Springtime in January

I’m in the midst of some purging at my house. (No, I haven’t read or watched Marie Kondo, but the fervor she has created inspired me.) I was in the basement going through old stuff and came across a blank journal I purchased while pregnant with my now 10-year-old son. (Oh how optimistic was I?) My first grade daughter is into journaling right now, so she was happy to inherit it. I’ve had short periods where I consistently journaled, including as a teen/young adult writing about the pain of yet another Kansas City Chiefs playoff loss. (Still guarding my heart but GO CHIEFS!) Generally, though, I’ve not made time for that kind of reflection as an adult. It’s been two years since my last post, so I don’t think this can truly qualify as a blog. However, this morning, the house was quiet, I had my coffee, and presto–here we are.

Reading through my words in January 2017, focused mostly on the results of the 2016 presidential election and what it meant for our country, I feel the anger in the words as they come off the page. I also see in them the catalyst for a transformation. I noted in January 2017 that our family was considering significant changes as a result of the election. What actually happened was a turn I would never have imagined as a younger me. In October 2017, after 13 years of stellar work with the same Kansas City company, Doug got an incredible opportunity to put his leadership and vision to the test with a new company, also in the KC metro area. And that meant I had the opportunity to take a risk. And so I did.

Even before the 2016 election, I was unhappy professionally and looking for the next move, but was unclear as to what that would be. I wanted to leave the legal profession, but was unwilling to give up the flexibility I had with my job at the time, something I feared I would lose if I switched professions to something that required more of an in-office presence and full-time status to “prove myself.” Although I tried it, I’ve never enjoyed direct sales, and disliked how so many of the opportunities in that area were so focused on primarily female interests like jewelry or makeup. (I like those things, but not my passion.)

November 2016 intensified my need to make a change. The mission of my federal agency was “to ensure equal access to education and to promote educational excellence through vigorous enforcement of civil rights in our nation’s schools.” For years, we had struggled to fulfill that mission due to a lack of adequate funding for investigative staff, and a general lack of support from Congress for any effort to clarify to schools and colleges their legal obligations under the civil rights laws. And that was under the Obama Administration. Now, we had an incoming Administration that was completely hostile to civil rights, and really, the very idea of public education. We were all questioning how we could fulfill our mission in that environment. Thankfully, some decided to stay and continue the work as best as they could. In January 2017, I felt that a year of wait and see would be appropriate.

Meanwhile, I searched for outlets for exercising what I considered my civic duty to minimize the damage this new president could do to our country. Yes, I attended the Women’s March, and it was incredibly powerful. But I know from experience that real change comes not only from a microphone or bullhorn, but days and months and years of ordinary people doing small things to engage citizens, change the hearts and minds of leaders (or just change who the leaders are), change policies and laws, and ultimately, improve lives.

As part of my search for what was next, in February 2017, I attended my first meeting of the Kansas City local group of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, the grassroots gun violence prevention group started in 2011 in response to the Sandy Hook school shooting. I had supported the organization from afar since it’s formation, but with a demanding job and two young children, I just hadn’t made it to a meeting. And then I went to a second meeting in April 2017, which changed my trajectory. The group’s local leadership had turned over significantly, and they needed new people who could help re-energize their efforts. It was a call to action, and I was eager to be a part of it, if nothing else, to change their meeting times so it was actually convenient for more people to go. (Seriously, 5pm meetings on weeknights are the worst.)

The next step was a smaller meeting with a few others who were also interested in leadership. And then, as part of the local leadership team, I got to meet (virtually and in person) other leaders from the movement across the state. I walked with the Columbia Moms Demand Action group in the 2017 Mizzou Homecoming Parade, and got to meet our state chapter leader, Becky Morgan, and the founder of Moms Demand Action, Shannon Watts, who is also a Mizzou alum (MIZ). I met people who are survivors of gun violence (homicide, suicide, and unintentional shootings), moved to tears by their courage and determination in the face of unspeakable loss. After every interaction with this group of amazing volunteers across the state, I came away impressed with their organization and focus. These women and men were horrified by the tragedy of gun violence in all its forms, but they used facts and data as well as their pain to help gun owners and elected leaders understand it wasn’t about taking away their guns. Moreover, I was convinced that I could significantly contribute to the cause, and I just jumped right in.

By the time Doug got his new job that fall, I knew it was time to devote significantly more time to gun violence prevention work in Missouri. His job meant we had the financial flexibility for me to make a radical change. At the time, I was the Kansas City local group legislative lead for Moms Demand Action, and I wanted to spend more time getting ready for the upcoming Missouri legislative session kicking off in January 2018. All of this is volunteer, mind you. Contrary to what the NRA says, we are not paid for our hours of work. But this was exactly what I needed to make the jump away from the legal profession and into something I had experience with and loved doing–inspiring and organizing people to make change. And so in December 2017, I left my job and poured myself into Moms Demand Action, not knowing that on February 14, 2018, yet another horrific school shooting, this time at a Florida high school, would again change the trajectory of the gun violence prevention movement.

I feel like I am only now coming up for air after that awful day when we learned 17 students and staff lost their lives. The students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School will go down in American history as heroes for how they energized this movement, and I am so grateful to have been ready and able to help Missouri meet the outpouring of interest in joining this movement. Moms Demand Action participated in and helped support March For Our Lives rallies in Washington, DC and all over the country, including in Kansas City. Moms Demand Action launched tools to empower young people, who started their own Students Demand Action local groups across the country (over 200 of them). In Missouri, Moms Demand Action went from seven local groups in January 2018 to EIGHTEEN local groups in January 2019. Many of these are in outstate Missouri, places like Maryville and Joplin and very rural north central Missouri. And we still have such a challenging environment in Missouri, but we are making progress. We beat back terrible “guns everywhere” legislation in 2018, and we are preparing like hell to do it again this year. (Come join us in Jefferson City on February 19! Sign up here: https://www.facebook.com/events/129413447978976/ ) We continue to grow and organize around the fact that you can support the Second Amendment and still back responsible gun laws that research shows will save lives.

More broadly, I look back on the two years since my last blog post and see a transformation. I see my anger transformed into actionable love, channeled through donations to human rights and religious organizations and nonprofits and service through my church to people in my community. I see it transformed into the energy of citizenship, through regular contact with my elected representatives, knocking on thousands of doors for candidates who will be change agents, and voting. I am transformed by my new Moms Demand Action “framily” (in the words of my friend, Kara) who vary in their life experiences that brought them to this movement, but forged in us all a determination to save lives.

I am humbled to see the beautiful things made out of the dust, the lovely bones of a new life that fits so much better than the one I was leading. It doesn’t mean I am glad for the results of November 2016. In my faith, we talk a lot about how God does not send disasters or tragedies or evil to hurt people, but God does work through these things to bring good. In my Star Wars fandom, when darkness rises, the light rises to meet it. We are living through some pretty awful times in this country. Our government is willfully separating young children from their parents at our southern border in what will surely be a national shame and stain forever. Right now, 800,000 federal employees are either on unpaid furlough or being forced to work without pay because our president, who had agreed to a budget fix that had passed the Senate and had the votes to pass in the House, got scared when Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh criticized him and backed out. The folly of that shutdown is rippling throughout the economy in negative ways. There is increasing evidence that our president committed criminal activity in the pursuit of the presidency and may even be a Russian asset. But there is also a new engagement on the part of our citizens, particularly women, that is sunlight through the darkness. It is going to take the everyday acts of citizenship by all of us to push through this time and demand better. I fully realize not everyone has the flexibility to leave the job I did and jump in full time. I didn’t have that flexibility until recently (THANK YOU THANK YOU DOUG) and I may not always have it. But I believe that if we each do all the good that we can, by all the means we can, in all the ways we can, in all the places we can, to all the people we can, as long as we ever can, we will be the carriers of the light in the darkness, and better times will be ahead.

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