If you think of grandmothers as adorable pushovers, prepare to have your stereotypes smashed.
The founders of Grandmothers Against Violence are spreading the word that they are sick and tired of mass shootings and of the easy availability of assault weapons – and they are doing something about it.
“When you think of grandmothers, people don’t expect these tenacious, strong women,” said Jorene Taylor Swift. “They think of these doting old ladies.”
Maybe sometimes, but not when their grandchildren and other people’s kids are increasingly fearful and at-risk of being gunned down in their classrooms, said Swift, co-pastor of Bread Fellowship in Fort Worth, Texas, and a founding member of Grandmothers Against Violence.
The organization was birthed in the social and emotional agony that followed the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida, in February.
Watching yet another horrific scene of terrified children running for their lives drove Fort Worth resident and Broadway Baptist Church member Jean Andrus to the edge.
After a night of grieving, Andrus contacted two of her best friends and fellow grandmothers, Swift and Claudine Marion.
“I said there is a time to grieve and a time to take action,” Andrus said.
The initial action was to form Grandmothers Against Violence, a nonprofit with two basic aims: To offer moral and people-power support to high school students active in the anti-gun violence movement, and to seek a ban on assault weapons.
One of the group’s first actions was to support students at a local school who helped lead the March for Our Lives in March 2018.
The three women and their network of friends and family joined in the march. Their poster, “We have your backs,” was picked up by CNN.
“One of the things that excited us and gave me courage to move on were these young (high school) women,” said Marion, also a Broadway Baptist member. “They said ‘our grandmothers have our backs,’ and we knew we needed to carry on.”
Carrying on is just what they have done. They consulted an attorney to officially establish the nonprofit and are working to help the students schedule meetings with a member of Congress and with the National Rifle Association.
They’ve held card-writing parties to send mass mailings to politicians and in October formed a board of directors, which they call their Circle of Courage.
The board is made up of grandparents and those who aren’t grandparents or even parents, each bringing an area of expertise in making the organization’s presence and activities felt.
Swift, Andrus, Marion and other members are addressing church and civic groups about their aims and, Swift said, mostly getting a positive response. They are also active through social media.
“The more people that you can say that you have in favor of this, that speaks to elected officials,” Swift said.
The three friends have not been alone in that assessment in recent years.
The rise in the number of mass shootings, in schools and other places, has inspired the formation of organizations across the nation opposed to gun violence and lax gun laws.
Guidestar identifies close to 180 such organizations, including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Americans Against Gun Violence, Women Against Gun Violence and the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation.
Another two – Grandmothers Against Gun Violence and Grandparents Against Gun Violence – bear witness to the multi-generational scope of the concern around the issue nationwide.
Teachers also are highly concerned, which is why Lee Ann White agreed to serve on the board of the Fort Worth-based Grandmothers Against Violence.
“I think they wanted input from a teacher,” said White, who does not have grandchildren.
Her motive for joining was the chance to make a difference on such a difficult, tragic issue.
“I am hopeful there are things we can do mostly with information and educating people to be more aware of the facts about the accessibility of guns and why this has become such a big problem,” she said.
Grandmothers Against Violence is all about that, Swift said. Its aim is to work legislatively and to bring together individuals and groups concerned about gun violence and assault weapons.
And it’s trying to do so in a non-partisan way, Swift added. The groups membership includes Democrats and Republicans. Hunters and other gun owners are being courted, as well, to demonstrate the group doesn’t seek to threaten Second Amendment rights.
“We are trying to have a conversation rather than a fight,” she said.
One of the most important motivations, however, was not wanting to look young people in the eye and admit adults did nothing in response to school shootings.
“We didn’t want our children or grandchildren to say, ‘what did you do about this?’” Swift said.