image by Marta Steele
I am as old as the hills and have been a Progressive activist as much as life circumstances have allowed since my early twenties, but never have I been to a rally where the U.S. president and vice president were praised as leading supporters, as occurred earlier today in Washington, DC at a thousand-strong protest. The catalyst was NRA policies that advocate for legal ownership of assault guns and related, lethal, condoned permissiveness. Representation at the federal level has been limited to "fringe" legislators like Dennis Kucinich, Keith Ellison, and the late Stephanie Tubbs Jones, among others.
The voice in question belonged to the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan, the first cabinet member I have ever heard or seen at a Progressive rally. He spoke passionately, not for the first time, in favor of gun control and against the NRA.
Another federal voice at the rally was Maryland Representative Chris Van Hollen. Of course, DC's own Eleanor Holmes Norton, who would be our representative if we had one beyond the committee level in the House, was there with fiery and inspiring rhetoric, though she laughed before speaking, mumbling something about her ambiguous status in Congress and how we need to work hard toward full representation.
The event began with a silent march by a thousand or so participants from the Reflecting Pond west of the Capitol building to the Washington Monument. First to speak were Washington Mayor Vincent Gray and District Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, both of whom, as leaders of one of the most crime-ridden areas in the country, had lots to say about the desperate need for gun control here and throughout the country.
Sponsors included Molly Smith and Suzanne Blue Star Boy of DC's Arena Stage, along with the Washington National Cathedral and One Million Moms for Gun Control, a month-old organization created on Facebook in response to the Sandy Hook massacre in December. More than one speaker remarked that despite egregious episodes of gun massacre since Columbine High School's in 1999, immortalized by filmmaker Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine; the Virginia Tech shootings in 2007; the gun-rape of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords's townhall-style gathering in January 2012; and other similar tragedies, it took the murder of twenty innocent young children along with some brave school personnel to mobilize the people effectively. One horrifying statistic revealed that far more people have died of [non-war-related] gun wounds since the 1960s assassinations than the sum total of victims of all wars fought by the United States since the Revolution.
This time, we won't be stopped, speakers reiterated, until we have achieved our goals.
The chant "Yes, we can!" familiar from Barack Obama's inspiring 2008 presidential campaign, was heard several times during the rally.
Music and poetry punctuated the many speeches, including John Lennon's immortal "Imagine" and Marvin Gaye's "What's Goin' on?" There, the Washington, DC native asserts that "War is not the answer" (a rallying cry among Quakers around the world) and "Only love can conquer hate."
Colin Goddard of the Brady Campaign, a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre who was shot three times but survived intact, was a dynamic and compelling contributor. One hundred residents of Newtown, Connecticut were also present, along with busloads from neighboring states, and others from as far away as Seattle, San Francisco, and even Alaska, Molly Smith's home state.
The founder of One Million Moms for Gun Control and mother of five herself, Shannon Watts, said that she materialized out of anonymity into activism as a result of the Newtown killings. In one month, seventy-five branches of her organization have sprung up throughout the country. Author and activist Marian Wright Edelman, of the Children's Defense Fund, was another compelling presence, as was Meghan DeSale of Doctors for America, who spoke of the horrors of treating children and other victims of gunshot wounds when she worked in a hospital emergency room.
Pastor Dean Snyder, of DC's United Methodist Church, delivered an invocation on behalf of both religious and nonreligious supporters of gun control legislation. Actress Kathleen Turner was last to speak, dramatic both in and out of Hollywood. When successful celebrity performers donate their time to activist causes, whatever their persuasion, their forcefulness, charisma, and verve helps to justify the millions they rake in, even in times of recession.
The platform of the organizers of the march, stated on their webpage, is that "We want Congress to reinstate the assault weapon ban, ban high capacity ammunition magazines and require background checks for all guns. We want Congress to enforce a 28 day waiting period, require mandatory gun safety training before the purchase of a gun, and outlaw bullets that shatter in the body."
Wrote Smith: "I have many friends who hunt. This is not about hunter's  having their rifles restricted. It is about a ban on assault weapons and stricter background checks. No one needs a magazine that fires 60 bullets in a few minutes."
Among the signs displayed, one re-construed the letters NRA to imply "Not Representing Americans." Another protested that 3 percent of the country, members of NRA, were controlling the lives and destinies of the overwhelming majority. By far the most common sign carried by protestors, distributed by the organizers, was a simple, small poster with a person's name on it, each one a victim of a senseless death by a gun, accidental or purposeful.