Shannon Watts: “Nobody Can Sit on the Sidelines Anymore”

You may know Shannon Watts from Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement she founded nearly a decade ago that has since attracted over 8 million supporters committed to the fight against gun violence. Even if you haven’t read her book—about how the tragic Sandy Hook shooting moved her to get involved in activism on the national stage—chances are you’ve seen her words quoted, retweeted, and meme-ified across a slew of social media channels after yesterday’s mass shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas, where an 18-year-old assailant killed a reported 19 children and 2 adults before dying on the school’s premises at the hands of law enforcement. And that’s because Shannon has a way of making sense of our complicated human emotions even on the darkest, most despair-filled days. Just take this tweet, which garnered over 93,000 Likes in less than 24 hours:

School shootings are not fucking acts of nature, like hurricanes and tornadoes. They’re man-made acts of inaction, of cowardice, of corruption by all lawmakers who refuse to pass laws PROVEN BY DATA to stop preventable, senseless shootings like in Uvalde.

Cosmo reached out to the gun violence prevention activist and asked how she’s channeling her devastation over the latest mass shooting into action.

You know, I’m still shocked when there is news of a national shooting tragedy, whether it’s a mass shooting or just a horrific act of gun violence. I guess I’m glad for that—that I don’t feel numb. That I feel devastated and outraged. And when I saw the news about this, it was interesting because it wasn’t information like, “Okay, more [people are] dead.” All of a sudden, I got this text that, at the time, the death toll was 15 people. And I kind of had to sit down and put my phone aside and just absorb it because I was not prepared for that.

I had a lot of weepy moments yesterday, but what has fueled my work now for nearly a decade as a full-time volunteer really is that sadness always turns into anger—and I think righteous anger, right? There’s a difference between corrosive and righteous anger. And it is what keeps me, number one, hopeful, but number two, involved and committed to acting.

Here’s how I stay focused in times like these—and how I work not to let sorrow take over:

Prioritize self-care

People are feeling devastated and angry and frustrated. That’s all understandable and normal. Prioritize yourself and your family before you’re able to get into the work or get back to the work. But the work is still there. We have to do this.

Know that you’re not alone

I think that the gun lobby and the lawmakers they’re allied with…want us to feel hopeless. They want us to believe this is the new normal and nothing can change. And it’s just not true and it’s also not acceptable. Every one of us has a role to play in this activism. Imagine if everyone got off the sidelines. If you are one of the 50% [of people] in this country who hasn’t been impacted by gun violence, God bless you, but it’s coming to your community. And it is really important now more than ever that everyone gets off the sidelines, uses their voices, uses their votes on this issue….Grab friends and family, [and] invite them to do this work with you. A big reason why our volunteers stay involved is because of the relationships they build.

Take to the streets

I’m going to be at the Capitol tomorrow for a rally demanding the Senate take action. We have a Students Demand Action organization, and they are organizing a nationwide school walkout that happens tomorrow at noon ET. If you want to text the word “walkout” to 64433, you can get involved in that. And then, finally, I would just say, text the word “act” to 64433. You don’t have to be a mom. You don’t have to be a woman. It’s all caring Americans. And if you text “act” to 64433, we’ll get back to you and plug you in where you live.

Find a piece of this work that makes you feel passionate and dig in

This work is broad and it’s intersectional, and it encompasses legislative change, electoral change, and cultural change. Find what resonates with you and do that work. Again, nobody can sit on the sidelines anymore, but if you get involved, Moms Demand Action will help you figure out what you want to work on and then help you be successful and win. That’s another reason our volunteers tell us they stay—they see the work that we’re doing, the lifesaving work, and they feel that they’re making a difference. Because we have passed so many good gun laws and stopped so many bad laws. Because we have elected gun sense champions to office at all levels of government. Because we have educated millions of families about secure gun storage. That’s like drips on a rock. It all adds up.

Refuse to get discouraged

Sometimes people get frustrated because there’s not this overnight systemic change, but it’s just not the way the system is set up. Incrementalism can be frustrating, but it also leads to revolutions. And that’s the work we all have to do.

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