The MOMocrats are at Netroots Nation! This is one of a series of posts from the annual conference for progressive activists. Donna reports on Friday morning’s general session. This post has been edited for typos since it was posted this morning.
Moderator Jehmu Green cannot think of another conversation as important. This session focuses on how to address this problem and leave this conversation with a very clear understanding on how you can get involved.
Panel consists of:
- Lily Eskelsen Garcia, VP of the National Education Association
- Mark Glaze of Mayors Against Illegal Guns – in the fight since 2006
- Anna Galland, exec VPof MoveOn
- Rep. Robin Kelly of Illinois
- State Senator Darrell Steinberg of California
- Randi Weingarten of the American Federation of Teachers
The session focused on how to get engaged on this issue and what each organization and individual speaker is doing right now, six months after Newtown.
Lily reminded the gathering of her colleagues who shielded those 20 babies with their bodies. She started with a little about her background: “I am from Utah where we have gun racks in our Volvos,” she said.
You can be a responsible gun owner, she says. This is about keeping military style firearms out of the hands of the most dangerous people.
“Idiots who say, why don’t we arm teachers. Now I am supposed to have a gun to protect my students?” She asks.
“What is happening in this country is wrong. We have elected representatives who are beholden to the gun industry. And others are just afraid of the gun industry and won’t speak up. They don’t deserve their office and we have to do something about it.”
Eskelsen says the NEA wants to be as impactful as the gun lobby. And 92% agree. “We have to make those Senators as frightened of us as they are of the gun lobby,” she says.
Mark Glaze is the son of a licensed gun dealer in Colorado. He grew up with hunters and says he understands the culture. “Principally, it’s a political problem that is fixable,” he says. “The advantage the NRA has is largely a cultural one. They don’t think of it as conspiracy theorist Wayne LaPierre, so they have a huge grassroots advantage.”
Glaze noted that there is an “intensity of preference problem,” which he explained as selling and promoting distrust of governmental authority. The tipping point is that we have a real problem and need to deal with it. Because of the increasing recognition of the problem – for most members of Congress, they are risk averse and in a rural district they will have more gun owners. On our side, there was no support – that has changed thanks to the efforts of people and new organizations from folks like Mayor Bloomberg and Gabby Giffords.
The political calculus is changing too, Glaze says. 74 percent of NRA members support universal background checks, so that is changing too.
Anna Galland announced that now is the first time MoveOn is working on guns. In the wake of Newtown, members set up vigils. SignOn is engaging and empowering members to lead campaigns. 1.3 Million names on petitions
Galland described the organization’s members as their Million Leader Strategy – to hold our elected leaders accountable at election time.
Kelly, who was elected to Congress two months ago, said she did not know that guns would be the center stage of her candidacy. She thanked the voters for supporting her and promised to continue to fight the good fight.
She talked of being in contact with Hadiya Pendleton’s mom. She says that in Chicago, they have many massacres every single night. “My ask is that we broaden the conversation because every kid counts no matter what zip code they live in.”
She urged the audience of progressives to continue to be a voice. “We [in Congress] can’t do this alone,” she said. “Stop voting for the people who are not voting the right way.”
Darrell Steinberg said he was privileged to be leader of the State Senate of California, where we elected a Democratic super majority and a Democratic governor. “There is a danger of over reaching, but also of under reaching and not using our power and this issue of gun violence falls under the category of using every tool we have in changing California and maybe lead and influence the national debate.”
Twenty years ago after gun massacres in Stockton and San Francisco, California passed the first assault weapons ban. But it has a asterisk because the gun lobby has been very smart in finding every loophole to get around the ban. Rapid fire weapons that include detachable magazines. People can remove the magazines, replace them quickly and guns can rapid fire bullets and kill more people, Steinberg noted. They have figured out exceptions to the ban by manufacturing tools that will allow them to take them out when they were never intended,
This year, Steinberg co-authored the LIFE Act – a collection of eight bills designed to close those loopholes. A gun owner in California would not be able to have a rifle with a magazine that can be removed — period. And cannot fire more than 10 bullets at a time. Trying to get background checks for purchase of ammunition.
Another bill appropriates $25 million to hire law officers to go after 40,000 guns in the hands of people not legal to own. NRA opposed this bill. “That is the kind of mentality we are up against,” Steinberg said.
Steinberg talked a little about the recent Congressional elections. In the state’s 35th District, incumbent Republican Representative Joe Baca voted mostly with the NRA. State Senator Gloria Negrete McLeod decided to oppose him. She was in favor of common sense gun laws. Mayor Bloomberg decided to support her with an ad campaign.
Two weeks and $5 million later she won.
Randi Weingarten said she was happy to be on the list of people the NRA hates
“Lily and I know the people who died. I was up at Newtown that Sunday after the shooting,” she said. “It’s just when you are with people who have been personally affected by this obscene massacre of innocent people, you just feel it all the time. And that is what pushes us in so many fundamental ways.”
“We have one more than we thought we would a year or two ago in the absence of Newtown. But no one talked about this. What Newtown did was make us more courageous,” Weingarten said.
She recounted how she called on the union’s executive council and said we have to take a leadership position. “We are teachers and have to educate. The NRA is clever, they build on fear and change the debate. I call bullshit on the idea that this is about government control,” she said.
She noted how after Boston marathon bombing the nation vowed to do everything to take on terrorism, but not this.
“We have to change the debate,” Weingarten said. “So we need to figure out how to talk to people who think the government wants to take away their guns. We need to talk to the DREAMers and marriage equality people who have been successful in changing hearts and minds. We need to create some common bonds.”
Lily Eskelsen Garcia suggested that the gun lobby uses a bait and switch. “They will move the conversation subtly away from preventing the next tragedy to preparing for the next tragedy because they have no intention of preventing it,” she said. “It always involves buying more guns. I would like to see bloggers, reporters, people at town hall meetings. This comes up to show that we are not going away. We have to get smarter with our defeats until we win. We have to keep asking the question what are you going to do to keep dangerous people from getting dangerous weapons. They won’t answer, but we need to keep repeating and repeating until we get an answer.”
Representatative Kelly said she was asked at a town hall why she hates guns. She replied that she doesn’t hate guns, she just doesn’t want these tragedies to keep happening. She said it’s important to be clear about the message: there are some people who should not have guns (i.e., people with criminal records) and so we should ensure that they DON’T have them. And she noted that we need to support Senator Manchin from West Virginia, who came out in favor of common sense gun laws, such as universal background checks and is now being attacked by the gun lobby for his stance.
Manchin will be running a new video ad defending himself against the NRA. The panelists suggested that the bloggers in the room do all they can to help get the ad out there.
Actions We Can Take
- Ask people running for elected office where they stand and let them know you care.
- If you are in a position to donate, give your money to those who are with you and let them know that you will only donate to those who are with you.
- Enthusiasm – fades. So we need to see our reps at town hall meetings and keep asking about the issue
- Talk to your friends, your family. The masses have to be behind us. Contact your reps. They says they only hear from NRA people – make sure they hear from us as well. Have to start at local level, as they often make it to the federal level.