It has been a big year for Tamika Mallory.
A lifelong social justice activist, she also happens to be one of the four women who created the Facebook event which would eventually become the epic Women’s March and later evolve into a movement in and of itself. In June, Mallory took the stage at the BET Awards to receive the Shine a Light Award for her fearlessness, and presenter Solange Knowles praised her for all the work that she’s done in drawing attention to essential causes and for raising the voices of women of color around the world.
But Mallory is just getting started. Her next project, #NRA2DOJ, will take her to Washington on July 14 to protest the NRA. The effort is a direct response to a viral — and frankly, despicable — marketing campaign from the gun rights advocacy group, but gun control has been an issue close to Mallory’s heart for a long time. She’s been active in changing the policy and discussion around guns since the death of her son’s father by shooting in 2001, and this new project seeks to bring even more national attention to an issue which has reached a crisis point.
Mallory took some time out of her busy schedule on July 7 to speak with POPSUGAR about the new initiative, her history with activism, and why it is that gun control should be front and center for all feminists.
POPSUGAR: Let’s talk about #NRA2DOJ and the origins of that, what you see coming after the actual march and how it connects back to Women’s March generally.
Tamika Mallory: I think the Women’s March has taken the position that we are going to — along with partners and many voices — ensure that in this time people feel that they have a place to go to get organized, to really push back against so many things that are concerning everyone. And we want to sort of be a hub, a space particularly for new activists, people who have not been engaged in the movement in the past and are looking for avenues, sort of ways to get involved. And then we saw the ad.
We believe that we have a moral responsibility to speak out against any threat to people of color and protesters, people who are exercising their First Amendment right to protest. The NRA will be the first to say to cite the Second Amendment as a right of every citizen, but the First Amendment is also a right. They are touting themselves on their website as being one of the oldest civil rights organizations — in the spirit of what it means to be a civil rights organization, we ask the question “What are you doing to protect and defend black and brown lives?”
With women of color really helping to lead and hear the efforts of Women’s March, what better group of people to really sound the alarm? We do not believe — and I think that this is really, really, really important — we are in no way claiming to be the group that has the answers or to be the most prominent organization. We are saying that we will add our voices and our resources to organizations that have existed before us, organizations that have come after us. Because we want to work in communities; we want to be unified with the movement in general and what this resistance looks like from a unified standpoint.
There are many gun violence organizations that work to end gun violence and to address the issues of gun violence in urban communities in pockets across this country, and we want to support them. We want this fight that we have taken on with the NRA to be in support of those organizations. I say that because the NRA is directly in the way of getting things like a responsible and sensible gun legislation passed in this country. They have been blocking that.
And therefore the blood of children in Chicago is on their hands, because those guns — that are not being made or manufactured in the Chicago area — are getting into the hands of young people. Because people are purchasing guns without having any necessary background checks in different states, traveling over state lines. And those guns are making it into the hands of people who are living in situations that many of us cannot even understand. This is not just about the advertisements. It is about the fact that the ad represents the war against people of color that exists in this country, and they basically have given license to people to continue to kill us and for us to continue to have the use of weapons to kill ourselves.
PS: What would you say to the young women who read POPSUGAR to help them understand how important this issue is?
TM: Well, I think what a young woman needs to understand is that our lives are in danger — everything from domestic violence to violence that may be happening in your community. When people have access to guns and they are receiving messaging from the organization that represents them as a gun owner telling them that [people] do not have the right to protest, they don’t have the right to speak against any particular views that they don’t necessarily agree with, your life will be in danger.
The NRA’s rhetoric allows for more incidents to happen. And we cannot sit by and watch that happen. I think that young women need to know that gun violence is not, in any way, isolated to men. It can happen to you — and it has. We’ve seen domestic violence incidents over the years where people who are mentally troubled are allowed access to guns and have taken the lives of young women and children, families. This is an issue that concerns us all.
PS: I know your parents were founding members of National Action Network and that you started there at an early age. I’d love to hear a little bit about what that was like.
TM: Being a part of National Action Network when I was a small kid wasn’t necessarily something that I considered to be cool at the time. That’s the honest truth. You know, I was a young kid and going to protests and having to read all of the books and sort of being around the movement wasn’t necessarily bowling and hanging out. (laughter) I’m just laughing because I’m thinking about my mom. If she was on the phone she would say say, “Yeah, you hated it,” but you know, I was a young kid who really wanted to just do things that I was thought was sort of like a normal kid’s life, and for me growing up in the movement, we were always engaged in some type of community activity. So I was never a kid who didn’t have an understanding of how important it was to be a part of uplifting other people and working within my community.
PS: So what led you to join and ultimately work your way up there?
TM: As I got older and other young people were in the same situation that I was in, they had no choice but to be at rallies and to be involved and, you know, there were types of us activists — we found a way to make our work fun. We started to find ways to bring sort of youthfulness to the activism world, and we grew together as a family. But it was still me following in my parents’ footsteps, being a part of the movement because they wanted me to be there. And it wasn’t until my son’s father was killed — when my son was 2 years old and his father was shot and killed — that the movement sort of became my own. I began to own what it meant to be an activist and to be involved in the movement.
PS: Correct me if I’m wrong on this — you left there to work for Joe Biden and Bill de Blasio?
TM: I think it was immediately following the Newtown shooting. The vice president started a task force to look at the nationwide crisis of gun violence, and I served on the task force as a representative for the National Action Network in my role as executive director. Our position at the time, or the perspective that I was bringing at the time, is that gun violence isn’t just mass shootings — it is also shootings that are happening every day in communities, particularly in places like Chicago and Brooklyn and other urban markets across the country. So we wanted to bring that perspective to the task force and we did. It wasn’t something that we did for long, you know, it was a few meetings that took place to try and talk about all the different factors of the issue and how to address gun violence. Let me put it this way: they were a few meetings to discuss how we have to approach the issue of gun violence from many different perspectives, and that is definitely the part I was involved in.
As it relates to Mayor de Blasio, I served on his transition team, specifically around criminal justice, looking at his appointees for criminal-justice-related departments in the city and also for different law enforcement agencies, the fire department — all of that was covered underneath the committee that I worked on. I have supported Mayor de Blasio — when he was running for office, I was a big supporter for him, raised money for him from young professionals, and had been a doorknocker for him.
PS: I have to ask, on a different topic: is there anything you’d like to say about Linda Sarsour’s comments that the protests against Donald Trump should be a sort of jihad against the president?
TM: The only thing I have to say is that if anyone listens to the full speech and reads everything that she said, they would know that there was nothing in her speech that she said that calls for violence or harm, physical harm, to be done to anyone. And that’s just the truth.
I think that some people want to say that her words are being taken out of context. I wouldn’t say that her words are being taken out of context. I would say that she is purposely being demonized. It was happening before the Women’s March, but it really started after the Women’s March, that people have been trying to use her words against her. I hope that folks understand that just like the NRA, when the response is to create a new video and to put my face in a new video, these people are trying to expose us, and we could get hurt.
Now, we have decided that we are prepared to lay our lives down for what we believe in. We have decided that. At the same time, the question has to be “Is it worth it to other people, that one of us may be harmed because you are so tied to the idea that the rest of us don’t have the right to disagree with you?” Our families also become targets when people expose us in that way. The NRA uses the language that we, as protesters, are violent, yet we are constantly dealing with the violence being inflicted upon us.