Mar 30, 2023
Shannon is wearing the Jackie Dress.
Shannon Watts is the founder of Moms Demand Action, a grassroots movement of Americans fighting for public safety measures that can protect people from gun violence. In addition to being a mother of five, she is also an active board member of Emerge America and Advance Peace.
How did you get your start being an activist?
I had left a career in corporate America to be home with my five children when they needed me most when the Sandy Hook School shooting happened. As I watched the news that day, I felt heartbroken and horrified — but I was also viscerally angry. How could we as adults let this happen in a place where children and educators should feel safest — at school? The next day, I created a Facebook page calling on other moms to join me in the fight against gun violence. I had a handful of Facebook friends and Twitter followers at the time and had never signed a petition, let alone organized a grassroots campaign. But I knew in my gut moms could get done what so many others hadn’t by standing up to the gun industry and the NRA.
A lot of women felt like me that day, and it was like lightning in a bottle — they flooded into that Facebook group and got to work organizing Moms Demand Action chapters across the country. More than 10 years later, I’m proud to work shoulder to shoulder with tens of thousands of volunteers across the country and more than 10 million supporters to pass life-saving gun safety legislation. Together, we’re holding the gun industry accountable and defeating its deadly agenda one bill at a time.
Who are the women who inspire you?
Congresswoman Lucy McBath is my dear friend and constant source of inspiration. After her son Jordan was shot and killed in 2012, Lucy became a Moms Demand Action volunteer. She met with lawmakers in her home state of Georgia and testified against dangerous bills like Shoot First, which the gun lobby erroneously calls Stand Your Ground. Then Lucy became Moms Demand Action’s national spokesperson, helping to elevate the voices of her fellow survivors and inspire other bereaved parents to become active in this fight. After the Parkland shooting, Lucy decided the next step in her advocacy was to take the leap and run for office herself.
In 2018, she ran for Congress as a gun safety advocate and won, picking up a seat once held by Newt Gingrich. She quickly emerged as a national leader and has sponsored life-saving federal gun safety legislation, including a federal Red Flag law that would empower family and law enforcement to act on warning signs when someone is in crisis. Since Lucy jumped in and ran for office, she’s inspired hundreds of other Moms Demand Action volunteers to run for office up and down the ballot themselves, and continued to serve as a mentor for them as part of our Demand a Seat program which trains our volunteers and survivors of gun violence how to run winning campaigns. She is a truly incredible mother, advocate and lawmaker, and I’m so honored to call her my friend.
How has motherhood changed your perspective on life?
There are 85 million mothers in America, and we are all driven by a desire to keep our kids safe — it transcends politics. If we lose our children, we have nothing left to lose, and that’s why we will always be stronger than the gun industry. The fear of having your guns taken away will never compare to the fear of having your family taken away, which is why we never stop fighting for life-saving gun safety laws. For me, becoming a mother was the most significant factor in my own political evolution, it’s what spurred me to act the day after the Sandy Hook School shooting. A decade later, my five children and my husband are my greatest source of strength and support as I continue in this fight.
How can we get involved in the fight against gun violence?
Find your passion, get off the sidelines and use your voice and your vote to make the world a better place — locally or globally. We’ve proven firsthand that ordinary people can do extraordinary things when they unite with the goal of saving lives. We see so much cynicism and negativity from the other side, and the gun industry wants you to feel like nothing can change. But we know the truth: progress is being made all the time, and there are so many reasons for hope. There is a place for everyone in our movement, and whether you have an hour or 10 hours to give, I promise we’ll make the most out of your time. If you want to join our movement, text READY to 64433 and a Moms Demand Action volunteer will plug you into your local chapter.
How do you stay motivated?
The gun violence survivors and volunteers who do this work day in and day out keep me going. I am honored to work with gun violence survivors who turn their pain into purpose and fight so other families don’t experience their pain. And I’m inspired by all of our volunteers’ unwavering commitment to the unglamorous heavy lifting of grassroots advocacy – whether that’s spending 12 hours at a statehouse testifying against a bad gun bill, working alongside community partners to secure funding for violence intervention programming or wearing out the soles of their shoes canvassing for gun sense candidates.
If you were a color, what color would you be and why?
Our red shirts have become iconic in statehouses and the campaign trail – so I think it has to be red!
Why do you think women are powerful?
Women and mothers wield immense power — throughout history, we’ve been on the front lines of so many crucial fights for justice, from abolishing slavery to claiming the right to vote to the civil rights movement. We’re seen as the protectors of our families and communities, and we’re well versed in uniting people around a shared goal, whether it’s on the school board or in our neighborhoods. We make 80 percent of the spending decisions in our households, so we have the power to demand action from companies, too. And motherhood prepares us for activism: we’re expert multitaskers (if you want something done quickly and correctly, just give it to a busy mom), we’re efficient and effective (moms don’t have time to waste), and we’re passionate about our kids’ safety. That’s why when we come together to make our communities safer, we’re unstoppable.