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Moyers: The Amazing Power of Music to Create Social Change

Newtown parent Francine Wheeler and folk singer Peter Yarrow discuss the power of music to create change.


BILL MOYERS: Welcome. You will remember that three weeks ago, a group of parents and others who lost loved ones in the Newtown, Connecticut, school killings went to Washington. They walked the halls of the capitol, meeting with senators and urging them to vote yes for an amendment that would expand the use of background checks for people buying guns. Although a majority favored the legislation, they fell six votes short of the 60 votes necessary under current Senate rules for passage.

But the Newtown families, friends and neighbors do not intend to quit. They are part now of a nationwide movement committed to changing our gun culture. They call it the Sandy Hook Promise, after the Sandy Hook elementary school where the twenty children and six educators were shot and killed.

The mission statement reads: “America is in desperate need of a new path forward to address our epidemic of gun violence.” And then comes the promise: “This time there will be change.”

Francine Wheeler, one of the Newtown parents who has made that promise, is with me now. She is the mother of six-year-old Ben, a Sandy Hook first grader who was one of those slain in December. You may have seen Francine a few weeks ago when President Obama asked her to deliver his weekly radio and internet address or you may have watched her on “60 Minutes” with her husband David, a graphic designer, who will join us later in the broadcast.

But first, Francine and I are with Peter Yarrow, the folksinger and activist. You know him from Peter, Paul and Mary, the celebrated trio who entertained and moved us with their music while tirelessly campaigning for peace and social justice.

In February, Peter was asked to come to Connecticut and appear in a concert to give those still grieving a sense of comfort and solidarity. Francine Wheeler, who is a talented singer and music teacher, performed too, as did her husband David. Francine and Peter, welcome to you both.


BILL MOYERS: The Sandy Hook Promise talks about turning tragedy into a moment of transformation. Was there a moment like that for you after Ben's death when suddenly you realized there was something you had to do?

FRANCINE WHEELER: Yeah, but it was very gradual for me. It wasn't that way for everyone. But for me, it was a voice inside of me that said if you-- because I didn't want to live, okay. And I felt, I had to ask myself “How am I going to live? How am I going to get up and raise my other child and be a partner to my husband, how am I going to do that?”

And it just gradually, organically happened where I said, you know what, I'm going to talk to people. I'm going to tell them about my son. I'm going to tell them what it's like to be a mother. And I'm going to tell them what it's like to find a conversation about change that is love. I'm going to do it without fighting them. And I knew it. It just came to me. And I had hope. And Sandy Hook Promise was a group of people who were helping some of the families who wanted to get this message out. And that's what you have. You have many different people in this community who are in such pain. And you know, we didn't ask to be in this club together, but we are.

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