as getting background check laws passed in eight states ― but Watts noted that Moms Demand Action still hasn’t been able to push Congress to close the many loopholes in the country’s background check system. That’s another reason she’s encouraged by this new surge of young activists.
“I’m excited to let them lead and see where they’ll take us,” Watts said. “There is strength in numbers. We need every generation to get involved. It’s going to be up to the next generation to make sure this work gets finished. This is going to take a while ― and take every American.”