Read, Reach Out...Results

Julee Newberger
July 17, 2000

It didn't take long for Pam Gersh to transform herself from worried mom to spokesperson, organizer, fundraiser and coordinator for a Louisville rally in support of gun control legislation.

Gersh had been looking for a way to take a stand on gun control. She listened to elementary school teachers in her neighborhood talk about their fears of gun violence in school. She worried that her 5-year-old son, Mason, might get his hands on a gun and harm himself or someone else.

Then, she read in the Connect for Kids Weekly e-mail newsletter that hundreds of thousands of moms would be rallying in Washington, D.C. on Mother's Day to speak out in favor of gun control laws. From there, she was just one click away from the Million Mom March web site. She made a donation in her son's name, and told the organizers that she wanted to get involved.

"What happened next was unbelievable," Gersh says.

In the months leading up to the march, Gersh served as spokesperson for the Kentucky chapter of the national event, then as coordinator for a local rally in Louisville. She has spent the months following the event organizing a local group that will soon become an official chapter of the Million Mom March organization.

On July 4th, the group held a parade to raise awareness about gun laws, and they are supporting a national campaign called First Monday 2000, which is organizing college students across the country to promote education and action that will reduce gun violence.

Now, as the gun control debate marches on, Gersh is taking a step back, having recently resigned from her role as coordinator. But she will continue to remain active on gun control issues—and knows she now has the information, skills and experience to be effective.

"At first it was all-consuming," Gersh says, "but it doesn't have to take over your life. There are little things you can do—make phone calls for volunteers, show up at events." The main thing is to take that first step towards action—and that requires finding a place to start. "As private citizens," Gersh says, "we don't know where to go or what to do."

When Gersh first contacted the Million Mom March organization, no one had yet taken the lead in organizing Kentucky citizens. Gersh, a public relations consultant for the National Center for Family Literacy, became the spokesperson for the state campaign.

Rene Thompson, the Kentucky coordinator for Million Mom March, credits Gersh with the fact that Kentucky had at least 700 marchers across the state. "They didn't expect a lot from us," Thompson says, "based on the fact that we are in a gun-oriented and conservative state."

Six hundred people attended Gersh's rally in Louisville. Speakers included Sabrina Steger, mothers of Kacee Steger, one of the children killed during the school shooting in Peducah, Kentucky, and state representative Eleanor Jordan, who supports gun control and is "vastly outnumbered" in the state legislator, according to Gersh.

The event also attracted citizens from outside the state. "I had people from Indiana come up to me and say, 'This is where I told my kids I wanted to be on Mother's Day,'" Gersh says.

The Million Mom March gathered over 800,000 marchers nationwide on behalf of common sense gun control. Today it continues as a grassroots campaign with over 230 chapters across the country."What attracted me was that they weren't talking about banning guns," Gersh says, "but about forcing people to be more responsible in keeping guns off the streets." She liked the focus on safety measures like trigger locks. "He can't take the cap off a bottle of bleach," Gersh says of her son, "but he could pull a trigger and shoot himself. Some safety measures must be put in place."

Many people believe in common sense gun laws—they just have to get involved. "We've got the numbers," Gersh says, "if people will come out and support us."

Julee Newberger is a former assistant managing editor of Connect for Kids.