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Writer Molly Selvin took her daughter to the Million Mom March in Washington to see politics in action. What struck her most and will stay with her?...The Quiet Resolve

May 16, 2000|MOLLY SELVIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — I brought my 12-year-old daughter here for the Million Mom March Sunday because, I told myself, it was time for her to see politics in action.

I wanted to show Miriam that the Bill of Rights--including the 2nd Amendment--has meaning, not just in her history classroom or our dinner table discussions, but in Congress and our community.

I wanted her to stand among hundreds of thousands of people assembled for a cause, instead of for a Smashing Pumpkins concert.

Mostly, I wanted her to understand that it will eventually fall to her to help define what the 2nd Amendment means in the future.

I knew we'd be preached to, leafleted, bumper-stickered and T-shirted. And we were.

I knew the Million Mom March would be a staged event with special hotel rates and air fares and a color scheme with so much pink you could confuse it with a Mary Kay Cosmetics convention.

What I didn't know was how quiet--solemn, really--a crowd of 500,000 to 750,000 can be. And it is that quiet that will stick with me: the quiet anguish of the thousands of mothers, grandmothers, sisters and brothers who got up at dawn in places like Richmond, Va., or Pittsburgh bearing photographs of family members lost to gun violence. The quiet resolve of women, mercifully untouched by gun violence, who've nonetheless had enough of a Congress unwilling to require background checks at gun shows and who trundled kids, strollers and sunscreen into the car on a clear, warm day. And the surprising quiet of a crowd with more hot, sticky toddlers than there are on a July day at Disneyland.

I didn't expect the experience to be transforming. I didn't expect to have an epiphany as I listened to the celebrities, politicians and victims. (Some who could have used the transforming were marching a few streets away, with the pro-gun Second Amendment Sisters.)

If not transformative, the massive show of marchers--including the thousands of dads and daughters and brothers and husbands--may well have been catalytic.

There's tremendous moral support in knowing who's with you and why. And for the hundreds of thousands on the mall and in satellite rallies across the country, there is no question now that there are many, many of us indeed. That presence--that showing of ourselves to one another--may well be the Million Mom's major accomplishment.

*

That's why Jenifer Paschall came with her sister, Morgan, and brother, Emanuel. The Paschalls were some of the 60 or so marchers from Durham, N.C.; they made the journey in memory of their mother, Karen Morgan Paschall, who was killed by gunfire in March. They just wanted to be counted, to be on record that the shooting must stop and so must the equivocation in Congress. That's why Deborah Horwitz came as well. She worked with Paschall at Duke University and, like Paschall's children, wore a turquoise T-shirt printed with Paschall's name and date of death. None had marched in Washington before.

Neither had Carolyn Woodinville, a stay-at-home Seattle mom who sat among the Washington state contingent, some 250 strong. She's been spared the agony that the Paschalls have endured. But her anxiety about the safety of her 6-year-old son in school and at friends' homes prompted her to make the trip to "show Congress how deeply we feel about this issue." It was the first time too for Gloria Goldberg, who "was changing diapers in the '60s" but took the bus Sunday from Philadelphia with her husband, Martin, their granddaughter and 45 others.

From the stage, there were mom and motherhood homilies aplenty. "When you want something done, ask a mom." "When moms get mad, watch out." And so on.

Yet for all the bravado, so many of us feel a sense of helplessness. When the neighborhood school, the burger shop or the basketball court becomes a shooting gallery, we can't protect our children--and we can't yet get Congress to do it either.

The women I spoke with had a clear-eyed understanding that electing Congress members willing to pass sensible gun laws--requiring trigger locks, thorough background checks, handgun registration and licensing and limits on ammunition purchases--will remain an uphill fight. Sure, there are more moms than National Rifle Assn. members, as human rights advocate Kerry Kennedy Cuomo, daughter of Robert and Ethel Kennedy, told the crowd.

*

But how should we proceed?

For Alison Demarest, marching with her 8-year-old son, Win, the first step would be to put a Million Mom bumper sticker on her car in Carroll County, Md., a community so pro-gun that the local Republican Party recently made a bundle by raffling off a firearm.

Charlotte Robinson and her friend Hilda Staten, who lost a son to gun violence, said that they would try to counsel more young men in their Pittsburgh neighborhood to stay away from guns and crime and that they would push city officials to pass tougher gun ordinances.

Lynn Lechter, a Republican candidate--"yes, Republican," she insisted--running for the Pennsylvania legislature from suburban Philadelphia, said she would speak out for handgun licensing and registration, words that have been the kiss of death for many politicians.

(On Monday, Million Mom March organizers announced they would begin raising money to promote support among lawmakers and the public for handgun licensing and registration.)

As I walked and talked to fellow marchers, it became clear that beyond calls for new laws, the event would prompt changes, big and small. No longer, for instance, will Patty Rogers of upstate New York be timid about checking up on the homes of her kids' friends.

"I ask my kids' friends if their parents smoke at home, but I haven't been asking if there are guns in the house. I don't want my kids near guns. That's where I start."

But not where we end.

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