When the Washington Park Peace Walk takes place on June 8, it will expose the issue of gun violence as a public health issue and launch the formation of a new group called Stand Up Milwaukee.
Stand Up Milwaukee is a network of 30 local organizations joining forces to create solutions to the gun violence problem in the city. Last week, OnMilwaukee.com wrote an article about one of the Stand Up Milwaukee organizations called the Scooter Foundation, a small, Milwaukee non-profit making a big impact on the students at Oliver Wendell Holmes School.
The Peace Walk was initially the annual event of the Scooter Foundation, but this year, they share the event with the 29 other organizations, hoping to make it more successful than ever.
"It’s hard to be egalitarian, but so many groups are struggling to keep themselves going that it makes sense and it’s totally worth it," says Milwaukee filmmaker and media activist Janet Fitch, who started Stand Up Milwaukee a few years ago.
Fitch is in the process of creating three documentaries that comment on gun violence. Stand Up Milwaukee began as focus groups that Fitch formed during the research process for her documentaries.
The three-part series, called "Guns, Grief and Grace in America," explores the issue of gun violence on a local, state and national level. Fitch completed the first two films and is working on securing funds for the third part, which she hopes to start this fall.
American Public Television plans to air all three of the documentaries in the spring of 2009.
The first film, "Dear Rita," tells the tragic story of an 11-year-old Milwaukee girl, Rita Martinez, who was killed when a stray bullet ripped through her Grandma’s bedroom where the little girl was watching cartoons.
Fitch spent a year interviewing the Martinez family, as well as Martinez's teachers and friends, to create a one-hour film that honors the short life of Martinez while commenting on the issue of gun violence in the United States where, according to Fitch's Web site, an estimated 10 children die from a gun-related incident every day.
The second film in the series, "Promise of America," chronicles the Million Mom March that took place on Mother's Day, 2000 in Washington D.C. At the march, which called for sensible gun laws, 820,000 people came together from all over the United States.
Fitch met the Martinez family on the bus on the way out to the march just six weeks after Martinez had been shot and killed.
"At that moment I went from taking gun violence seriously to personally," say Fitch. "When you get beyond the nightly news and get into the reality of pain, grief and suffering, it’s completely different."
As a filmmaker, Fitch says her job is to "maximize what films can do for the issue," and then "pass the baton" to groups that work on the issues full-time.
Fitch strives to educate and empower her viewers. For example, although most people believe urban gun violence is the source of most gun-related homicides in the state, in reality, two-thirds of Wisconsin’s gun deaths are from suicides, the majority of which take place in suburban and rural locales.
"But we don’t talk about that," says Fitch.
Fitch hopes her films and the collective power of Stand Up Milwaukee will begin to change perspectives and inspire people to become involved. She says too many people have the "there’s nothing we can do" attitude which only makes the gun-related death toll rise.
"I started to realize that we all carry that grief -- all the time – because you cannot live in a place where this is happening and not be affected … So I started to ask ‘How much better can we be?’"
Fitch says going on a peace walk is an easy way to take action.
"Your presence means you’re doing something. A peace walk is a step," says Fitch. "It doesn’t have to be a huge commitment. Just take your step and see how you feel afterwards."
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.