Four years ago, when the Iowa City chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America tried to persuade people to participate in the national Wear Orange weekend to protest gun violence, they had little success, according to Holly Sanger, the group’s leader. The group asked downtown businesses to put “Wear Orange” signs in their windows — only three did.
But last year, 77 businesses did, and Moms Demand Action held a rally in College Green Park on Wear Orange Weekend that attracted almost 100 people, despite drizzling rain. Since last year’s rally in June, Moms Demand Action has continued to grow, Sanger told Little Village.
“We have so many more people showing up regularly for meetings and volunteering, which allows us to do more,” she said.
Ironically, that success almost led to the group not holding a rally for Wear Orange Weekend this year.
“We weren’t going to do it this year,” Sanger said. “It’s been a long year and we’ve been working really hard. We thought maybe we don’t need to do an event this year. But about a month and a half ago, people started coming up to me and sending us messages on Facebook asking when we were doing our Wear Orange event.”
Wear Orange is now a nationwide series of weekend-long events sponsored by Moms Demand Action groups and taking place each June, but it grew out of a project organized by a band of students in Chicago.
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 started Project Orange Tree in response to her death. It was an effort to raise awareness about gun violence, and the students did everything from holding town hall meetings and candlelight vigils to staging 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.
Moms Demand Action will have a table at the Iowa City Farmers Market on Saturday, as it does every Saturday during the season. But this Saturday, that table will feature a photo booth, where those wearing orange can have their picture taken. This being pet-friendly Iowa City, there will also be a photo booth for dogs.
At 10:30 on Saturday morning, there will be a rally in College Green Park. On Sunday, there will be a special church service at Trinity Episcopal Church at 6 p.m.
“One of our goals for Wear Orange this year is to reach out to communities that have been disproportionately affected by gun violence,” Sanger said. “While we don’t have a terrible problem in Iowa City, we do know that in the South District area there are gun violence survivors.”
Moms Demand Action has been working the South District Neighborhood Association, which covers the Pepperwood, Wetherby, Grant Wood and South Pointe neighborhoods. Members participated in a clean-up of Wetherby Park the association held earlier this year. It is also supporting the association’s community mural project.
The plan is to paint a mural based on input from members of South District community. It will be designed by artist Nick Meister, a South District resident who has recently finished a mural downtown next to the Iowa City Public Library. Meister will create a paint-by-numbers outline for the back wall of Faith Academy, on Cross Park Avenue, and South District adults and children will do the painting.
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The association is still raising money for the project.
“We wanted to help with fundraiser, so we developed a T-shirt with Raygun and sold them to raise money,” Sanger said.
The limited edition T-shirt is, of course, orange. “Wear orange, save lives, strengthen communities, end gun violence,” it says in Raygun’s familiar font.
Wear Orange is Moms Demand Action’s most visible weekend, but its public outreach and education efforts will continue at the Farmers Market after its over.
“After a shooting, we always have more people wanting to talk to us at the farmers market,” Sanger said. “A woman came around the corner last weekend, and when she saw our table, her face just lit up. She came over and said that after the shooting in Virginia Beach, she just felt so helpless.” On May 31, a gunman killed 12 and wounded five in a mass shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Virginia. “But she said, ‘I thought if I go to the farmers market, Moms Demand Action will be there, and they’re going to remind me that we don’t have to be paralyzed, that we can do things.’”
“It almost made me cry,” Sanger said.
Moments like that help keep members of Moms Demand Action in Iowa City motivated, Sanger explained.
“This is a marathon, and we’re in it for the long haul,” she said. “And the fact that people are now beginning to identify us as a place of hope and determination says to me that our message is getting out.”