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“Their biggest challenge is going to be keeping this going,” says former Montana State Rep. Franke Wilmer while sitting on the steps of the Colorado State Capitol on Monday, June 3. It was the first day of what became a three-day sit-in for gun control supported by Here 4 the Kids, which bills itself as “a movement of unexplored and unprecedented action led by Black, Brown, [and] Indigenous women with a team of white women working behind the scenes to end gun violence in the United States.” A few thousand people, predominantly white women, settled on the lawn, the steps, and the parking lot of the Capitol building. They brought homemade signs, folding chairs, snacks, and enough supplies to last a 12-hour day.
Most of the women, like organizer Wolf Terry of Lakewood, Colorado, were at the event from before 5 a.m. until well after 5 p.m. “It’s been an immense morning,” she says. “There was a lot of anticipation leading up to this moment. This is why we’re here. This is what we’re here for. We’re here for the kids. We are here to ban guns and this movement is starting to grow.”
And grow it did. By midday, the crowd had swelled across the street and into Lincoln Veterans Memorial Park. A week before the sit-in, organizers had sent their demands to Gov. Jared Polis, imploring him to ban guns in the state and implement a buyback program. They wanted him to issue an executive order declaring gun violence a public health emergency that warrants such actions.
However, by the end of day 1, Gov. Polis had not complied. Unbeknownst to Terry and others outside the Capitol that day, Polis’s public relations team had sent a long memo to the press stating all the reasons why he would not comply with Here 4 the Kids’ demands. In it, Polis said, “Unfortunately, the asks being made by the organizers are simply not in the governor’s executive powers and would violate both the state and federal constitutions.” The memo went on to say that Polis agreed to meet with the organization’s legal team to discuss alternatives, but the group declined.
The women behind the Here 4 the Kids movement want all the guns gone—no compromises.
Saira Rao, cofounder of Here 4 the Kids, also helps lead a project called Race2Dinner, which launched a series of dinners in 2019 where Rao and co-organizer Regina Jackson facilitated conversations forcing white women to confront their relationship to white supremacy. Those dinners became the basis of the documentary film Deconstructing Karen. Those conversations also inform the racial dynamic at play in Here 4 the Kids’s strategy: women of color guiding white women to use their racial privilege to win social justice.
Rao, a former resident of Denver, once had children in Denver-area schools. She shares that her children would have attended East High School, the site of a mass shooting on March 22, 2023. However, it was the March 27, 2023, mass shooting in Nashville, Tennessee, that motivated her to start researching solutions. That solution became Here 4 the Kids.
Rao noticed that the Nashville shooting took place in a predominantly white school and involved white kids. In spite of this, it dominated the news for only six hours.
“I’m scrolling through my phone looking for news on that shooting. And I’m sort of like, stopped in my tracks, because I’m like, it’s gone. It’s gone,” Rao says. “And so I’m sitting here on March 27, thinking, holy moly, white babies dying don’t matter anymore, not even for six hours. So, if white babies’ lives don’t matter, what does that mean for everybody else?”
Rao says she spent the rest of the evening listening to President Joe Biden “say the quiet part out loud,” in a speech where he admitted that he had done all he intended to do, and the rest was up to Congress. She summarizes, “As Americans… we are told on the evening of March 27, that we have a full federal institutional catastrophic failure [to address] the number one killer of our children.”
“I have read a ton of Supreme Court cases,” says Rao, who has a law degree from New York University Law School, and clerked on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals in Philadelphia. Rao came up with the idea of an executive order on gun control after extensive brainstorming and workshopping the idea with fellow activists, a few legal scholars, and other friends.
More specifically, the idea of activating white women came from her work with Race2Dinner. “I’ve always known that white women hold the power,” says Rao, calling them “the most powerful demographic in this country.” She says, “There’s a reason advertisers chase white women between the ages of 25 and 55. … Statistically, white women are the most privileged in that they’re the least likely to be harmed by police ever.” So, she concludes, “white women have the most power and privilege.” Rao believes that since white kids are dying, it was time that white women stepped in to help the fight against guns.
Rao collaborated with a Black activist named Tina Strawn to launch Here 4 the Kids. Strawn, who provided the plan for the sit-in, spends her days steeped in civil rights history in Alabama—giving tours of the area around Selma and Montgomery.
“I think that there is a disconnect in America,” Strawn says, “where we do not fully balance that we have not fully overcome… That we’re still overcoming… That we’re still in the fight” against white supremacy.
“It makes sense that we examine our current situation, our current challenges, the current injustice,” when seeking inspiration from Selma’s history for action on gun control in Colorado. “It makes sense that we look back to the blueprint that our ancestors gave us back then, to the blueprint that other Black civil rights leaders gave us. Doesn’t it make sense that we looked at them to see how they affected change?”
Strawn recalls trips that she took to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, also known as the Lynching Memorial in Alabama. The memorial shares stories of many Black people whose lives ended because of the lies told by white women. That detail stuck with Strawn. Here 4 the Kids provided an opportunity to not only confront the injustice of such racial dynamics but to also begin to correct it. Through the organization, the words of white women would be used to save Black lives.
Strawn refers to a quote by Malcolm X: “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman.” As a queer Black woman, she says that she experiences an additional level of hatred. “We are always the ones showing up on the frontlines of protests, leading,” she asserts. “So what would happen if the white women that rely on us and who, for years, caused our communities to be destroyed, just because they said‘some a Black man slipped me a letter or note,’ or ‘a Black man spoke to me,’ or ‘a Black man walked in front of me and behind me,’ to destroy in an entire Black town” were the ones in the frontlines of the protests? Strawn sees white women confronting their role in white supremacy as long-overdue justice.
Further, she views their role in using their privilege to effect change as a form of reparations. “Let’s have these white women show up and make this demand. Because make no mistake, Black and Brown kids are the ones that are being killed at greater rates than the white kids. But we do know the white kids are [also] dying.”
Strawn and Rao agree that it’s time for a shift in the way white women participate—and that it’s time for them to show up.
And led by organizers like Terry, they do show up in full force.
However, by day two of the protest, Gov. Polis had still not signed onto the order presented by Here 4 the Kids. But Rao and Strawn had prepared the group well, and the white women protesters were ready to respond.
Terry describes a “tone shift” on the second day, saying, “this morning, we sat on the steps of the Capitol for about an hour, close to an hour and a half. And women shared stories of the people that they have lost, their relationship to gun violence in the United States of America.” She is most moved by the moment that Strawn and Rao came out to read the names of all the victims who lost their lives to gun violence within the past two months of their movement. She calls it, “powerful,” “solidifying.”
Afterward, Rao and Strawn conversed with the women. Terry describes the interaction: “We spoke and had hugs [with] our founders, and just held community. Then one of the white women here said this would be a great time for us to open up an ‘honesty circle,’ so we can have honest conversations about white women and white supremacy culture and how we uphold it, how it moves through us, how it shows up and comes out of us.”
Just like that, the movement to ban guns became a moment for white women to reflect on white supremacy on the Colorado Capitol lawn. Although banning guns is still the organization’s primary goal, Here 4 the Kids is also looking to do the deeper work of racial justice started by Rao and Strawn, and by civil rights workers more than 50 years ago. The conversations that played out at the sit-in revealed that white supremacy empowers gun violence—and so to abolish latter, the former must be addressed as well.
On day 3, the protest disbanded, but the tone was once more communal and empowering. It was as if these women heard my conversation with Wilmer. They were shifting and changing into something that would “keep this going.” It became clear that victory lies in the conversations that began in the training leading up to the sit-in, and in the truth circles and conversations on the Capitol steps. It lies in saying the quiet parts about connecting white supremacy and gun violence out loud, and in white women holding each other accountable for their role in upholding such institutions. These conversations are still happening on social media. Here 4 the Kids is also making a documentary, filmed across the three-day sit-in. For Terry, this is not the end, it’s a beginning.
“Today I am settled in this somber reality that this is the beginning of a very, very beautiful revolution,” she says. “We planted the seeds and now we’re watching them sprout. And by next year, we‘ll be picking the fruits.”
One day after the sit-in ended, California Gov. Gavin Newsom began a media blitz calling for a 28th Amendment to the Constitution, which would repeal the right to bear arms. Terry and the Here 4 the kids community may be harvesting the fruit of their labors sooner than expected.
Jonita Davis is an Indiana writer who works regularly on social and cultural topics. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Fix, People’s World and more. You can read her work at www.jonitadavis.com.