This gentleman, Tom, was the first marcher. On a windy and chilly early morning, we spotted a lone man dressed in red waving a flag sitting by himself on the bench facing the road away from us working inside in Town Hall. I went out and introduced myself, holding an extra MFOL button, to give him not knowing if he was a supporter or not. Inside, everyone thought he was a protester. “Well, there is our first protester!” I asked, “Why do you say that?” They said, “Because he’s waving the flag.” I replied, “Why should that be? We own patriotism.” I thought at a minimum, if I’m mistaken and he is a veteran, I can always thank him for his service.
I introduced myself and asked, “Are you a veteran?” He said, “No, I’m not. Just a proud American.” I said, “Me, too. Thank you for being here.” (I just assumed he was a supporter because why not?) His lips quivered and with a wavering quiet voice, Tom said, “It’s just too much. It’s not right.” I said yes in agreement, not sure if he meant our speaking for gun safety legislation is not right or the deaths due to gun violence wasn’t right. So I jumped off a cliff and said, “Thank you for coming to support us.” Then his reply stunned me, “I’m here because my grand-daughter who is in 2nd grade, is afraid of going to school because of guns. I’m a retired school teacher and I used to be an NRA member a while ago.” I said, “I understand and thank you so much for your support. Would you like a button?” With tears flowing, Tom said, “It would be my honor.”
So I went back inside and brought out the lead student organizer, Bella (and other volunteer students), out so I could introduce them. Here was our pic of that moment.
Let’s continue to have these conversations. Even if they are dressed in red and waving our American flag. They *may* or may not agree with us. But change begins with conversations, no negative assumptions, and reaching out. You might find an ally.