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A Fire at the Grass Roots

Today's protest against gun violence is more than an isolated event--it's a manifestation of a movement.

May 14, 2000

They are not your run-of-the-mill activists, these people marching today in Washington, Los Angeles and other cities across the country for what they call common-sense gun laws. Rather, it's that mostly they are ordinary American mothers that calls attention to their action.

If you had gone to a local organizers' last meeting before today's march--held, fittingly, in the North Valley Jewish Community Center--you would have seen young moms, grandmothers, a few dads dandling kids on their knees. This is part of the power of today's Million Mom March: Average people who had perhaps been too shy or too busy earlier have now taken the extraordinary step of getting involved. Something finally made them say, "Enough."

For the New Jersey mother of two who conceived the Million Mom March, it was the shooting rampage last August at the Jewish community center in Granada Hills. She had no connection with the center except this: She was a mom and her children were roughly the same age as the toddlers she saw on television being led to safety by police officers. Galvanized by that image, she vowed then and there to organize the largest rally in support of stronger gun laws ever to be held in the United States. Her idea caught fire across the nation.

Of course, not every mother joined up. There will be women counterdemonstrators marching in Washington in support of gun ownership. A recent Times poll showed just how fractured and complex are Americans' opinions and beliefs about guns, even though a clear majority favors tighter controls.

A sadder divide showed up in Los Angeles, where two demonstrations, one in Westwood and another downtown, are scheduled. The planning and organizing brought mothers from affluent, white suburbs together with mothers from the inner city, and some organizers were understandably bitter that it took gun violence in white neighborhoods to seize the nation's attention. Despite the split, the core principle--the need to control gun violence--was never in dispute.

Two of the gun control supporters who are in Washington this Mother's Day, Northridge mom Loren Lieb and West Hills mom Eleanor Kadish, are unexceptional people to whom the unthinkable happened. Their sons were among the five people wounded at the Granada Hills center by a man firing an assault rifle and allegedly motivated by ethnic hatred.

The children have recovered or are recovering--physically. But the shock and pain of a traumatized family were evident in Kadish's trembling voice as she introduced herself at the May 4 meeting: "I almost lost my son. And that's why I'm going to Washington."

Carol Ann Taylor of Inglewood, also at the Jewish community center meeting, did lose her son, her only child, in 1993 to gun violence. "I'm in it for the long haul," she told the gathering. "I've been marching and yelling for six years and I'm not going to stop now."

Today's Million Mom March will deliver a message about just how many ordinary people have had their fill of gun violence, which despite recent declines still is far higher in the United States than in other wealthy industrialized countries. But the most powerful message that the mothers and others take to politicians in Washington and to residents of cities nationwide is that the call for stronger gun laws is not just a Mother's Day march. It's a movement.

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