In the wake of the Parkland Shooting and March For Our Lives, Kristina Filler designed a t-shirt and fundraised over $4,100 for Everytown, an organization working to end gun violence in America. We caught up with Kristina for a quick interview to learn more about her activism and the story behind her t-shirt.
So much has happened in this country over the past few months in the fight against gun violence. What made you pick up this cause and enter the conversation about guns?
Guns have been on my mind for a long time. My dad, a beloved history teacher was shot and killed outside the school he taught at when I was young. For the twentieth anniversary of his passing (this past February), I asked family and friends to send me memories and photos of him so that I could compile a commemoration in his honor. I was knee-deep in reading their stories and re-living it all when the Marjory Stoneman Douglas shooting happened. I heard the news and felt so defeated. It hit really close to home, especially in realizing that those students are about the same age as I was when gun violence changed my life forever. I’ve been grieving for a long time and know that they will be too.
Given what my family’s been through, it’s really easy to hold a grudge against guns themselves, but since it’s so unrealistic to hope that they just disappear, I’m trying to educate myself on how they can be better regulated. The more I read and talk to people about them, the more informed I become and the more I learn how to talk about them productively. As a result of my family’s loss, I’m specifically pro-ERPOs (Extreme Risk Protection Orders) which help keep guns out of the hands of people who aren’t fit to handle them.
It seems you use your creativity as an artist to express and process the feelings you experience in your life. What motivated you to use your creative expression to speak in this way now?
Right around when the MSD news broke, I was home alone one night and painted the “Hold Your Fire” bird, just to console my feelings. In the past, whenever a shooting has happened, I’ve passively mourned by myself – I’d draw or paint, write in my journal, cry and seethe over guns – but as the students’ resistance grew stronger, I realized I could do more. I’ve watched what they’ve been doing to keep this in the news cycle and have been totally in awe of them. My classic coping moves felt pretty lame compared to theirs. How could I do nothing when they are fighting so hard? I can’t.
How did you come up with the design you created for your t-shirt?
I was trying to express and release that defeated feeling I had post-MSD which was essentially, “Please stop this. PLEASE.” I wanted to make an image that was simple, powerful and peaceful but not preachy. Ever since the design went public, I’ve been told that the hand is a powerful symbol in many different cultures (ie. the Hamsa in Judaism) so I’m glad that it has added meaning to some and a universally peaceful feel.
You’ve sold over 300 t-shirts so far, when you only expected to sell a few to friends and family. What was it like to see so many of your shirts sell?
Amazing and reassuring. It’s so easy to feel like you are a tiny dot in the world and you can’t do anything to make a difference. Letting yourself feel small is defeating and handicapping. Seeing such a huge response (it’s raised over $4K in a few weeks!) has shown me that we can all do more than we think we can. Working on this has also opened up dialogue within my family and my mom seems really happy with what I’m doing. She checks the site here and there to see how many more have sold.
You attended the NYC chapter of March for Our Lives, what was that like for you?
I almost didn’t go because I was afraid that there might be opposers at the event and emotionally, I didn’t want to deal with that. My husband and a friend (who lost a friend to gun violence) convinced me to attend and I’m so glad I did. It was surprisingly peaceful. A woman in the crowd even recognized my bird sign – she had heard about my dad’s story and bought the shirt. She was so empathetic and sweet. It’s little moments like that – seeing how encouraging and hopeful people are about what I’m doing – that have kept me motivated to keep going.
March for our Lives has passed, and the news is slowly quieting down about guns again. How are you working to make sure that gun reform stays in people’s minds? What can others do to keep the conversation going?
Many of my friends who have bought the shirt have told me that when they’ve worn it, people have asked them about it. Visually keeping it in people’s minds by wearing it, talking about it, re-posting links to related articles and events… it all helps. I was walking through Times Square in my HYF sweatshirt after taking some photos in it when a man stopped me and asked about it. He was really encouraging. We ended up having a chat about the state of gun laws and he helped me brainstorm ways to help boost the news of the campaign. Don’t let waning news coverage make you believe people aren’t interested in this issue. The media doesn’t necessarily represent what the rest of us are thinking. If you read the stats, the larger percentage of Americans want a change in gun policy and if we stay loud about it and bug (or vote out) politicians, it can happen.
You can also follow organizations like Everytown, Moms Demand Action, Students Demand Action and March For Our Lives on social media to stay informed and see how you can continue to help. If you follow any of the MSD students on twitter, I can guarantee that this topic won’t leave your mind.
What’s next for you and for Hold Your Fire?
Ha, that is a great question. I don’t exactly know, but I am going to push it as far as it will go. I’m working on a press release and hope to get the story some more reach. I’m asking everyone I know if they have contacts in news outlets (psst… do you have any? E-mail me! firstname.lastname@example.org). My friends and family have been amazingly supportive and they all look beautiful and proud in the shirts. I feel like I owe it to the supporters of the campaign as well as to my family to try any avenue I can to keep it going.
The victims that you’ve read about in these shootings had lives and hopes and dreams. We owe it to them to speak for them. My dad was an incredibly hard worker and always encouraged my art – pushing as hard as I can for this is the least I can do for him.
Photo credit: T.J. Schuck Photography