Lucy McBath (center) at the Women’s March on Washington with fellow Mothers of the Movement Sybrina Fulton (left), Gwen Carr (back left), Maria Hamilton (right), and Wake Forest University professor Melissa Harris Perry (back right)
Photo via Lucy McBath
In this interview:
The Women’s March
Black History Month
I recently spoke with gun control reform advocate, Lucy McBath, following her appearance onstage at the Women’s March on Washington. Since the murder of her 17-year old son, Jordan Davis, over 4 years ago, Lucy has become an outspoken advocate for commonsense gun reform in the United States, fighting on the frontlines--from marching in the streets to testifying before state legislatures.
C: You stood with fellow Mothers of the Movement, Sybrina Fulton, Gwen Carr, and Maria Hamilton at the Women’s March on Washington. How did it feel to be on stage with Janelle Monae demanding people say Jordan’s name?
L: I mean, that was surreal! I felt so humbled that Jordan’s name, his life, and his legacy are being used to catapult a whole new civil rights movement. I remember Jordan once said to my sister, “Auntie Lorie, one day everyone is going to know who I am.” So that memory kept ringing in my ears. He was absolutely right! [It] felt right in that moment, knowing this is what my father used to do. All that legacy was washing over me like a raging river, and I thought, “thank you, Lord! I have received my commandment from God: this is what I was born to do.”
I’ve always believed that the peace movement is not [just] a national movement for us; it’s a cultural movement for the world. From just watching women peace activists around the world, who have sparked these movements towards bringing reconciliation and healing a growing nation, I really believe that is the way we have to move towards. So I’m really excited about what’s happening across the United States.
C: Last month, women’s marches across the globe inspired millions to organize and engage within their respective communities. We’ve also seen that throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, the current president staunchly defended the 2nd amendment and the influence held by the National Rifle Association (NRA) gun lobby. Under this new administration, what do you foresee being the most significant challenges toward progress?
L: Oh, there are many pieces to that question! I think that it’s really time for us to take a critical look at everything that this administration is doing. What we see happening is the systematic dismantling, disruption, and obstruction of democracy as we know it in this country. Everything that’s happened within the past 50-60 years is under assault. I’ve always said that God allows things to happen for a reason. So when Trump became President, I knew immediately in my mind that this was a wakeup call.
More specifically, I’d say women’s rights: a woman’s right to choose for herself what she does with her body medically, in terms of Roe v. Wade. Also, I’ve been an advocate for this one in particular: making sure we keep our communities safe and encourage safer gun laws so we are not jeopardizing our families, our communities, and our futures. I think this has to be more than just a national push for women to stand up for their families and their communities now. Women are going to have to start literally mobilizing on their state and local levels because that is where all the power is, [and] that’s where all the changes are made.
In light of what has happened so rapidly within the first [few] weeks of this administration, I think women are really beginning to see--and even women that voted for Trump--that he does not have the best interest at heart for women’s issues [or] for families, and is basically propagating his platform for the wealthy in the country, which is a very small minority. Under those kinds of ideologies, families, communities, and generations won’t thrive the way they did under President Obama and his administration.
As a woman of deep faith, this is especially a wakeup call to people that consider themselves Christians and people of faith, and [those] who are protectors of civil and human rights. Everybody in their own particular way has to take up the cause. Everybody has a stake in what’s happening in the country now. We all have stake. Before it was just minorities. Now, it’s people of color; it’s Muslims; it’s the LGBTQ community; it’s women. I mean, everyone is affected by what’s going to happen with this administration, so everyone has a stake in this.
C: It’s inspiring to see the kind of momentum and movement building that’s been occurring from all demographics, and from all generations. I’m only 24, and I don’t think that I’ve ever seen this kind of energy and momentum in my lifetime.
L: This is what movement building looks like. This is what I was raised in, and to see it flourish is extremely encouraging because this is how change happens. I love this quote from MLK. He said, “We all come from different countries on different ships to America, but we’re all in the same boat now.” So collectively, we have to stand up and fight for our rights. The Constitution of the United States gives us the freedom and the ability to do that.
So to have an administration and elected leaders that would deny us that? That’s like mutiny on the bounty! We’re all in this together, and there is mutiny on this bounty because we are not going to be denied what our Constitution affords us. Too many people have fought and died in this country. Too many people have come here from all over the globe because of civil unrest and discord, and have come to this country because of what our Constitution affords them: The American Dream. And we’re not going to be denied that!
C: One of the lines from Angela Davis at the Women’s March is that this political moment is “the last dying gasp of white male supremacy,” and she claimed this as one of the reasons why we’re seeing such a push back against progress.
L: That’s what this is; it’s a whitelash. After having President Obama, a man of color, at the helm for 8 years, this is their opportunity to systematically take control again. [I’ve] been watching what’s been happening around the country in housing and urban development in every major city I’ve gone to, and I’ve [seen] slowly but surely all the gentrification taking place. I’m watching it here in Atlanta. They’re slowly but surely taking their cities back. Slowly, but surely pushing the urban community into faulty and disparaging education. We see what’s happening with the police force. We see what’s happening with our right-wing conservative extremist legislators. We see what’s happening on all fronts, and I think it’s their way of trying to get their power back and put us in our place.
Now, I don’t consider or call myself a minority. We are the majority now. People of color--not just Black people--are the majority. The darkening of America is such a threat to the conservative, right-wing white establishment. Even race relations is a part of what I’m working to move into and speak about, and it’s the truth. People want to pretend like it doesn’t affect them. So I intend to convince as many people as I can to the moral truth of what they’re doing or not doing!
C: According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), on average, 93 people are killed with guns per day, there are nearly 12,000 gun homicides per year, and the United States’ gun homicide rate is more than 25 times the average of other high-income countries. And this violence is not neutral. Black men are 14 times more likely than non-hispanic white men to be shot and killed with guns. Black Americans in fact make up more than half of all gun homicides, despite being only 14 percent of the US population.
What kind of policies, then, do we need to see in order to curb these alarming rates of violence caused by guns?
L: First and foremost, the guns everywhere bills that we have in the states like Texas, Florida, and Georgia need to be challenged. They allow guns almost anywhere with open carry. Now, it’s in Kansas as well. Kansas was the first state after Trayvon’s and Jordan’s murders to actually institute Stand Your Ground, which is shameful in itself. It’s important to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous criminals, the severely mentally disturbed, and domestic abusers specifically--that’s a women’s issue right there because of the alarming rate of women who are dying in this country by either former or present partners. [It’s] domestic abuse through gun violence. I mean, in the state of Georgia, if you’re open carrying your gun, the police don’t even have the right or the authority to ask you for your open carry permit!
And this kind of thing is being instituted all over the country. Speaking of defending Stand Your Ground, I was just in Florida. There, again, they’re trying to push a [Stand Your Ground] bill. I go back and testify every time those bills come up. The language they’re trying to institute in the bill automatically deems it justifiable for the shooter, no matter what. What they’re going to do in Florida is [to] make it such that, for the prosecution, it’s twice as hard for them to prove that the shooter was not justified in shooting the victim.
They’re working towards creating two trials now: first before a judge, to deem whether or not that case is considered Stand Your Ground. If it passes, then it goes on to a second trial which is a jury trial, but anything that was admissible during the hearing before the judge is not admissible in the second trial. There are all of these roadblocks they’re beginning to put up. You’ve got reciprocity between states: if one state in particular has stronger gun laws than another state or the neighboring state, the NRA is trying to make it such that it doesn’t matter what the law is in the neighboring state. In the state that you purchase your gun and you have your permit, you can take that right to carry your gun [with you to] any state you go [to]. The NRA’s view of a sane society is having a gun in every household.
C: It seems to be increasingly difficult to have fact-based conversations with officials and an administration that are refusing to acknowledge facts, and instead are operating on ideology.
L: That’s precisely what they’re doing.The NRA gun lobby spews all these unreasonable and unsound facts, while all the gun violence prevention organizations are also doing research. We’re all getting the same information. For the NRA to keep the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) from gathering information about gun violence and the impact that it has on citizens across the country is just unethical. Completely unethical! Education is key to [giving] people information that they need to make wise and sound decisions about the legislators that are passing this type of legislation...because the truth empowers.
We know what the truth is, so a lot of the work that we’re having to do is to discount the myths and the fear-mongering of the NRA gun lobby and this administration. In some ways, it thwarts our progress because instead of being on the offense, now we’re playing defense. We’re...working to protect everything we’ve been trying to institute, and everything that we’ve been able to accomplish. I know that in my organization, Everytown for Gun Safety, we have spent a lot of time and effort now really finding good talent that helps push the agenda of gun violence prevention.
C: What is your plan of action over these next four years to continue advocating for commonsense gun control legislation?
L: The [Women’s] March really has given me a whole new perspective on moving forward. I really think this is the time we recognize that marching is not enough. We need to mobilize people, but now we also have to really encourage and push people to act in whatever ways they can, especially within their own community for at least the next four years, but most immediately the next two years because of course, all the local elections will be happening.
I honestly believe this is the year of the woman. I really believe that. Although we’re not literally at the helm, figuratively, women will be the ones to get it done. We have to expand, to consider the different demographics we need to engage in the movement, and really begin to put women in position to run for office.
We also have to oust some senators and congressmen who are absolutely under the extremist agenda of this administration. There’s a lot of policy work in Washington, lobbying, and placing pressure at the state levels that needs to be done, too. We’ve started to devise a whole campaign for educators around the country, and a big campaign for women afflicted by domestic violence. But really our work is just concentrating on these states [attempting to pass Stand Your Ground laws], because federal law doesn’t mirror the states; it’s at the state level where all this is happening.
C: Are there any particular figures or lessons throughout Black history that during this present moment you’ve been looking to as sources of inspiration?
L: Most definitely Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., but also Whitney Young. I’ve patterned a lot of work after him. He was a brilliant strategist [who] worked in the Johnson administration from the inside. I think beyond mobilizing, beyond marching in the street, beyond the rallies, we’ve got to do a lot of strategizing on the inside. We need to be moving more people towards pushing common sense gun legislation and civic leadership so that we can really start mobilizing this agenda, but it has to be done strategically. The only way we can do that is from the inside...and from the outside, but there’s a lot more power if we can get people in office rather than on the stage.
You always have to remain vigilant and watch what happens with history because if you don’t, it repeats itself. Look at the very situation where we’re at right now: we’ve become so complacent. We thought we achieved progress when we elected a Black president. Everyone thought, “we’re good now.” No, we are not good. President Obama’s time in office only brought to fruition what was lying underneath the whole time.
We have the tendency to want better for our children, to want to provide better for our children, and to protect them from the hurt and pain from previous generations, but it’s also done a disservice. Now the younger generation doesn’t know who they are or where they came from. And Black history has been erased from the history books. If you’re not getting it there, where are you getting it? So now we need your generation to rise up and to teach their children our history. During the Civil Rights movement of the 50s and 60s, who was it doing the work? College students sitting at lunch counters, etc. It’s your generation that we need to stand up.
C: You, along with the other Mothers of the Movement, have all been extremely active since the untimely deaths of your children. Currently, you are a National Spokesperson for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Faith and Community Outreach Organizer of Everytown for Gun Safety, Founder of Champion in the Making Legacy Foundation, and a Peace is Loud speaker.
At a time during our country’s history when many people are feeling overwhelmed about what the future may hold, what words can you offer to Peace is Loud readers? What is it that motivates you to pursue such an inspiring level of engagement?
L: Hope. For me, hope means helping other people experience democracy, freedom, their civil rights, and the freedom to exist. I consider myself a hope dealer, and I never want to lose sight of that. Everybody deserves to be dealt a sense of hope because in spite of what it looks like around us, hope is what drives us to believe a better day is coming.
What we have to be in fear of as a nation is the fear of inaction. We need to be afraid of being apathetic and letting it happen. To see what’s actually happening, but to do nothing about it--that alone should fuel everyone to act! That alone should force everyone to say, “Okay, I see what’s going on. What part do I play?” And have fear of doing nothing. If you do nothing, then you’re part of the problem.
I was watching the democrats on the floor filibustering, and republicans were talking about how deplorable it was for Senator Warren to read Coretta Scott King’s words. Afterwards, they had prayer. What was said in the prayer was that we would not demean one another and the legislators would work in harmony and peace. Right after that, one of the republicans got up and just ripped into her. I had to post about it. I said, “This is deplorable! You will reap what you sow, because even in light of prayer on the floor you still did not hear, and you still didn’t heed! You stood right there as if you were praying in solidarity. You’re sewing so much discord, anger, hate, and fear that does not honor God.”
At the end of the day, we stand before God. We will to talk to God as to why we didn’t take part in helping our fellow man. Aren’t we all supposed to be our brother’s keeper? If you’re truly living as a Christian--ethically as a Christian--then how could you stand by and do nothing?
C: What have you been seeing in faith-based communities around the country?
L: Well, they’re just now starting to mobilize. They’re just now starting to speak up. Just now! I think they’ve been afraid that the separation of church and state would limit them. I’ve heard even some pastors say that what’s been happening with gun violence has been so political. My response is, “What’s political is that your people are dying in your streets, and you sit in your pulpits and you do nothing about it! The church is out in the streets. The church is out in the community. You, as a shepherd, are supposed to protect your flock, but you’re also responsible for the flock in your community, not just those within the confines of the walls in your church. It’s men that are supposed to be the shepherds and the pastors, and men of God have a moral responsibility to speak up and speak out about the moral atrocities that you are witnessing. For you not to is an abomination to God.”
C: Have you seen women within the church starting to speak out and take a more active role in organizing?
L: Yes, definitely. Women are taking the helm because I think we are the barometers emotionally and ethically [of] what happens in our homes and our communities. We’ve depended on those that are in power, primarily men, to lead us correctly in the right way and to protect our families and our communities. Now we’re beginning to recognize that that’s just not happening. If anything is to be done to reinstate democracy and inclusion for all...the Constitution says “We the people.” Well, we the people are going to take back our power. [And] we the people is basically being headed by women.
C: As a woman of deep faith, what are the Biblical passages that give you the inspiration to keep doing the work that you do?
L: Hebrews 11:1, ”Faith is the the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
I’ve been watching and paying very close attention to everything around me that I see happening, but I’m already looking beyond that. I’m not living just for today; I’m living for what has to be done and accomplished for the future. My faith is in that: the things that are unseen that are already being established in the spiritual realm, which manifest in the physical world. I have faith that [they] will be accomplished because that’s God’s will.