Orange is a color associated with safety, and during the first weekend in June, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America want people to wear the color in memory of victims of gun violence and as an expression of determination to work for more effective gun regulations.
This is the third year for the nationwide Wear Orange celebration. Although the event is now associated with well-known nonprofit organizations working to reform gun laws, the idea was inspired by the activism of Chicago high school students.
In January 2013, Hadiya Pendleton, a 15-year-old honor student, was killed when a gang member mistook her for someone else and shot her in the back. Some of her classmates organized Project Orange Tree in response to her death. In the effort to raise awareness about gun violence, the students held everything from town hall meetings and candlelight vigils to fundraisers and poetry slams. They also decided to encourage everyone to wear hunter orange on one day to make their campaign visible to the general public.
The idea spread, and was embraced by organizations including Moms Demand Action, which was founded to address the problem of gun violence following the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. The local Moms Demand Action group is organizing the Iowa City Wear Orange Celebration.
“It’s a three-part event,” explained Holly Sanger, leader of the Iowa City Moms Demand Action group. “The first thing is that on [Saturday] morning we’ll have a table at the Farmers Market.” The table will not only be a center for discussions on gun control — Moms Demand Action will also be offering tips for parents with guns in their homes on how to keep their kids safe.
But not everything will be so serious. “We’ll also have an incredibly fun photo booth,” Sanger said. “There’s a big orange frame with a beautiful backdrop. And we’ll all kinds of oranges things — feathers, hats, eyeglasses, beads — that kids and adults can wear for their photos.”
“We’ll also have a special dog photo booth — because so many people at the Farmers Market have dogs with them — with special orange collars for the dogs to wear in photos.”
At 10:30 a.m., the focus will switch to a gathering at College Green Park.
“Members of the community will discuss why they are wearing orange that day, and why it’s important for us to raise our voices,” Sanger said. There will also be featured speakers, including Councilmember Kingsley Botchway and a member of Students Against School Shooting.
On Sunday, there will be a special church service at Trinity Episcopal Church at 6 p.m.
Sanger expects an energized group of participants at this year’s Wear Orange, because she’s seen “a swell of momentum lately, much of which I believe the students from Parkland ignited.”
“I’ve been the local leader for a little over a year, and normally maybe five or six people would show up,” she said. “Since Parkland, we’ve had 60 people, 50 people and 40 people at our monthly meetings.”
There’s also been a boom in the number of Moms Demand Action groups in the state, according to Sanger. There are currently 16 groups in Iowa. “Before Parkland, I think there were six,” she said.
“We also have a record number of Moms Demand Action members running for office across the United States,” Sanger added. “Here in Iowa, the person who was the state leader, Amber Gustafson, is running [in Iowa Senate District 19], which covers Ankeny.”
“They’re running because we can’t continue to wait for certain legislators to change their minds, so we need to change who’s in office.”
Asked what she hopes people will take away from Wear Orange weekend, Sanger said, “With Wear Orange, we’re saying it’s time for us to use our voices. It’s time to speak out. It’s time to both commemorate those who were lost and for the rest of us to dedicate ourselves to making America safer for more Americans.”
“We want to keep our kids safe at school. We want to keep people safe when they go to a concert or they go to a movie theater or they go to church.”