The day after the mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, I started a Facebook page aimed at uniting American mothers in a fight against gun violence. Married and living in the suburbs of Indianapolis, I was a stay-at-home mom and not political. But I’d seen the difference MADD had made with drunken driving. Why, I thought, couldn’t we do the same?
I was unprepared for the blowback headed my way.
Hours after speaking out about our nation’s lax gun laws, I received my first threats of sexual violence and death. Over the next several months, my phone throbbed with angry texts and phone calls. My Twitter feed was on fire. I started getting letters mailed to my home – complete with magazine cut-outs spelling out threats to my life.
My email was hacked; my Facebook photos were distributed publicly; my phone number and home address were shared online; my children’s social media accounts were hacked and their schools’ names shared online.
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The underlying message: Stop talking about guns, or we’ll harm you or someone you love.
As Moms Demand Action began to grow and win in statehouses and boardrooms, the threats and outrage from gun extremists grew more intense.
Even the National Rifle Association got in on the misogyny, publishing a magazine article questioning whether I was a “real” mom because I had a career before choosing to stay home with my kids.
At first, this bullying shocked and scared me. But as I spoke to volunteers in chapters across the country, I found I wasn’t alone in my experience.
The intimidation via emails, texts, calls and online was happening locally, too. But the harassment wasn’t just coming from behind a computer screen – extremists, almost always men, were showing up at our events with loaded long guns to try to silence our voices.
Despite the harassment, the bottom line for me and the other Moms Demand Action volunteers is this: If we lose our children, we have nothing left to lose. We will not be silenced. Not after Sandy Hook.
We call ourselves “one tough mothers.” And that motivation is more powerful than intimidation.
We are the most organized and passionate counterweight the gun lobby has ever seen – it isn’t surprising that we scare the trolls. And we are relentless because we know the lives we’re working to save may be our own children’s. This weekend, that commitment and resilience will be on display at our fourth annual Brooklyn Bridge March for Gun Sense, where hundreds of “one tough mothers” will march together to remind America that gun violence is a national crisis.
After Sandy Hook, women, mothers and other outraged Americans refused to accept that our gun-violence epidemic was unstoppable. The fight isn’t finished, but we are moving forward. And all of the trolling, threats and misogyny in the world cannot stop us.
Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America.