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A Lesson on Doubling Down with Shannon Watts

Voice Lessons Podcast

Release Date: 05/13/2020

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Shannon Watts was a stay-at-home mom folding laundry when she heard the news of the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. It was at that moment that Shannon decided to get off the sidelines and encourage other women to join her, starting the largest grassroots movement in the country, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Shannon and her army of mothers (and others) have bravely gone up against the gun lobby, proving that when you “fight like a mother” you can do anything you set your mind to. In this “Lesson on Doubling Down”, we talk about the business of building a movement.


  • How and why Shannon started Mom’s Demand Action (MDA).

  • How the organization dealt with the rapid growth of the movement. *As of 2018, Moms Demand Action had 761 local groups and 6 million supporters.

  • Every mom is already a multi-tasking organizer.

  • Movements are like startups.

  • The three things MDA focuses on that they believe will save the most lives.

  • Stand Your Ground is a gun law that is rooted in racism.

  • Gun violence affects everyone.

  • Dealing with criticism.

  • Using your losses to fuel motivation.

  • How to create a revolution in our current system and doubling down instead of backing down.

  • A major moment with Starbucks and Howard Schultz when Shannon trusted her gut.

  • How women lead differently in activism and political efforts.

  • Women lead with their maternal strengths.

  • Women are a political asset but they are scared to jump in.

  • Shannon’s spiritual practice.

  • How women with big visions can take the first step.


(5:01) I think that​ was a​ moment in America when so many people wanted to get involved in 2018 and we tripled in size as an organization​ and k have kept growing ever since. And we're actually larger now than the NRA.

(5:25) We have over 375,000 donors now. And so that has enabled us to outspend the NRA in the last two election cycles.

(7:30) I’ve been really focused myself on Ahmaud Arbery the last few days and the stand your ground laws that have made it possible for private citizens to be vigilantes. And I'm curious if those laws will come into focus for you guys at all. And if you know the statistics on keeping people safe by focusing on repealing those.

Yes. So I mean, we're still learning all the facts, but it sounds like one of the three DA's who the case was passed on to before arrests were made, was somehow claiming that, citizens arrest laws, open carry laws and even stand your ground laws, made these two white men within their rights to pursue and shoot Ahmaud Arbery. And you know, these laws are rooted in racism, especially stand your ground. We know they disproportionately impact people of color and too often they're used by white people to shoot and kill and ask questions later. So we fight these laws everywhere they come up and we work to roll them back where we can.

(9:00) ​The bigger picture​ is that ​too much gun violence in this country impacts people of color, particularly black men and boys. And you really cannot talk about gun violence without talking about the systemic racism that causes it.

(10:45) I think it's incumbent on our organization to involve all white women, Republican and Democrat alike to speak out and to get off the sidelines and to not just care about the school shootings and the mass shootings, which frankly are only about 1% of the gun violence in this country, but to care about the gun suicides and the gun homicides that happen in rural America and in city centers. And that's what we've done. We have been very committed to diversity, equality, and inclusion efforts internally as an organization and externally. And it is incumbent upon us to continue to learn and to listen and to hold up the work that others have done for decades.

(11:06) Black women have been putting their literal bodies on street corners to stop bullets where they live and, and really their work has been invisible for too long. And so it is on our organization to make sure that that’s always a priority.

(11:30) You don't get involved in social activism in this country, not expecting to lose or if you do, you're going to be sorely disappointed. I always say, this is a marathon, not a sprint. And incremental change has become sort of a dirty word. This idea of something being incremental that somehow if it's not an overnight revolution, it's not worth doing. And you know, if you spend any working on activism on the ground, you very quickly realize the system is not set up for an overnight revolution.

(12:09) How do you create a revolution in our system? You do it by showing up for years and years and years, like drips on a rock and you do the heavy lifting, the unglamorous work of activism. And I think women in particular are cut out for that.

(12:34) It's almost always women who are willing to stay the course and they play the long game and we lose a lot, but we win more than we lose. But if we, if we gave up every time we lost, we wouldn't have gotten this far. And so you have to come to see failure as feedback. It's not fatal. It's just a stepping stone and you have to look at how much you won when you failed, and then use that information to point you in the direction of winning.

(16:10) Women worry that if we don't know enough, we can't just jump in. And I don't think men have that same gating factor. Women feel like they have to cross all the T's and dot all the I's and know everything and be perfect and not fail. And men just don't have that same concern about jumping in. I say in my book Fight Like a Mother, if you don't use motherhood as a tool for you, it will be used against you. 

(17:59) This is just about restoring the responsibilities that go along with gun rights. We're not anti second amendment, we're not anti gun. Many of our volunteers are gun owners or their partners are gun owners. This is simply about replacing the responsibilities that the NRA has eroded for decades.

(19:53) You talk about staying put as a seismic act, which I thought was really beautiful and that women go in and they knit and they breastfeed. And we've had this come up in conversations a number of times where women breastfeeding becomes an act of anarchy in some way.

(20:52) And I am just so amazed by how organized women are and how industrious they are and how entrepreneurial and creative and innovative,​ ​the ideas they've come up with​ ​have been just spectacular over the last eight years. And it's, it's why we are where we are.

(23:20) I had to decide, am I going to back down or am I going to double down? And I decided the ladder, I decided that I was not going to be silenced or threatened if I lost my kids. I had nothing left to lose and it really has become like white noise. I simply do not care.

(26:28) If you're passionate about something, you will be good at it and you will find a way to bring your time and your talents. It doesn't have to be starting a national organization. There are many different ways to get involved in different things. But if you do want to start an organization, if it's in your neighborhood, your community, in your state, in the country, you can do it to.