EPISODE THIRTEEN: SHANNON WATTS
Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action and author of the book "Fight Like a Mother: How a Grassroots Movement Took on the Gun Lobby and Why Women Will Change the World." Shannon shares her experience as a leader and organizer for one of the most divisive issues of our time. She tells Alison about the trajectory of her organization from a small facebook group to the largest grass-roots gun violence prevention group in the United States, and the success they've had enacting both cultural and legal change.
Follow Shannon and Moms Demand Action on Twitter @shannonrwatts and @MomsDemand
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Alison Hall, Shannon Watts
Alison Hall 00:10
You're listening to between headlines. I'm Alison Hall. For today's between headlines I spoke with Shannon watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action. Moms Demand Action is a grassroots organization started by Shannon, who was a stay at home mom when she liked the rest of us learn the shocking news of the Sandy Hook shooting in 2012. Shannon galvanized her terror and anger at yet another incomprehensible school shooting and decided to do something about it. Moms Demand Action was born. Today it is the largest grassroots gun prevention group in the United States. The group is active in all 50 states successfully enacting change at the local state and national levels. Shannon released a book fight like a mother in May 2019. The book highlights the power of a passionate community, the strength of mothers and her personal experience being the face of a movement, and what that means for her and her family. Shannon shares why responsible gun control is so important to her how she started such an enormous movement, and how she responds to critics. With so much gun violence in the United States and the issue of gun control being such a controversial issue. I wanted to talk to Shannon to understand what it's like being, as she puts it, the tip of the spear of the movement. We also discuss gender roles and the unnecessary stereotypes of stay at home moms, which Shannon's critics have used against her and how she works through not only naysayers, but people threatening violence against her. Shannon is an advocate and a role model. And I learned a lot from both her book and from speaking with her, no matter where you stand on these issues. I hope you do too. Why don't you just tell me you have this famous story of going from stay at home mom, quote unquote, to gun activist, how did that jump happen? Tell me that story of when you were provoked to step up and do something.
Shannon Watts 03:54
So you know, like all Americans, I had seen mass shooting tragedy after mass shooting tragedy happened in this country with very little if any response from lawmakers. And I can remember being profoundly shocked when Congress did nothing when Gabby Giffords was shot, right one of their own colleagues. And so by the time the Sandy Hook school shooting happened in December of 2012, I like pretty much every other American was cynical enough about this issue to realize that that even after 20 children and six educators were gunned down in the safety sanctity of an elementary school. They wouldn't do anything. And while we all watched this shooting unfold, I was in Indiana at the time, and we were devastated for these families who right as the holidays were beginning you know, we're we're experiencing this horrific loss. I was so angry because there were pundits and politicians on my Television saying that somehow the solution to this crisis was more guns. And I knew nothing about gun violence or organizing or, or even really the legislative process, I just knew that that was a lie. I knew our country was broken on this issue. And so I thought, Okay, I have to get off the sidelines, this is just impacted me so acutely, and I haven't even been impacted by gun violence. And yet this tragedy is moving me to act, I will join something like Mothers Against Drunk Driving, which honestly, I assumed already existed. You know, I'm a kid who grew up in the 80s, and watched how that organization was so influential in in reducing drunk driving in this country. And so I went online, and I looked, I spent a couple hours looking and what I found were some washington dc based think tanks, mostly run by men, some state organizations one off also mostly run by men. And I wanted to be part of a badass army of women. And so I thought, Okay, I know how to start a Facebook page. I had 75, Facebook, friends of my own at the time. And and that's what I did, I called it 1 million moms for gun control, which was a really horrible name. And it was, you hear about social media really, you know, being sort of like lightning in a bottle and taking off. And that's exactly what this was, I had women reaching out to me from red and blue states, from cities from rural areas, just saying, you know, I want to do this, too. How can I get involved, and that was the genesis of moms to inaction.
Alison Hall 06:39
You only had 75 Facebook friends, and yet you had this lofty goal of getting 1 million moms together. I mean, what gave you like the idea to just go with that big
Shannon Watts 06:53
look, I think women are such a powerful force when it comes to activism, and where the majority of the voting public, where the majority of the population, and yet we're so underrepresented, whether it's in state houses or federal government, or even, you know, in fortune 100 leadership. So, to me, it was important that there were a lot of us and and I guess this idea of 1 million moms was aspirational. You know, there had been a million mom March after the Columbine tragedy. And that was sort of what I think I was thinking about this idea of so many of us that no one could afford to not listen. But what I quickly realized was that this was not about marches or rallies, this was about organizing. And yes, you still need strength and numbers. You know, in fact, we now have 6 million supporters, we're larger than the NRA. But 1 million moms was also the name of a group that was trying to get JC Penney, not to be their spokeswoman because they were anti gay, this this 1 million moms group. And then also gun control, right. I was in the Midwest, I had no idea that that in the Beltway that was sort of a verboten term that the NRA had turned it into something that was seen very negatively. So we were chanting moms to inaction and our marches and rallies. And that's we changed her name within about two months. And that's what we changed it to.
Alison Hall 08:26
And so you go from one day hearing about the Sandy Hook shooting, obviously, a combination of hearing about these tragic shootings, and then that one is what sets you off on this path. I mean, how quickly did things change for you? And did you start organizing? You have five children? Right? I mean, that must have been a huge life change personally, to suddenly be, you know, the face of this fight against guns.
Shannon Watts 08:54
Yeah, I had been a corporate communications executive for over a decade, I took a five year break, because my husband and I were blending our families. He has two kids, I have three. And at the time, they ranged from elementary school, to middle school, to high school to college. And that felt like a big enough of an undertaking that that I needed to step away from my career and I was getting ready to go back, you know, I was looking for what I was going to do next. Little did I know I was going to become an activist. I never imagined that that was something I would spend the next almost decade doing with my life. And I had a very specific skill set, which was communications telling a story messaging. I hadn't been very active on social media, but it was intuitive to me. And that was, I think, what helped us seem more sophisticated really, then we were at the time when we were just beginning. And then so many other Perfect Strangers across the country brought their skill sets to the table to write lawyers and web developers and activists and organizers. It ran the gamut. And that was how we were able to become so successful so
Alison Hall 10:10
quickly, on a personal level, how did your family and your husband respond to you now being an activist, and even may be that I know that you've talked about threats to your life threats to your family? I mean, that is a lot to take on with such a controversial issue. How did they react to that?
Shannon Watts 10:32
Yeah, I think there's something to be said, for being naive. I mean, I had no idea that the threats of death, threats of sexual violence to me specifically to my girls, that would start immediately that that all of my public information was out there, I never thought I was going to be a public figure. So my, my email, my home address, my phone number, you know, I was getting texts from trolls at all hours of the night. And, and that was certainly a huge unexpected disruption. That was, you know, shocking, particularly, I think, to my husband, who was concerned about our family safety. And then I also went from being a stay at home mom who had the luxury of time other than, you know, driving my kids to their sporting events at schoolwork, I was able to kind of come and go as I pleased. And suddenly, I was busier than I'd ever been in my career. You know, the early days of Moms Demand Action, were very much like a startup company. And it was the first thing I thought about when I woke up, it was the last thing I thought about when I went to bed for years. And so that was certainly a disruption as well, you know, in terms of the threats, I think I had to make a decision pretty quickly that that was going to be like white noise, you know, I was either going to to back down or double down and I double down I was not going to allow these gun extremists to silence me. And I think so many other volunteers felt the same way in those early days that these were the people who had been making our gun laws essentially and and that's how we've gotten to the crisis we were in. So if we lost our families, we had nothing left to lose. And we would just move forward through all of that and make it white noise in terms of the disruption to to my family life. It was something you know, we had to work through and and I'm grateful we did you know, when I mentioned this was my second marriage, we had committed to going to therapy together my husband calls it coaching you know, once every two weeks rain or shine no matter what and and i think those conversations helped us get through which was such a huge change in our lives together. We'd only been married five years at the time. And so that helped. And you know, I'm really happy to say looking back now I've just sent my last youngest kid to college, and I'm an empty nester now you know, our marriage is stronger because we were able to see it as a container that we could both be in together but but still do other things with our lives. And I also worried about the time away from my family and when my kids look back now they never say oh, you weren't at such and such game or such and such event they just say we're so incredibly proud that you followed something you were passionate about and made a real difference.
Alison Hall 13:22
You talked about how your status as a stay at home mom was used against you in ways and to attack you either people said you know, stay at home moms, they don't know how to fight they don't know how to work it against issues like this. Or they they just put you in a box it Can you talk about that. And also, you know you're a stay at home mom but you also have this career and not if you were only just to stay at home mom and not that that would matter. Can you just talk about that dynamic and how this moniker of stay at home mom has followed you? Yeah,
Shannon Watts 14:02
I can remember the whole a whole article by the NRA and their magazine was dedicated to saying I wasn't truly a stay at home mom. You know that because I had had a former career because sometimes I worked from home as a consultant that I wasn't really who I said I was and it was interesting because the NPR NPR did a story about me and then they the NRA forced them to run a correction saying that I wasn't actually a stay at home mom and I had been politically active and I just think that's fascinating that you can't somehow be a stay at home mom and be plugged in to life you know, it's it's a pretty sexist notion. And and really that's what our organization has been about, you know, sometimes sardonically turn turning this idea of a stay at home mom or a mom and it's general on its head. You know, bringing our lawmakers cookies but at the same time being fiercely political and and educated about policy and opinionated About what we wanted and expected from them and then taking their jobs when they they didn't do the right thing. Look, I hope there's a time when women have established 50% of power in corporate life in legislatures across the country, because then we can just Demand Action as Americans. But until then, I think we play a very important role as using our voices as moms and as women to to affect change. But what
Alison Hall 15:31
was it like when you started getting Moms Demand Action off the ground? And I imagine it still happens today, when people are getting involved wanting to help wanting to volunteer, and they have been directly impacted by gun violence. How do you lead those people? I that must be, you know, they must carry a lot of emotional weight around this very sensitive issue.
Shannon Watts 15:57
Yeah, they they lead me they lead the organization. I mean, the reason that I'm able to wake up and do this work every single day as a full time volunteer, is because gun violence survivors are able to do it despite the grief they carry, in addition, and to me, that is heroic, to wake up every day and work to save the lives of strangers. It is something we should we should all aspire to. And I think the figures show something like anything from from one in three to one in five Americans is somehow impacted by gun violence, whether it's gun suicide, gun homicide, and unintentional shooting, even a threat 4.5 million American women have been threatened with a gun from by a current or former intimate partner. So this is this is an epidemic. And I'm very honored that there are gun violence survivors who trust us with their stories, who share their stories. And and it is very important for those stories to be shared with people who make laws, because you can share data and facts. But you also have to have that emotion of someone who has been directly impacted by this tragedy, I think to really understand why it's so important that we
Alison Hall 17:12
act. I know you talk in your book about some of the early meetings and marches. You guys have actually changed laws. You tell me about that. When did that start happening? And I mean, what was it like when you either blocked your first bill or helped pass one that you were passionate about?
Shannon Watts 17:33
Yeah, you know, early on, we knew that this was going to be David versus Goliath, that the gun lobby had, you know, several decades headstart that they were one of the wealthiest and most powerful special interests that has ever existed. And yet, this group of women, mostly moms, just knew that we could take them down. And I honestly do believe that their worst nightmare was that women and moms would organize against them. And early in the in those early days, there were plenty of losses. You know, one of the biggest losses we've ever had was we spent about six months organizing to support something called mentioned to me, then it was a bipartisan bill in Congress by Senators Manchin. And to me, that would have closed the background check loophole in this country in honor of the Sandy Hook school shooting. You can buy a gun from an unlicensed dealer in this country without a background check in 28 states, we closed that loophole in 22. But we had hoped for a federal law that would just make the entire country safe and require a background check. That failed by a handful of votes in the Senate in in the spring of 2013. And I can remember thinking, Okay, you know, we fail that the most important thing that we had organized to do and maybe this wasn't going to work, maybe we should just go back to our normal lives because the country wasn't ready. And our volunteers who are very brilliant, pivoted, and started doing the same work that we had done in the capital in their state capitals, because there were governors who were ready to pass stronger gun laws in light of Sandy Hook. And and what we also learned, unfortunately, was that there were some state houses, legislators and governors who wanted to loosen laws in response to Sandy Hook. And we would have to play defense in fact, that takes up a huge amount of our time. And so that was that was sort of the natural pivot in addition to getting companies to change their policies. In June of 2013, again, just not even a year after Moms Demand Action, it started Starbucks we decided to go after the the company Starbucks because they were not going to allow smoking, despite state laws, 20 feet outside their stores, but they were going to continue allowing open carry, which is legal in over 45 states and very unregulated. And so we decided to take on Starbucks, we were so small, we couldn't even do a pull out boycott, we just did skip Starbucks Saturdays. And and yet, in three months, they came out on national television and said, you can no longer open carry inside our stores. And those were the kind of early successes that kept us going despite still having losses. Even today, we still have losses. But But we win more than we lose. And we learn from those losses. We call it losing forward this idea that maybe you didn't win. But But what did change in response to the organizing you did. And I think Arkansas is a really good example of this losing forward strategy. You know, in the early days, I would go to Little Rock I would meet with the same handful of women, very nice women, but they weren't growing. And I think it's because people in Arkansas felt like this was sort of a not a great way to spend their time on this issue in such a red state. And then a bill that would allow guns on campus sale through the State House. It was signed by the governor during a televised signing with the chief NRA lobbyists standing next to him. And it's so enraged women in the state that we grew exponentially in those days and weeks afterward. In fact, we were able to go back in and carve out an exemption so that you could not have guns at tailgates or inside stadiums, which seems like common sense, but it was not in Arkansas. And then the next year two of our about new volunteers ran for office in one one of them beat the guy that put the guns on campus bill forward. She was a retired nurse. And then the year after that we beat back stand your ground twice in a state with a republican supermajority. Unfortunately, they've just put that bill forward again, and it looks like it might pass but but you know, had it not been for that original loss in Arkansas, we would never be where we are today, which is a political powerhouse.
Alison Hall 22:05
Your book is even just called fight like a mother. What is it about moms and for you being a mom? What is it that makes you such a great activist?
Shannon Watts 22:16
I think there are a lot of skills that you that you have when you become a mom that that really make you a great activist one is a fierce protection of your family and your community. The other is the ability to multitask. You know, there's a lot going on in mom's lives. And you can compartmentalize and get a lot done. And I also feel that women have been so sidelined on some of this activism, because we're only 17% of the 500,000 elected positions in this country. Because we're only 5% of Fortune 1000 CEOs. You know, I think moms and women were looking to be emboldened on this issue. And and we did that through our messaging through our branding, that they feel they put on the red monster in action shirts, and they're superheroes, they're bad asses. And the fact that lawmakers either adore them or fear them, you know, feeds into that. And I think that's why we've been so successful. And it's why volunteer. It's why our volunteers are so popular with with lawmakers who are on the right side of history.
Alison Hall 23:29
I read in your book, you said at one point that you are pro Second Amendment, I'm sure some people would be surprised just based on stereotype of somebody who is for gun control. Can you just explain that?
Shannon Watts 23:44
Yeah, many of our volunteers are gun owners or their partners or gun owners. There's 400 million guns, even more than that since COVID pandemic, in circulation in this country. And the vast majority of gun owners in America are responsible. We know that 80% of gun owners 75% of nra members support stronger gun laws like a background check on every gun sale. This is just about restoring the responsibilities that should go along with gun rights as they do in other high income countries. Because we have this wealthy powerful special interests, the NRA specifically, but there are lots of different gun lobby organizations, you know, our that the responsibilities that have gone along with gun rights have been eroded over time. And as we've seen the nras agenda become more radical, that's become even more problematic. And I think an example of it is, you know, what we're what we saw at the Capitol on January 6 was really just the combination of lacks gun laws and behavior we've seen in state houses and restaurants and retailers for years with these extremists starting to open carry their weapons and and really essential Become armed insurrectionists
Alison Hall 25:01
Yeah. What was your reaction to that? Were you watching it on live TV like the rest of us? What would What did you think?
Shannon Watts 25:07
Yeah, I was. And I thought, what if they get in, you know, thankfully, DC, you can't open carry in Washington DC. But that doesn't mean you know that these people weren't armed and comes to find out many of them more. We again have seen this behavior. Since we started Moms Demand Action, whether it was people with guns showing up to intimidate our volunteers at rallies and marches or even just their meetings, whether it was people showing up with guns to threaten lawmakers who put shutdown orders in place, showing up at polling places to threaten people counting votes, and then people showing up with guns to challenge the outcome of the 2020 election. Right. So what happened at the Capitol was just an extension of that behavior we've seen for so long. And it's why we're now advocating that during the state legislative session, which just started this month in most states, that lawmakers Take a good look at the laws on the books and not allow guns in government buildings and sensitive places.
Alison Hall 26:15
Was there a learning curve at all for you, in leading this organization in how to maybe deal with your volunteers with, you know, an extra amount of empathy or support systems in place? Like how do you lead an organization that has so much emotion and trauma wrapped up in it?
Shannon Watts 26:38
Well, we have a whole part of our organization that is dedicated to supporting gun violence survivors, it's called the everytown survivor network. And there's a lot of training, there's a fellowship program, and it's a good place for survivors of gun violence to come together. Because, you know, unless you, you are a survivor, I don't think you can fully understand what what another survivor has been through. So I think that's a very important fellowship that we've created. And and many of these members of the everytown survivor network are also activists, they're also either part of Moms Demand Action, or students Demand Action. And they show up in state houses, and in boardrooms and important conversations about this issue. But also, you know, lots of our volunteers have never been impacted by gun violence. And it's also a very emotional issue for them. And they're investing, you know, their time and effort into this issue. And one of the things that I do, at least once a week, if not more, is to make calls to volunteers and to gun violence survivors, and to thank them for their work. I think it's a it's a really important part of what we do as leaders in the organization to acknowledge that, that volunteers and gun violence survivors are making this organization successful out of the goodness of their hearts, because they want to see change. And, you know, sometimes organizing volunteers can be like herding cats. And because because people have such a strong feeling about, you know, how this should work, where they live, it and what I have learned is that our volunteers are very sophisticated and savvy, they understand we all need to be going in the same direction. And sometimes that's just the work that's done by leaders, which is to make sure we're all on the same page and moving forward.
Alison Hall 28:28
You talked about the skipped Starbucks Saturday and the power of social media. How have you guys use social media to further your mission?
Shannon Watts 28:39
Yeah, I always wonder, you know, how Mothers Against Drunk Driving dinner? Do they drive to each other's homes in the 80s to have conversations? Did they call each other on their rotary phone? Do they mail snail mail letters, you know, to their lawmakers, I, I my hat is off to the women who made this happen in you know, less than a decade with, with Mothers Against Drunk Driving. I think having social media at our disposal has meant everything in terms of how quickly we've made so much progress. And people sometimes don't think we've made progress because they're they're waiting for that cathartic moment in Congress. But we've passed background checks in 22 states, we've passed something called the red flag law that disarms people who are at risk to themselves or others temporarily. In 19 states we've passed laws that disarm domestic abusers in 28 states right so we've made huge progress in addition to the dozens and dozens of restaurants and retailers who've changed their policies. And and sometimes that work is done over a weekend on Twitter. For example, chipola changed their policy around open carry after a weekend of us using the hashtag burritos, not bullets. We often think and shame lawmakers on social media we can tell stories on on Facebook and Instagram. We're using Snapchat with our Students main action team. And so it's been incredibly important tool for us. And I would say even more so during the COVID pandemic. You know, it was my last trip, as a monster main action volunteer was March 10, when I went to Columbus, Ohio with now President Biden, who wasn't even the the nominee at that point. And so we had to pivot immediately and do all that offline work online, including, you know, something we call advocacy days, which we have one in every single state when the legislative session starts. And the very first one we had was in California where I live, and we had more rsvps, and we'd ever had to go to Sacramento. And in just two days, we had to completely flip it and have all those meetings with lawmakers on zoom. And what was fascinating was, we actually had even more people participate than had RSVP to be in Sacramento. And that's because it's a lot easier if you're in San Diego, to zoom in over lunchtime than it is to get to Sacramento. So, you know, all that is to say, I don't think we'll ever go back to doing things the way we did them before, we will always have an online component, it makes us more inclusive, more equitable. And because we started on Facebook, I think we're really good at using the online tools to do everything from, you know, testifying for or against bills, to having conversations with lawmakers to, you know, celebrating Congress coming back from recess, we trended on Twitter, the day they came back. So we'll keep using this tool
Alison Hall 31:38
as as I think into perpetuity. You obviously have changed laws, you've changed corporate policies. Is there an aspect with also changing people's hearts and minds and society? Like, which comes first in terms of is it society? follows the law? Or does law follow society when it when it comes to gun laws? In your opinion, or in your experience?
Shannon Watts 32:05
I think it's all of it. You know, sometimes the legislation changes the culture, and vice versa. The culture changes the the laws. I mean, I think you can look at other movements like marriage equality to see, you know, how do you change hearts and minds on an issue? The good news is 90% of Americans agree with us that they support things like a background check on every gun sale. The bad news is that it takes time in our system. To get lawmakers on the right side of history. We're doing that slowly. But surely, if you look at 2010, about a quarter of all Democrats in Congress had an A rating from the NRA. This last election cycle, there was only one member of Congress who still had an A rating and he lost his seat. Now he lost his someone even more extreme, which is a whole nother issue about polarization in our country. But the good news is those democrats who had a ratings, either got unelected or they support us now. And that's how you change hearts and minds on an issue slowly but surely, the other piece of this that we haven't talked about is the need for people to securely store their guns. That's another big cultural issue we have, which is, if you go back to the 80s, someone would drink and drive kill their family, and live and people would say, Oh, you know, they've suffered enough, we can't punish them. And that's because there were no laws holding people accountable for drunk driving. And this group of women came along and said, Wait a minute, you know, laws are the moral underpinning of society. If we don't pass laws that prohibit this, it'll keep happening, either be endless suffering that's sensible, that are senseless, that's preventable. And it's the same with guns. In many states. If I left a loaded gun on my kitchen counter, a kid gets it shoots themselves or someone else it would be a misdemeanor and a $400 fine for me. And so there has to be more accountability. It goes back to restoring responsibilities that go along with gun rights, there has to be more accountability for securely storing your firearm. So we have a program called be smart. The website is Be smart for kids. org where we talk about keeping your guns locked, unloaded, separate from ammunition, asking the question when you send your kids to friends and families homes, and getting school boards to send out information, almost like a permission slip to families in that school district that they have to read and sign and send back that say they understand what secure storage is because most school shooters in this country are kids with easy access to guns in their homes. And because of our work through Be smart, over a million families across the country, have been informed, informed about secure gun storage.
Alison Hall 34:51
You're clearly an expert on all of this now, but when you started you talk about maybe how naive you were you had no idea what You are getting yourself into just talk about that learning curve. I mean, how quickly did it come for you to navigate this huge system, both of government and of gun laws?
Shannon Watts 35:11
I mean, I'm still learning today, right. And it's been over eight years. But certainly those first few months and even first couple of years were like drinking from a firehose, because I was starting at Ground Zero, I'd never met with my lawmaker, you know, in my whole life. And I suddenly I was testifying in front of state legislature. So I talked about this in my book, which is, I think so often women think you have to cross all the T's and dot all the i's in order to get involved in something. If I had waited until I knew everything there was to know about this issue and felt fully prepared that I would not make a fool of myself. I would never have started Moms Demand Action, I would still be learning now. And I decided I would just jump in, I would I would make the most of the moments, because this was so needed. And it didn't matter if I failed publicly and spectacularly I probably would. And I have. But what was more important was that that I acted. And I think that's an important lesson for women. I talked to so many women who want to do something on some issue, but they just, they're scared of making a fool of themselves, or people have told them it's not necessary, or they're not the right person. And it's just so important to go with your gut.
Alison Hall 36:26
Yeah, I mean, at points, your book almost reads like a how to book for activism, and especially for getting moms and women involved, not just in guns, but for anything that somebody is passionate about. What is your advice? When people come to you and say, you know, how did you do this? I want to do this.
Shannon Watts 36:47
Yeah, that is what exactly why I wrote fight like a mother. It was in part memoir, because I get asked a lot What's it like to be the tip of the spear on this issue? It was part Manifesto, because I really want to encourage women to to run for office, you know, we had over 100 of our volunteers run this last election cycle 43. One, that's a pretty amazing track record everything from school board and city council to Congress, we now have two volunteers who are members of Congress. But also part manual. To your point, I get asked all the time, you How did you do this, I want to do something like this on another issue in my my community or my state. And I wanted to remember and write it all down, you know, before I went through menopause, and I couldn't remember any of it. Yeah.
Alison Hall 37:36
You just called yourself the tip of the spear. And I know that something that you have called yourself a lot. I mean, that must be terrifying. Like, just honestly, for me to comprehend, being the tip of the spear for such a controversial issue. It's, and it's also a dangerous issue. I mean, how did it affect you personally? And I mean, how do you overcome that? I know that you I mean, you talk about how different times you failed, or you've been attacked, it just must be a lot to go through all of that and still get up in the morning, and keep fighting for what you believe in when you have had people attacking you.
Shannon Watts 38:17
Yeah, you know, I, again, I think I just made such a decision early on that that was going to be like white noise and that I wasn't going to live in fear. And that whatever happened happen, God forbid, you know, there would come any danger to me or to my family. Because I unfortunately work side by side with so many people who have experienced the worst of gun violence. And I can't even imagine how traumatic that is. But at the same time, I wasn't going to be silenced. I wasn't going to be intimidated. And I think I feel like so many of our volunteers do. If I lose my kids, or my family or my community gun violence, then I have nothing left to lose anyway. So we have to stand up and fight that that's how the process works in America. And and yes, this can be a dangerous issue because your opponents are likely armed. And again, we've seen that we have to remember, you know, those are gun violence survivors. Now those members of Congress who are afraid for their lives. And and the trauma and the post traumatic stress disorder that many of them are experiencing are what so many have experienced in this country. But I I just think this is such an important issue. It's one of the most important issues of our lifetime. It certainly made me a single issue voter and they're just at no point was any decision that I could make that I was going to back down.
Alison Hall 39:45
Well, you're incredibly brave,
Shannon Watts 39:47
brave, it's you know, there's a fine line. But
Alison Hall 39:50
Shannon, what do you want people to know about you but and especially about this movement that you've started? What do you think the biggest takeaway Be
Shannon Watts 40:01
that we are winning, that all social issues are a marathon, not a sprint, it would be great if we could do this overnight and there would be a revolution and we'd have change. It's not how the system is set up. I think sometimes incremental ism is seen as a dirty word. But activism can be like drips on a rock. And it's what builds up and leads to the revolution itself. But it doesn't happen unless you show up at every single gun bill hearing, unless you you know, make the cookies and handle the sign in sheets for your mom's main action meeting. Unless you show up at the statehouse to think or shame lawmakers, all of it matters. Even if you only have time, because you're so busy, you know that you that you can send a tweet and use a hashtag or make a phone call or send an email. It all matters, it all adds up. And, you know, Alice Walker said, activism is the rent we pay to live on the planet. And I think that's right. We can't assume that someone else will do the activism for us and their strength in numbers. So we're winning. And I think we're on the precipice of real major change. We know that Joe Biden and Kamala Harris made this a policy priority when they ran for office. And so I'm very hopeful, whether by executive order or legislation, or both, we will soon have stronger policies and laws at a federal level. But there's also so much happening in state houses, we have a 90% track record of beating back the NRA is agenda every year for the last five years in state houses. But those bills show up over and over. Like I said, stand your ground, we're fighting it again. I think this is the fourth or fifth time in the state of Arkansas. And so I guess my message would be get off the sidelines. Get involved, you can do that by texting the word ready. 264433 You don't have to be a mom where mothers and others will get you involved in Moms Demand Action or students Demand Action. But get involved because your activism will make a difference.
Alison Hall 42:05
Incredible, Shannon, thank you so much. You are so fascinating and courageous. And I just I have so much to learn from you. I feel like I could talk to you all day. So I appreciate you taking the time.
Shannon Watts 42:18
No, I appreciate that. And you know it's our volunteers are amazing and they get up and do this work where they live every single day and have been tireless and and all credit for the success of our organization goes to them. Thank you