Many of us have an epiphany at some point in our lives, but not many of us have the courage and wherewithal to take action and make a change. Marin County resident Jen Reidy (pictured) is different. Reidy, a mother of two who now lives in Marin, grew up near Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. A friend of hers was an EMT first responder to the horror that was the shooting of 20 children and 6 administrators on December 14, 2012. Reidy, like much of the nation, was frightened and in shock, feeling helpless as she watched and waited to see how congress would take action to improve gun control regulations in our country.
“But nothing happened,” she says on a recent morning sitting outside Café Verde not far from her home. “I just couldn’t believe it.”
Reidy was upset, but went about business as usual, raising her family and pursuing her 23-year career in high-tech public relations and marketing. She had not had any involvement in politics or community organizing, and couldn’t imagine what she might do to make her voice heard, or how her single voice might help change gun regulations. Then, in May of 2014, when six students were killed in a shooting spree at UC Santa Barbara, she listened to Richard Martinez, who lost his only son, call out the NRA and the gun lobby. This is when she had an epiphany. “It hit me then,” says Reidy. “Not to speak was to speak.”
At that moment she made a commitment to change, and connected with the newly formed national movement Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America (known as Moms Demand Action). Founded by Indianapolis mother Shannon Watts the day after the Sandy Hook shooting and modeled after Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Moms Demand Action began as a Facebook campaign calling for gun violence prevention, and has grown into a 50-state grassroots advocacy group “demanding action from legislators, companies and educational institutions to establish common sense gun reform.” Reidy learned more about gun laws and the NRA lobby from the Moms Demand Action Facebook page, and, in her words, her passion increased. She decided to take a year off of work and became the volunteer communications coordinator for Moms Demand Action. Inspired by local Moms Demand Action members and activists Cynthia Pillsbury and Tia Liddell-Ivery who testified in Sacramento the day after Sandy Hook, last October Reidy stepped up to lead the Marin County chapter of Moms Demand Action.
“At first it was just my husband, my best friends, basically people who had to show up at my informational house parties,” she says. Fast forward to a recent Marin Moms Demand Action gathering at Reidy’s “small house” where, she jokes, people had to sit in the bathtub. Last December, over 300 people marched through Larkspur in the rain, calling for stricter gun laws and commemorating the Sandy Hook victims. Now, with Reidy’s leadership, Marin County has one the fastest growing Moms Demand Action chapters in the country.
“We are a non-political, non-partisan organization. We respect the 2nd Amendment,” Reidy explains. “What we want is to keep guns out of the hands of convicted criminals, domestic violence abusers, and suspected terrorists, people on the No-Fly list.” And, she adds, the majority of Americans agree; a recent CBS/New York Times poll revealed that 92% of Americans support universal background checks on all gun sales. What has become clear to Reidy as she works to promotes action amongst her peers here in Marin County, is that numbers matter. Each voice matters. In early May, Moms Demand Action patched 1200 callers to the office of Georgia Governor Nathan Deal, who subsequently vetoed a bill that would have forced guns on campuses. Last week here in California, following public outrage after the San Bernadino massacre, the state senate passed sweeping new legislation to close loopholes and fortify restrictions on gun and ammunition sales.
Now Reidy and the Marin Moms Demand Action chapter are focusing all attention on Thursday June 2, National Gun Violence Awareness Day, and the Golden Gate Bridge “Wear Orange” march. The Wear Orange movement began in Chicago when friends of Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year- old Chicago high school student killed by gunfire, decided to honor her life by wearing orange – the color hunters wear in the woods to protect themselves and others. Last year the movement grew to 220 million people nationwide honoring Pendleton and others killed by gun violence.
Since 2013, there have been 185 school shootings in the United States. This is a number that is difficult to accept as normal, says Reidy, and she sees more people turning their outrage in action. She and her fellow gun control activists have a growing sense of strength and optimism about significant change.
“The big message is that it is worth your time to get involved,” says Reidy. She points out that in just one minute a month an “armchair activist” can sign a petition that will affect gun control legislation. “Over the past three and a half years we have grown in to a group nearly 4 million strong, almost the same size as the NRA. When we go head to head with the NRA and the gun lobby, when we are louder, we win. We are winning, and it’s pretty exciting.”
Kirsten Jones Neff is a journalist who writes about all things North Bay, with special attention to the environment and the region’s farmers, winemakers and food artisans. She also works and teaches in school gardens. Kirsten’s poetry collection, When The House Is Quiet, was nominated for the Northern California Book Award, and three of her poems received a Pushcart nomination. She lives in Novato with her husband and three children and tries to spend as much time as possible on our local mountains, beaches and waterways.