WASHINGTON – She keeps the sign somewhere she can get to it quickly, somewhere she can go when the time comes to pull it out again – for another rally, another protest, another vigil mourning another mass shooting.
On Tuesday, Caron Martinez carried it from her Virginia home to the White House, where she stood with anti-gun-violence demonstrators, with the sign high above her head.
She got the sign shortly after 20 elementary schoolchildren were killed in 2012 inside Sandy Hook Elementary School. Over the past seven years, she has repaired rips and folds, retaped corners and protected the message on its face: “Another teacher against” military-style weapons.
“It’s vintage now,” she said, standing under the shade of a tree. “We really thought then that all those children, that it would be the turning point. How could anybody be OK with what happened to them? But here we are seven years later.”
A hastily organized protest led by groups including Voto Latino, MoveOn.org and the American Federation of Teachers brought the crowd to the White House’s doorstep to condemn white supremacy, gun violence and hate on the heels of violent shooting attacks that left more than 30 dead and scores more wounded in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio.
Just before it began, more than 100 civil rights and anti-gun-violence organizations signed a letter calling on lawmakers to pass stricter gun laws.
“Members of Congress can no longer look away as communities of color and religious minorities are murdered with impunity,” the statement reads.
Organizers and speakers called out a list of politicians and organizations they said have allowed white supremacy, hate and violence to spread. Chief among them, several said, are President Donald Trump, Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Attorney General William Barr.
“If this were an ISIS or an al-Qaida threat, we would have already seen decisive action by the Department of Justice and the FBI. How many more people must die before they finally act and protect us?” said Farhana Khera, executive director of civil rights group Muslim Advocates.
But Sherrilyn Ifill, president of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund, reminded the crowd that racism didn’t begin with Trump’s election.
“He has licensed it, he incites it, he encourages it, but he did not create it,” Ifill said.
Tuesday’s protest came one day after Trump denounced “racism, bigotry and white supremacy” in nationally televised remarks that critics said failed to account for the role of guns and his rhetoric in the El Paso attack.
Before opening fire at a shopping center on Saturday, the El Paso shooter is believed to have posted an online manifesto railing against a “Hispanic invasion” of the United States.
Trump began his 2016 presidential campaign by describing Mexican immigrants as criminals and “rapists.” In the years since, he has described immigration from Latin America as an invasion and a threat.
The president is expected to visit El Paso and Dayton on Wednesday in appearances that have spurred calls for protests.
“Our diversity is what makes us great – he should get the memo,” said Kris Brown, co-president of the Brady Campaign and Center to Prevent Gun Violence. “One message is loud and clear: It is about the hate and the hateful rhetoric emanating from the White House, and it is also about our lax gun laws. We are arming hate in this country.”
As she spoke, chants of “enough is enough” rolled through the crowd.
Demonstrators standing just beyond the White House fence held signs in English and Spanish that read, “Be on the right side of history. Unite against white supremacy.” Others said, “Disarm hate” and, “Take action not sides.”
Sara Blanco, who attended the rally during her lunch break with a handmade sign that read, “#SomosElPaso,” said she was drawn to the demonstration to be around people rejecting hatred and bigotry.
“El Paso really scared me because it seems like it was really about this anti-immigrant, white-supremacist sentiment,” said Blanco, whose father is an immigrant from Venezuela. “There’s something really disturbing about seeing these groups being targeted for who they are – and who they are is you.”