The reason the Missoula chapter of Moms Demand Action outgrew its normal meeting space this month — the Jeannette Rankin Peace Center, which a volunteer says normally sees 12 to 15 attendees — was tragic. The outcome, however, was a renewed and emotional resolve, with a focus on the plummeting average age of gun violence activists.
Last Thursday, in the wake of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, interest in the local chapter of the gun-law reform organization had increased so much that organizers moved their monthly meeting to a larger space at St. Paul Lutheran Church. By 6 p.m., it was standing room only with about 70 people. New members filled out information cards while volunteers set up a projector.
Montana Moms Demand chapter founder and HD 91 candidate Nancy de Pastino welcomed the crowd, then voiced her disappointment in the Democratic primary candidates running for Montana’s House seat. “Why, in the Democratic congressional forum, did all five of them say they didn’t support background checks?” de Pastino asked. Other Democrats had balked at her push for a stronger position on gun laws, she said, out of concern that it could hurt Democrats in a general election.
“Then the Parkland shooting happened and four out of the five reversed their position,” de Pastino said.
When the meeting turned to audience comment, the focus was on how members could best support new student activists. Educators wanted to know how to handle campus walkouts. Volunteers wanted to know if teenagers could be convinced to teach them how to use Snapchat.
Hellgate High School junior Sylvia Luceno told the crowd she was helping coordinate a busload of Hellgate students traveling to Helena for the March 24 March for Our Lives, part of a national day of action. “I feel so lucky to go to a school like Hellgate,” said Luceno, who had helped publicize a walkout of hundreds of Hellgate students on Feb. 21, a week after the Parkland shooting. Luceno, like many of her classmates, will be old enough to vote in the November election.
University of Montana freshman Maggie Bornstein is organizing a campus walkout for March 14, where Moms Demand and the Sandy Hook Promise Foundation will table. Bornstein said she’d just met with university president Seth Bodnar. “He was super-supportive about mobilizing our people, and it’s really cool to have a president who sees value in that,” she said.
Compared to some activists, Bornstein and Luceno are mature hands. One parent said her children, in the 3rd and 5th grades, were planning to walk out during an action at their elementary school.