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L.A. Moms Fighting Guns on a Local Level

Organizing: The group One Voice seeks support across racial lines for stronger laws as well as backing for the Million Mom March on May 14.

May 01, 2000|LYNN SMITH | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Kathi Friedman's epiphany came in February, the afternoon she joined other mothers being interviewed about the Million Mom March at a television studio in South-Central Los Angeles. The only white woman in the room, the property manager who lives in Hancock Park suddenly realized she was also the only mother there who hadn't lost a child or family member to gun violence. Some had lost two or three.

"It was a life-changing experience," said Friedman, an anti-violence activist for 15 years. What had been an abstract image of suffering suddenly became tangible. "The pain was so heavy in that room, you could reach out and touch it," she said. She realized that she had been oblivious to the commonplace horror that inner-city mothers have faced for years. "I said, 'I've got to do something now. These people have suffered too long alone.' "

In March, Friedman, Joyce Black, an African American businesswoman in East Los Angeles, and four other members of the Million Mom March, which plans a May 14 march in Washington, D.C., to promote gun-control laws, founded One Voice. This group hopes to be more effective in stemming gun violence by mobilizing mothers to work together across racial and ethnic lines. In the past three weeks, One Voice has led groups of 20 mothers from the San Fernando Valley and the Westside of Los Angeles to visit mostly African American churches, where they talked to mothers about the march and solicited their support.

Friedman also wrote a letter, circulated by e-mail and read at church services, in which she apologized for failing to address violence in a more unified way.

"You buried oh, so many babies from gun violence, while too many of us did nothing," she wrote ". . . We were safely detached as we watched the violent scenes unfold on television. . . . We will no longer stand silently on the sidelines as you walk through the shadows of darkness in your neighborhoods. We will instead walk side by side."

The march organizers brought to the churches a banner that will be carried to Washington to show the breadth of support for stricter gun-control laws.

Black said it was an eye-opening experience for both groups of women. "It was awesome. After church, those women stood waiting to sign the banner to carry to Washington," Black said.

After her visits, Friedman said she received a call from a woman from the central city who had lost a daughter last fall to gun violence. "She said, 'It won't be Mother's Day for me anyway. I really want to go to Washington.' I said, 'Then we'll see to it that you get there.' "

The dialogue was "clearly a great breakthrough in grass-roots civic participation in Los Angeles," said Fabian Nunez, political director for the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. "How often do you have concerned parents, mothers in particular, from different social classes coming together to tackle a common problem?

"You haven't seen this kind of thing in community politics, whether around gun violence or housing or education."

He said many inner-city residents are bitter that it appears to take violence in affluent suburbs to make people in other parts of the city and the media to pay attention to the issue.

Of the 1,088 residents of Los Angeles County who died from gun violence in 1998, the majority were Latinos, according to information disseminated by Women Against Gun Violence, a Los Angeles-based coalition. African Americans were killed by guns at a rate more than double their percentage in the county population, according to state data collected by Women Against Gun Violence.

Organizing for the Million Mom March began last year by a New Jersey mother of two after she saw television news footage of preschoolers being led from the North Valley Jewish Community Center the day a self-described neo-Nazi went on a shooting spree that killed one and wounded five. The organization is seeking legislation that would require child-safety locks on guns and would regulate sales at gun shows.

On May 14, counter demonstrators from a gun-rights organization, Second Amendment Sisters, will also march in the nation's capital, while Million Mom March supporters will host local events in cities nationwide.

In Los Angeles, various gun-control and anti-violence groups joined to support the Washington march, and two demonstrations emerged: a 10 a.m. event at the Federal Building in Westwood, and a 1 p.m. march on Olvera Street in downtown Los Angeles.

Ann Reiss Lane, chair of Women Against Gun Violence, said her organization proposed a morning event in Westwood after learning the march was scheduled in the afternoon at Olvera Street. The goal was to offer an alternative to engage as many people as possible. "There was a difference of opinion about what the best place, so people chose where they wanted to go," she said.

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