Despite weather forecasts calling for thunderstorms and the occasional drizzle of rain, an enthusiastic crowd gathered at College Green Park on Saturday morning for the Iowa City Wear Orange Celebration organized by Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. By the end of the event, when the organizers led a one-block march from the park to the Iowa City Farmers Market, the crowd had grown to nearly 100 people.
The gathering at College Green Park was one of almost 500 Wear Orange events around the country on Saturday. Holly Sanger, leader of the Iowa City Moms Demand Action group, shared three numbers with the crowd to demonstrate Iowa City’s growing interest in taking action to address gun violence.
“Three years ago, we went around to downtown businesses and asked them to put up signs for Wear Orange. About three places did it,” Sanger said. “Last year, we went around and about five places did it. This year, with the help of the Iowa City Downtown District, 77 businesses put up Wear Orange signs.”
Other figures Sanger shared outlined the size of the gun violence problem in the U.S. “Ninety-six people are shot and killed on an average day in America,” she said. “And for every person that is killed, two more are injured.”
The first Wear Orange event was organized by high schools students in Chicago in response to the killing of Hadiya Pendleton. Pendleton, a 15-year-old honor student, died after a gang member mistook her for someone else and shot her in the back. Her friends and fellow students organized a Project Orange Tree to raise awareness about gun violence and press for political action to address it, and Wear Orange was one of many events they held.
The idea spread and was embraced by organizations advocating for better regulation of guns 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.
Wear Orange started with high school students, and Sanger credited the activism of students since the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, in February with energizing the movement for gun control this year.
In Iowa City, the Parkland mass shooting, which killed 17 and could have killed many more, because the shooter pulled the fire alarm in an attempt to lure students out of classrooms, inspired students to create Students Against School Shooting Iowa (SASS).
Esti Brady, an Iowa City High School student and member of SASS, was one of the featured speakers on Saturday.
“Now just going to school every day is a reasonable cause for fear and anxiety,” Brady said. “A few weeks ago, City High had a regular fire drill, but because of what we knew about Parkland, I exchanged a glance with some of my closest friends in my class as a way of saying our potentially necessary goodbyes.”
But rather than giving into that fear and anxiety, Brady and her fellow SASS members continue to organize. She cited Moms Demand Action and Black Lives Matter as organizations SASS look to for inspiration.
Brady struck a note other speakers did as well, asking the crowd to keep active and not to allow the size of the challenge gun reform advocates face let them become discouraged.
“Don’t become numb,” she said.
Overcoming any sense of weariness or discouragement was part of the reason for the Wear Orange event, Sanger explained after Brady finished.
“It’s kind of a funny event, because we are commemorating those who are lost [to gun violence], and there’s a lot of sorry and grief in that,” Sanger said. “At the same time we are also celebrating the dedication, the drive, the commitment to making America a safer place for all.”
Speaking to Little Village after the march to the farmers market concluded, Sanger said the next public events for Moms Demand Action will take place at the Iowa City Pride Festival (June 16) and the Iowa City Juneteenth Commemoration (June 23). Moms Demand Action will have tables distributing information at both events.
“We’re doing outreach this summer,” Sanger said. “In July, we’ll be tabling at county fairs, pairing up with DVIP [the Domestic Violence Intervention Program] to really try to get our message out. The message here [in Iowa City] is pretty well received, but we want to start to reach out to other communities to build bridges.”