How to Organize the Mother of All Protests
Americans want to march en masse to protest gun violence.
I know this because every time there’s a mass shooting—as in every other week—women, ready to fill buses to DC, ask me to organize another march.
I still hold the record for organizing the largest march in U.S. history to protest gun violence. Held on Mother’s Day, 2000, more than 750,000 angry marchers convened on the National Mall. Thousands of others from all 50 states marched in 77 support marches across the country. All to protest gun violence.
Someone else want to top that?
Easy. Here’s how.
First, announce the march on a slow news day.
Like a Labor Day. A Monday so bereft of hard news it has TV assignment editors silently praying for a shark attack on the Jersey Shore or a 12 car pile-up on the Long Island Expressway involving a Hampton’s Jitney and (fingers crossed) Alec Baldwin’s limo.
News crews from CNN to Fox News packed my Labor Day news conference in 1999 when I announced I was organizing a million moms’ march.
Next, give up your day job. A march will take over your life. I took leave from my paying job promoting comedy gags like “The Top Ten Ways the Y2K Will Affect Your Dog” right around the same time I took leave of my senses to put $100,000 on my Visa and MasterCard, the start-up expenses to launch a massive march. No joke.
Yes. Go crazy! In an outraged, “Congress, Go to your room and clean up your mess!” kind of way.
Don’t forget to call the Capitol Hill police about a permit. Same switchboard number for Congress. (202-224-3121).
Most important for organizing on a large scale, recruit talented, well-connected moms (and dads) who can promote policy and politics in easy to understand terms…like an episode of Sesame Street.
An “F” grade from the NRA stands for Friends. Our friends. The ones in Congress who want to protect children from gun violence. An “A” stands for…well, you get the drift.
Next, pick a relatable timeframe from launch to march. Labor Day 1999 to Mother’s Day 2000 was nine months. I repeat. Nine months. Plenty of time to seriously organize. Plus, the mommy metaphor wrote its own headlines.
Be patient with those clueless to America’s gun violence epidemic. I too was blissfully ignorant of the sobering statistics until a deranged white supremacist sprayed 70 bullets in under 3 minutes at day campers who were around the same ages as my children, then 4 and 5 years old.
In 1999 approximately 12-15 American children and teens died each day by gunfire. In 2015 that number is down to 8-9 a day. More survive gunshots from better medical care. Others, from moms who ask before sending their children to a play date if the home has a gun and if so, is it locked up?
Become a sound-bite policy expert. Not that hard.
I became one after watching an episode of Nightline in which two police chiefs—one from Seattle, Washington, the other from Vancouver, Canada—compared and contrasted their respective countries background check systems for gun sales.
Canada’s background check system includes a 28 day waiting period while authorities check the applicant’s references which include employers, family and neighbors. If approved, then the applicant must take safety courses.
Don’t we have national laws like that in the United States? All the craven politicians keep saying we do. We just need to enforce them.
Well, liar, liar pants on fire.
America’s laws don’t even come close.
But I digress.
March organizers must embrace all media, including Fox News.
My favorite, “The “O’Reilly Factor.” I went on after the National Zoo shooting in 2000 (not to be confused with the 2014 shooting). While dads in lazyboys yelled “from my cold dead hands” at me, their wives and daughters lit up the march’s 50 phone lines wanting to join.
I appeared again on an unrelated topic. As the publicist for a tabloid TV show, I was on to chit-chat about the Rosie O’Donnell/Donald Trump feud. (The 2007 feud, not the one in 2015).
When O’Reilly introduced me as the founder of the Million Mom March, his viewers reeling from the Virginia Tech massacre, flooded the Brady Campaign’s switchboard wanting to join a march, nobody was organizing. The frazzled man fielding the calls begged me never to use the word “march” on national TV ever again.
Men, as a gender, can’t organize a trip to the men’s room, much less organize a bus to DC. Marches baffle them.
Some think it’s so easy that they want a march every other day—as in my favorite billionaire activist, Michael Bloomberg. At a 2009 fundraiser where we were both donors, Bloomberg wanted to know why I wasn’t organizing another march on Washington. (I was a single mom, Mr. Mayor, with a day job.) He had reason to be upset. Congress was debating a diabolical concealed carry reciprocity bill (ultimately defeated, whew!) around the same time as a mass shooting in Binghamton, the worst in New York state’s history.
Then in 2012 the mass shooting that kicked us all in the gut—Newtown—had Luke Russert, a man, suggesting the time was right for another “Million Mom March.”
That shout-out from Russert on MSNBC sent 1225 emails to my private account within minutes. I forwarded them to be captured by a Facebook page thrown up quickly by an Indiana mom while the rest of America was literally throwing up.
Oh, if only Mark Zuckerberg wasn’t still in high school cramming for his SATs back in 2000, I am certain millions of moms marching up Capitol Hill is more frightening to a Congressman than Wayne Lapierre knocking at his door.
Now that American moms have Facebook event pages, a massive march has the potential to be 10 times larger than the Million Mom March of 15 years ago.
Now get ready for sticker shock.
Got $3 million? That’s what my march cost in 2000. The bigger the march, the more expensive the march.
Thankfully, corporate sponsors, attracted to the mom demographic, footed most of the bill. Money well-spent because it created a mega-data base of activists and donors with funds that would not have otherwise gone to a historically under-funded, un-appreciated and battle weary movement.
Still want to organize a march?
Then disregard the inside the Beltway naysayers who will balk, claiming marches accomplish nothing. Untrue. Statehouses across the country began moving long-stalled gun safety legislation in 2000, knowing that voting mothers were now watching.
Thousands of volunteers energized by the march signed up for political campaigns that following November. Suburban moms put Al Gore over the top to win the popular vote for president. He might have won that electoral college too if not for Florida, with its hanging chads and confused senior citizens who mistakenly voted for Pat Buchanan.
Got $3 million and still want to organize a march? Build it and we will come.
However, if it were up to me, I would rather spend it on securing DC’s Verizon Center for a televised megamom-rally.
Why? Better security. Better handicapped accessible bathrooms too.
Amy Schumer, want to emcee?
Like a Jerry Lewis Telethon, we could raise money on-air for a voter education fund. A $1 million dollar contribution donated anonymously to the Million Mom March in 2000 helped identify who voted to close the gun show loophole after Columbine. And who didn’t. Voting moms threw a few rascals out of Congress as a result.
I would fill 19,465 of Verizon’s 20,000 seats with grieving mothers and religious leaders from every one of the 435 congressional districts. The other 535 seats, I’d save for Congress. No-shows would be publicly shamed on National TV by Tucson’s hero, Patricia Maiche, a woman who bravely wrestled with the shooter of Rep.Gabby Giffords and others, saving lives a result.
The standing room only section would be reserved for survivors in wheelchairs. If the Fire Marshall objects, I’d bring in the Chicago Fire Chief, Annette Holt, a mother of a slain son.
Dads, you circle outside to protect the women from the misogynistic death threats we female activists endure daily. Andy Parker, father of journalist Allison Parker, no need to arm yourself with anything other than your eloquence. Hordes of TV crews will be circling you, the rest of the outraged dads and maybe even an astronaut there too.
Whether it’s another mothers’ march or the mother of all town halls, somebody’s got to step up.
In a big way.
America is at a rare tipping point now
To quote Mr. Parker, “we should do whatever it takes” to tip it in the right direction.
Got $3 million burning a hole in your pocket? Call me. I’ll reserve the venue.