Notes from the road
Life inside the RV on the road to #EndGunViolenceTogether
In January, TOMS began a cross-country trek to deliver a message to Congress in the form of 700,000+ postcards: pass universal background checks. Along the way, we're connecting with people impacted by gun violence, and we're helping tell their stories.
But there's another story to tell: ours.
Not TOMS the company—TOMS the people. TOMS the community. TOMS the movement.
This is the story of a small group of committed people working day in, day out to help build a better tomorrow. And this is what that story looks like through our lens.
We left our LA headquarters on a sunny afternoon with a heartfelt send-off from the TOMS family.
Joining our small crew on the RV for this trip are two powerful voices from the movement to end gun violence: Matt Deitsch, 21-year-old chief strategist at TOMS partner March For Our Lives, and Winter BreeAnne Minisee, youth organizer of the National School Walkout.
Day 2 began with a visit to our partners at Zappos where we set up a postcard station for employees to write their representatives in Washington urging them to take action on the bipartisan background checks bill currently up for debate on the House floor. Then we had a local artist lead a collaborative mural turning intention into expression.
A few blocks away, a smaller group met with survivors of the Route 91 Harvest Festival shooting and joined them at the Las Vegas Community Healing Garden. Read about the experience here.
Our next leg took us through northern Arizona and southern Utah, and as desert flatlands gave way to snow-capped mountains, golden hour called us out to stretch our legs.
One of the most rewarding aspects of this trip has been the opportunity to share our story with the people we meet along the way, and to see firsthand how excited they are about the work we're doing.
One of those people is Lauren, our server at a restaurant we stopped at in Cedar City. When we told her the purpose of our trip, she lit up: she not only signed a postcard right then and there, but got her co-worker to sign one too, and asked about other ways she could activate her local community.
Anyone looking for more ways to get involved and show their support can visit TOMS.com/takeaction.
When we pulled into Denver, we had an opportunity to speak with representatives of the Colorado chapter of Students Demand Action, a part of TOMS partner Everytown for Gun Safety. It was inspiring to hear them speak with such passion about the need to go beyond "activism for social media" and commit to more grassroots forms of organizing.
"Our big goal is pushing students into action and really following through. You have to go a little further in order to really make a change happen."
That afternoon, Student Demand Action state director Sam Craig joined a panel that also included local House Representative Joe Neguse, TOMS partner and policy expert at Giffords Robin Lloyd, and others for an informative Gun Safety Town Hall that brought together people from across town and across perspectives.
Another rewarding part of this journey has been speaking with people who support universal background checks, but don't fit our pre-conceived notions of those who believe in more comprehensive gun laws.
Nathan is a hunter and proud gun owner who invited us to his home on the outskirts of Kansas City to show us his collection and share his thoughts. Along with universal background checks, Nathan talked to us about the need for gun education and a broader conversation about how to de-escalate situations without resorting to violence—a story we'll delve into deeper in the coming weeks.
Rolling into Chicago with a historical cold front, we were met with warm soul food and an incredible turnout at New Look Restaurant. Community leaders braved the snow to discuss specific challenges facing Chicago’s South Side, offering honest reflections on what breeds violence in America.
Because of the openness in that room, our team walked away with learnings that will forever influence how we think about, talk about, and take action on ending gun violence together. We have a lot more to learn, but one thing is for certain:
Communities have the answers.
With access to proper resources, the work being done by people on the ground will change this country.
TOMS is deeply thankful for the Pendleton family, who graciously hosted this gathering six years to the day after their daughter, Hadiya Pendleton, was taken by gun violence.
After a brief pause due to weather, we picked back up in Chicago and spent our morning at St. Sabina Catholic Church: a faith-based community that offers holistic support to its immediate neighborhood and surrounding areas. The campus is run by Father Michael Pfleger, who’s spent 40 years developing and growing programs that include youth and adult education, after-school sports teams and art/performance classes, job training and interview prep, health, social, and tax services, as well as senior housing. We'll share more soon about some of the incredible people we met during our visit.
In the afternoon, Winter led a workshop with around 40 students about accessing and exercising the power of personal agency. The kids were visibly excited to participate—inspired by Winter as a peer, they openly reflected on ways to influence the world, and signed post cards for our team to deliver to Washington. One of the best moments of our tour was watching the kids kidnap Winter to play games in the gym, an experience that none of us wanted to end.
New day, new city. Columbus introduced us to more amazing partners from Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action, who collaborated to organize a panel discussion and Q&A at Ohio State University.
Halfway through the program, Crystal Turner—founder of Mothers in Healing support group— reminded us of how powerful it can be when generations come together. As a woman in her 60s, Crystal noted the value of connecting with young activists, victims, and survivors, who offer different perspectives on what actions we can take to end gun violence.
True to this message, we were inspired to see a wide age range represented in our audience, listening and asking each other questions, brought together by our fight for the same cause.
As our last stop before DC, Pittsburgh brought it home with limitless passion, energy, and truth. Gathered in Repair the World's beautiful space, we experienced live art, spoken word, and vocal performances by local talent. The evening's panel of experts discussed the reality of "two Pittsburghs," sharing personal experiences with the existing division between race and resources in their city.
In the same same space of honesty and education about the community's biggest challenges, we joined hands to pray and unite for a better tomorrow. Over and over again, this trip has taught us the meaning of "together," and the work it takes to get there. Our work has just begun, and there's no doubt it's well worth it.
It was with full hearts, open minds, and enduring hope that we said "thank you and see you soon" to Pittsburgh, and set our sights on our final destination.
Some 3,000 miles away from home, the RV finally drove through the streets of Washington, DC. Looking out the window, our team felt a new wave of energy. Carrying countless stories of people fighting to end gun violence in this country, and postcards written by over 700,000 Americans in support of universal background checks, we were ready for the capital.
The next 48 hours were everything we could have hoped for and more. After a rally event that brought together musicians, politicians, and everyone in between, we were joined by hundreds of volunteers to hand deliver a semi-truck's worth of postcards to Congress.
Read about how we made our voices heard in DC, and stay tuned for where we're headed next—together.