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Marching moms

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What can a million moms do about gun violence in America? Not much, maybe, given that violence is as American as apple pie (to quote H. Rap Brown) and guns the ol' equalizer. Or maybe, they can give us the recipe for peace that remakes the American culture. First things first. We need the million moms.

That's where Rachel Smith came in, after the shootings last year at Columbine High School and the Granada Hills preschool in California. A Raleigh mom who's also a college teacher and writer, Smith went to Washington armed with 200 letters written by her children and their friends, and addressed to our state's congressional delegation. The subject: the need for gun-control legislation. Smith found she wasn't alone. All over the country, moms were doing much the same thing--calling, writing and finding one another on the Internet with the idea of a march on Washington. One, Donna Dees-Thomases, a New Yorker, had jumped ahead and gotten a permit to rally at the Capitol on Mother's Day 2000.

Smith met Dees-Thomases in Washington, and Smith became the North Carolina coordinator for the Million Mom March on May 14. Her job: Contact PTAs, churches, and as many professional and civic groups as she can and help them charter buses for their member-moms, dads, kids and other humans. The buses will leave from common gathering places in Raleigh, Durham and Chapel Hill early in the morning on Mother's Day and will return the same night. States within 10 hours of Washington are headed there, Smith says. Those farther away will have rallies in their own state capitols.

"What we're asking for is meaningful gun policies," Smith says. "Understanding that no one knows exactly what will work [to curb gun violence], it's clear that our policies now are not working, and reforms like national gun licensing and registration, trigger locks and background checks are a reasonable place to start."

That's the short-term goal, one that only looks ambitious when viewed through the fun-house lens of the National Rifle Association's weirdness. Long-term, the mission is to "educate our children and the country about the life-threatening danger of guns," as Dees-Thomases put in on the MMM Web site (www.millionmommarch.com), in much the same way that moms have changed drunk-driving from cool to criminally stupid.

Is the Mom march catching on? "Oh, my goodness, I think it really is," Smith says. She's fighting a cold, her voice is straining to keep up with the optimism she feels, but Smith is sure that something is happening out there, and it's going to be amazing. "The thing that's been just astounding to me is that people who have never done anything like this are telling me they're ready to go," she says. "I've had people in their 70s telling me, and people in their 20s with little children, and a lot of men are involved, men who don't have children and men who do," she says. "You know, the focus of attention has been on children getting killed, but gun violence is unfortunately a part of all of our lives."

Organizers of the Million Mom March will hold a kickoff rally at the State Capitol on Thursday, March 23, at noon. Call 821-4935 for more information.

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