Meet Real Life She-Ra, Shira Tarantino, A Founding Mother Of The ENOUGH Gun Safety Campaign

This is the fourth article in a new series we recently launched on the site called Today’s Wonder Women – designed to celebrate the inspiring, impactful, empowering and extraordinary things ordinary women are doing every day. Over the coming months we will be sharing interviews, essays, articles and guest posts about women who are creating change. If you have a story to share and want to add your voice to the Today’s Wonder Women conversation, get in touch by emailing info@girltalkhq.com.


By Amber French

We’re all frighteningly aware of the gun violence epidemic that has plagued America for many years now. While most of America seems to be on the same page about common sense gun laws, the politicians whose pockets are deep with NRA money, pose a road block for those trying to implement change that is so desperately needed. We’ve seen a shift like no other thanks to the force and drive of the Parkland students in Florida.

They are changing the game by raising their voices and driving pivotal steps from different companies across America. We’ve also seen collaboration and passion born out of grass root groups that all typically begin from the idea of one person that then go on to do many influential and impactful good. These are the unsung heroes of our country. The ones giving birth to the ideas that will cause real change, organizing on the ground, staying up all hours of the night planning vigils, rallies, meeting with constituents to have their voices heard, and organizing the people who all have the same end goal.

Allow me to introduce you to one of those unsung heroes, Shira Tarantino, a real life Wonder Woman living in Stamford, CT with her husband and two children, who rallies, fights, organizes, and blazes trails with admirable and contagious passion. Shira started the Stamford Pediatric Gun Safety Project, is on the Board of Directors for Connecticut Against Gun Violence (CAGV), she is a member and lead organizer of the ENOUGH Campaign, and she is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of Handfastings Magazine.

The horrific day of The Sandy Hook shooting in Newtown, CT was the impetus for Shira’s involvement in each of these organizations. Specifically, for the ENOUGH Campaign which was organized by Medha Thomas, a mom, who much like many other parents, was deeply impacted by this tragedy. Shira came on board to the group, and that is where she and I came to know one another. The ENOUGH Campaign partners with other organizations on events and initiatives related to gun violence prevention. The ENOUGH Campaign is a member of the Newtown Action Alliance and every year they hold a vigil in December to coincide with the NAA’s national vigil in DC to end gun violence. As soon as the team picks a date for their Vigil of Hope, Shira and the ENOUGH team begin organizing.

Shira says, “The purpose of our vigil is to not only to educate and bring the subject of gun violence to light, but to inspire Honor With Action: the notion that we first light a candle in memory of those lost to gun violence, then we act to end gun violence. The symbol of lighting a candle is important to me – in most cultures, light symbolizes life and sometimes reflection and direction. Lighting a candle also gives us a chance to ignite choice: people can use fire as a tool of death, or we can choose it to be a transformative element for change. I hope for the latter when I light a vigil candle.”

In the very early stages, The ENOUGH Campaign was approached by national organizations like Moms Demand Action and Moms Rising to become a local satellite. Shira says they declined because the ENOUGH Campaign felt that they’d be able to have more control over their work as an autonomous organization.

She says, “Moms Demand Action’s branding is strict, so it’s hard to create local events and projects without jumping through a million hoops in order to create an initiative. The strength of Moms lay in its ability to organize people. But Moms is ultimately focused on national changes – which is great – but the real work of gun safety and meaningful, immediate change will happen at the state and local level Because of this, I rely on groups like The ENOUGH Campaign and CT Against Gun Violence and other local civic action groups to be able to create and collaborate on events and projects which move gun safety forward on a local level. But I am still grateful for Moms Demand in bringing me new friends who are dedicated to gun safety and related civic activity vital to the cause.”

Shira later started the The Stamford Pediatric Gun Safety Project. This was the result of her being a student of the Stamford PLTI (Parent Leadership Training Institute), which is a program of the local non-profit SPEF – Stamford Parent Education Foundation. The PLTI is a 20-week family civics course to “improve the lifelong health, safety and learning of Connecticut’s children by helping parents and others who care about children develop the leadership skills to make real change – in schools, communities and state and local government.” PLTI students must create a community project, and the Stamford Pediatric Gun Safety Project was Shira’s.

Shira says, “PLTI graduates have gone on to serve in public offices, such as Stamford boards of education and representatives. They establish programs, non-profit organizations, scholarships and lead community initiatives (i.e., the Community Conversation About Education) and work in many ways to improve the lives of Stamford children, families and residents. The PLTI was in its 18th year when I became a student in 2017. It recently lost some of its funding, even though it was in its 19th year last year when I was a student. I am so grateful to have been a part of it – I learned so much.”

Her first class was held on January 21, 2017, the same day as the now-historic Women’s March.

“Before I had been accepted as a student, I had been planning on being a bus captain to take women from Stamford down to Washington DC, but decided I had to cancel if I wanted to be a part of the PLTI. There was a local march as well, and we could see a sea of pink hats headed towards Mill River Park from our class window in the Government Center. But my thought was that I should be creating something on a local level to create change from the bottom up. While I was sorry to miss the march, I knew I had made the right decision.”

When asked what’s next for The Stamford Pediatric Gun Safety Initiative, Shira says it is in beta and has not yet been fully implemented.

“I have not advocated legislatively to get doctors to incorporate a safety question on firearms; my thinking is that this question is on the same level as asking a parent whether or not they have a car seat or if they use safety locks on cabinets which hold cleaning products, and other routine questions currently being asked during each wellness visit. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that pediatricians discuss gun safety with their patients (and parents); anecdotally I know that some doctors in Stamford incorporate this question and some do not. The Stamford Pediatric Gun Safety Project studies the barriers which doctors face in answering these questions. I think we could learn a lot from this study and from its findings, and create programs that address these barriers and other factors that support gun safety.”

Shira recently joined the Board of Directors of CT Against Gun Violence. “The organization, now in its 25th year, is revisiting its strategic plan, and I am excited to be a part of it. Legislatively, CT should strengthen our firearm storage safety laws, and that’s something which I’m fully behind and willing to work on, which would certainly support this project’s mission.”

When I asked Shira what the latest gun violence prevention initiative she’d been working on was, she told me about SPEAK YOUR TRUTH: Student Open Mic Night.

“This event was born out of the March For Our Lives Stamford rally last spring, where an amazing array of local students responded thoughtfully and creatively to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and educators were shot and killed. Attended by 3,000 community members, the rally became a cathartic platform for our local students to express themselves politically and socially, instantly defining a need for youth expression and activism. I worked on Speak Your Truth with the same leaders as March For Our Lives in Stamford.

Speak Your Truth became especially important to us since we received the devastating news of the Stamford student, Marcus Hall, who was shot and killed here in Stamford just a few weeks ago. Free and accessible recreational activities for teens help to keep violence at bay, and is paramount to leading a successful, healthy life. I feel that events like Speak Your Truth support healthy teen development and strengthen peaceful communities. I participated in the rally and vigil for Marcus Hall; the event was created by Wil Joseph, the founder of Hoops4All, who had lost his brother Max to gun violence last year.”

Shira collaborated on the past two Wear Orange events, and spoke at and fundraised for the Disarm Hate rally in DC following the Pulse Nightclub shooting in 2016.

In addition to all the good Shira is doing for the world, she also works for a magazine she created more than a decade ago called Handfastings Magazine.

“Handfastings Magazine offers access to and inspirations for Nature-based wedding rituals to brides and grooms who do not have a specific religious affiliation, who are interfaith or who are Pagan in their spirituality. It was (and still is) my dream of fully fleshing out this magazine, which was a result of my love for the tradition of handfasting, an ancient betrothal ceremony whereby the hands of the couple are clasped and fastened together with a cord during their wedding vows. My husband and I were married in this way. I am ordained and can perform weddings in NYC, NY State, and Connecticut. But I refocused my creative energies into gun violence prevention following the Sandy Hook massacre. I couldn’t be passive. I thought, how can I continue to support love in a way that makes a difference and prevents tragedy? I perform weddings; love is my driving force.”

Part of Shira’s incredible motivation can be traced back to her own mother. In Shira’s words, “My mother was my first teacher.” Shira’s mother was a victim of sexual abuse at the hands of her own father and heartbreakingly dealt most of her life with an emotionally abusive mother. Shira’s mother chose to channel what her upbringing lacked and instill it in her daughter. Shira credits her mom for not internalizing all of the negativity that surrounded her and for sharing her wisdom so graciously.

Shira’s advice to those looking to bring communities together on common causes to make positive change is to share your ideas with one another. She could not have moved certain missions and ideas forward were it not for the people involved.

Shira stresses, “I didn’t do anything in a bubble.” It took many other like-minded women to help the ideas she was passionate about evolve.

“It’s not lost on me that my new friends in the cause are all women, just like those I met, like you, on that fateful day when we all gathered in a then-stranger’s living room after the horrific tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. It is women who will make these life-saving changes, and women who will ultimately drive this country forward towards a holistic and more just approach to gun safety.”

 

 

 

Amber French resides in New England and is a working mom of two rambunctious boys. She enjoys kitchen dance parties, blogging about life, and home DIY projects. She hopes that through her stories you will see that your life is what you choose to make it- no matter what kind of good, bad, or ugly you’ve been through. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and check out her website.