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Million Mom March Revisits Washington on Mother's Day - 2004-05-08

As Mother's Day nears, newspapers, magazines and TV shows are crowded with ads, encouraging sons, daughters and spouses to buy gifts for mom. But for hundreds of thousands of mothers, what they want most can't be purchased and gift-wrapped. These women are preparing to visit the nation's capital on Mother's Day to demand that Congress give their kids a safer world.

Never underestimate the power of mothers! That's what Donna Dees-Thomases says whenever she recalls the events that turned her into an anti-gun violence advocate.

"Well, it was in 1999. At that time I was working as a publicist for the Late Show with David Letterman. I was a publicist for comedy gags, never thought I'd take something like this on. Then, there was a shooting in California. The kids who were shot were the same age as my two children. I thought, 'a mom's got to do what a mom's got to do.' I called my best five women friends and asked them to help me organize a march. No one said I was crazy. They said 'What can we do to help?' and they did," she explains.

After nine months of mobilizing and energizing, about 750,000 anti-violence demonstrators - mothers, and their families and friends - were walking together down the national mall in Washington D.C. Ms. Dees-Thomases likens the first so-called "Million-Mom March" to giving birth for the first time.

"We were excited, we were enthusiastic. We cried. We were nervous," she says. "We were in a constant state of panic. We didn't know what we were doing. We gave a birth to really the largest march ever in Washington."

In 2001, the Million Mom March organization merged with the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. Both groups are working to raise awareness about the upcoming Mother Day's march. Brady Campaign spokesman Rob Wilcox says this time, the march has a specific goal: mobilizing public support to renew the ban on the sale of assault weapons, which is set to expire this September.

"President Clinton signed the assault weapons ban into law in 1994 as part of a larger overall crime package. There was a tenure set provision and we've seen the law being very effective, we've seen the number of the assault weapons traced to crime decreased by 66% since the law was enacted and every major law enforcing organization is back on board asking for renewal. So we just urge President Bush to act on his 2000 campaign promise to renew this law," he explains.

The gun industry and gun advocacy groups, like the National Rifle Association, oppose any extension or expansion of the Clinton semiautomatic gun ban. But Donna Dees-Thomases is confident the second Mother's Day March will be able to counter the arguments of the powerful gun lobby.

"It's going to be at the U.S. Capitol this time. We have a smaller space, but we know we can get people there," she says. "Quite ironically, guns are not allowed at the U.S Capitol, where lawmakers work. So we have the right to demand the same kind of protection our lawmakers have."

She considers the Mother's Day March, the mothers' gift to America's younger generation.

"We owe it to their future that we don't live in a society where everybody is armed to the teeth with AK-47s and Uzis. This is not how we want to live in America," she says.

Whether it's about controlling guns, improving school lunches or cleaning up a park, Donna Dees-Thomases says mothers can always bring about the desired change. In her book, Looking for a Few Good Moms: How one Mother Rallied a Million Others against the Gun Lobby, she explains the power of women working together.

"They don't mind if they're not in charge, women don't have to be the boss. They just want to get the job done. Women would just pick the phone and call their five best friends to ask for help. That's how this march was put together. So, five women can really change the world in this country."

While thousands of mothers get ready to hit the road, Ms. Dees-Thomases urges those who can't join the march to go online and sign a petition demanding the ban on assault weapons be extended. After Mother's Day, the Million Mom March will continue its efforts raise awareness about the legislation with a four-month campaign across the country.