Ep 127: Building a Grassroots Movement From Scratch (with Donna Dees and Shikha Hamilton)

by Joan Garry

In the year 2000, Donna Dees rallied hundreds of thousands of people to march on Washington. How did she build such a large grassroots movement from scratch in only 9 months?


Subscribe on Apple Podcasts
Subscribe on Android
Subscribe on Google Podcasts
Subscribe on Spotify

Just over 20 years ago Buford O. Furrow, Jr. a white supremecist gunman walked into a Los Angeles Jewish Community Center and fired 70 shots using a semi-automatic weapon, wounding three children, a teenage counselor, and an office worker. Later that day, he randomly shot a mail carrier. It had been only 4 months since The Columbine High School Massacre. 12 students and one teacher. Murdered.

Every one of these victims had moms. Moms whose lives were changed in an instant and forever. Millions of moms watched the news and felt this to be insanity – a summer of madness. But one of those moms watched the news, stood up and made a plan. Roughly 9 months later, on Mothers Day 2000, hundreds of thousands marched on the Washington DC Mall to support gun safety. How did she build such a large grassroots movement from scratch in only 9 months?

Today I have two guests who tell us what it took for them to get off the couch and do something. But beyond their individual contributions they share what it took to lay the groundwork for a grassroots base and to build a successful movement, how to steward volunteers (and in this case) promote gun safety over the course of 20+ years.


Donna Dees – Donna Dees-Thomases, described in 2020 by Glamour Magazine as an “activist’s activist,” is the founder of the Million Mom March held on Mother’s Day 2000 — the largest protest against gun violence in US history until the more recent March for Our Lives.

Her 2004 memoir and guidebook called “Looking for a Few Good Moms: How One Mom Rallied a Million Others Against the Gun Lobby” earned her the “Chutzpah Award” from Oprah. The book was also cited by The Atlantic in 2008 as one of the best books on female leadership.

In 2015, her Daily Beast essay “How to Organize the Mother of All Protests,” led to a nationwide grassroots effort the following year called The Concert Across America to End Gun Violence in which she served as its co-chair.

Also in 2016, Donna co-produced/co-directed the award-winning documentary FIVE AWAKE about the women of Louisiana who reformed the state’s domestic violence laws by getting the NRA to stand down.

Over the years, she has promoted gun violence prevention and grassroots activism in hundreds of media outlets including on Meet the Press, Face the Nation, Good Morning America, the Today Show and the NBC Nightly News.

In addition to her activism, Donna has spent most of her professional career in New York City at the CBS Network on its communications teams. She has represented numerous high profile talent including Dan Rather, David Letterman, and Bob Schieffer.

An alum of LSU in Baton Rouge, Donna was inducted into its Manship School “Hall of Fame” in 2014. She had also earned her masters degree at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in Chicago. Most recently, Donna was awarded a fellowship at the Loyola Law School in New Orleans to complete a 12 week course in the constitution.

Shikha Hamilton – Shikha is currently the National Organizing & Chapter Development Manager for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. She has been working on the issue of gun violence prevention since the year 2000, when while living in Detroit at the time, she helped organize the Million Mom March, the largest protest against gun violence in U.S. history until the March for Our Lives in 2018. She has worked on this issue every day since then and has held various roles from chapter leader to state chapter president, to the first elected Million Mom March leader elected to the Brady Campaign Board of Trustees, to the national spokesperson for the Million Mom March rally to renew the Assault Weapons Ban. She has also appeared on CNN, MSNBC, local news outlets nationwide, radio and various publications from the NY Times, Washington Post and USA Today, to name a few.

Shikha is also a licensed attorney in California and Michigan. Shikha has taken her skills as an organizer and attorney to support a cause she deeply cares about by applying her legal skills to advocate, and help others advocate, for sensible gun laws on the local, state and national levels. In California, she works with the Brady Campaign Chapters to pass gun laws every year that have worked to reduce California gun deaths by 55% and four times more than the national average. Some of the laws she is most proud of is the passage of the Disarm Hate Act, which prohibits individuals convicted of violent crime to possess and acquire guns within ten years of their conviction; the Gun Violence Restraining Order law which gives law enforcement and families the necessary tools to keep their families safe when a family member is in a crisis; strengthening California’s assault weapons ban by closing the bullet button loophole and prohibiting possession of large capacity magazines.

Shikha is not only a gun violence prevention advocate, she is also a leader in her community, sitting on several local nonprofit boards and is often recognized for her work, to name a few:

Jefferson Award for Public Service, California PTA

California State Senate Recognition (for work with the Lions Club)

Congressional Record Recognition, 108th Congress 3-21-03, by U.S. Senator Carl Levin Pioneer for Peace Award

ATF Award for Prevention of Gun Violence

State of Michigan Legislature Recognition

Highlighted in non-fiction book, “Looking for a Few Good Moms,” by Donna Dees-Thomases