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I organized the Million Mom March. Here’s my reflection on how it has evolved since then

Donna Dees reflects on the impact of the recent rebranding of the organization she founded, and why the gun-violence prevention movement needs more women leaders than ever.

I organized the Million Mom March. Here’s my reflection on how it has evolved since then
Tens of thousands of people throng the National Mall during the ‘Million Mom March’ demonstration 14 May 2000 in Washington, DC. [Photo: SHAWN THEW/AFP/Getty Images]

Slightly more than nine months ago, I wrote a Mother’s Day essay on the bad branding of the gun violence prevention (GVP) movement.

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Nine months after that article, the Brady Campaign, one of the oldest nonprofits in the field, gave birth to a slicker, much needed brand reboot. The organization combined its stale red and blue colors to create a brighter, eye-popping purple logo. And, finally, after an 18-year struggle to convince all of its grassroots chapters to give up their Million Mom March name, the deadline for the name change to Brady is effective today–coincidentally, the last day of Women’s History Month. All of its 100 chapters are now known as “Brady,” followed by the state designation.

My journey with the Million Mom March

Although I wholeheartedly approve, this rebranding is bittersweet, since I was the mother who (yes, in nine months) created the largest protest against gun violence in U.S. history. That is, until the March for Our Lives last year surpassed the Million Mom March attendance by more than double.

Now that this youth-led march has morphed into a chapter-based organization, much like the Million Mom March did in 2000, the word “march” belongs to them. All I asked was that the Million Mom March brand be retired with dignity, and I think Brady President Kris Brown did that beautifully with her recent Medium article.

But I must confess, it was with some pride that the last holdouts for the name change was the Michigan Million Mom March. A few days ago, they announced in an email to their membership that as of today, they are now rebranded as “Brady Michigan.”

To paraphrase Joan Garry of the Nonprofit Leadership Lab, an organization’s DNA is set by its founders. Spring, the founder of the Michigan Million Mom March had a leadership style that set the tone for her state, and ultimately for me too.

A photographer by trade from the Upper Peninsula, Spring was comfortable promoting others. Shortly after I announced during a national media blitz that I was “looking for a few good moms” to help me organize the Million Mom March slated for Mother’s Day 2000, Spring wrote me that she wanted to post flyers around Michigan. Like the bees and butterflies of her namesake season, Spring ended up pollinating her state with those flyers, attracting some of the strongest leaders in the GVP movement.

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At the time, my secret organizing trick was nothing more than recruiting one mom from each of the 435 congressional districts. Their mission was then to recruit their friends and family to demand that their elected officials do right by our children and vote for gun safety. Come Mother’s Day 2000, we’d either celebrate congressional leadership in reducing gun violence, or march on Washington.

We need more women leaders and activists than ever

About six months of recruiting some of the strongest women warriors in Michigan, (mostly teachers and educators who still remain in the movement), Spring announced to me that her husband was gravely ill, and that she needed to hand off the baton of leadership to others in the state so that she could take care of her family.

That relay-race style of rotating leadership has become one of the hallmarks of our chapter leadership across the country–probably most exemplified by Brady’s California chapters, many of whom have gone from followers to leaders, then back to followers in the GVP movement.

Here’s an example of why we need this form of leadership. Following the horrific massacre in Newtown on December 14, 2012, I was overwhelmed with 1,200 emails from upset mothers within a matter of hours. To uplift new leaders, like so many had done for me, I convinced the Daily Beast to write about the phenomenon of “accidental activists.” Four of these women went on to become monumental to the GVP movement.

Staci Sarkin’s viral GunControl.Now petition gathered more than 500,000 signatures and helped push grassroots actions to get gun safety laws passed through numerous legislatures. Shannon Watts transformed her Facebook page into a well-funded, highly visible grassroots network. Sherri Masson, a retired teacher, whipped up an online petition with her coalition allies within hours of the Newtown tragedy and persuaded the governor to veto a dangerous-guns-in-schools bill. Masson, along with many women who sprung forward in 1999, still serve as stellar examples of the important role women play to save our children and families from gun violence.

To the Michigan Million Mom March, and to all the women warriors who fight for gun safety, I salute you. Your life-saving contributions to history will never be forgotten–no matter which brand you embrace.

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Donna Dees is the founder of the Million Mom March and co-director of the documentary Five Awake.

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