The day after the mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., 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 of five and not in any way political, aside from voting. But I’d seen the difference the women of MADD made around drunken driving. Why, I wondered, couldn’t we do the same?
I was wholly unprepared for the blowback headed my way.
Within hours of 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 — often in the middle of the night. My fledgling Twitter feed — which I didn’t really know how to use yet — was on fire. I started getting letters mailed to my home — complete with cut-outs from magazines to spell out threats to my life.
My email was hacked; my Facebook photos were downloaded and distributed publicly; my phone number and home address were shared online; my children’s social media accounts were hacked and the names of their schools shared online.
The underlying message: Stop talking about guns, or we’ll harm you or someone you love.
And as Moms Demand Action began to grow and win in statehouses and boardrooms, the threats and outrage from gun extremists grew more intense. I had to block so many of them on social media that #ImBlockedByShannonWatts actually trended on Twitter.
Even the National Rifle Association got in on the misogyny, publishing a magazine article parodying me as a 1950s housewife. It questioned whether I was a “real” mom — simply because I had had a career before choosing to stay home with my kids.
At first, this bullying shocked and scared me. It was overwhelming to wake up every day to more venom. But as I spoke to our volunteers in chapters across the country, I found out that 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. Whether our volunteers were rallying in public, holding an event in their homes or simply having lunch at a restaurant, extremists were showing up — or threatening to show up — with guns. In fact, just weeks ago, a meeting of Moms Demand Action volunteers in a Kentucky public library was crashed by men who openly carried guns, waltzed in and sat in the front row.
Despite the constant 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 succumb to intimidation. We will not kowtow to bullies. We will not be silenced. Not after Sandy Hook.
We refer to ourselves as “one tough mothers.” In fact, several volunteers have turned that phrase into a tattoo — a visual and constant reminder of why we fight for gun safety: because our children’s lives are at stake. And that motivation is more powerful than threats and 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 and mothers and other outraged Americans rose up, refusing to accept that our gun-violence epidemic was unstoppable. The fight isn’t finished, but these tough mothers are moving forward. And all of the trolling, threats and misogyny in the world cannot stop us.