Coronado native, Wendy Wheatcroft, is running for San Diego City Council on a platform emphasizing the need for affordable housing, improving infrastructure, and protecting the environment. But there is another issue dear to her and for which she might best be known. It is also the topic for which she seems to be most reviled. It’s the gun issue.
Wheatcroft is the founder of the San Diego Gun Violence Coalition and the California co-lead for Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. She came to the issue of gun violence primarily through her exposure to it as a teacher. She says she taught for 15 years or so in Escondido, during which time she found her school to “increasingly be surrounded by gun violence in the community. And, my school was often in lockdown.”
Wheatcroft eventually left her teaching position in Escondido and began teaching at Christ Church Day School in Coronado, where her children were already attending school. In bringing her children to Christ Church Day School, Wheatcroft had come full circle. She is the daughter of a Navy pilot whose family moved to Coronado when she was in the third grade.
Wheatcroft attended Crown Elementary and points to her fourth-grade teacher, Mr. Cass, as an important influence: “Mr. Cass was always a role model and a mentor. I stayed in touch with him over the years. He was the principal at Village Elementary when I decided I wanted to become a teacher.”
Just as Wheatcroft graduated from Coronado High School, she and her husband had hoped to raise their family in Coronado. But it was ultimately too expensive. So, they moved to Allied Gardens, the district where she is running for Council. But Wheatcroft’s ties to Coronado still run deep. Her parents only recently moved from the island and she says: “I love Coronado. I learned who I am from growing up in Coronado.”
After many years of teaching, Wheatcroft was hit by a health crisis: “I found myself unable to work and feeling like my body was failing me.” By that time, she had experienced the impact of gun violence in schools and she had seen the devastation of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook, where a 20-year-old murdered 20 early elementary school children and six adults at school. “We had been in so many real lockdowns before Sandy Hook,” said Wheatcroft. “I was hit by the realization that this was happening in other places, not just here, and someone needs to be doing something. I was teaching first grade at the time and I had a child coming out of first grade. So, it was very real to me. And, I still didn’t really know what to do about it. It was only after the Pulse nightclub shooting [in which 49 people were murdered and 53 injured] that I decided I needed to get involved.”
Wheatcroft says, “I’ve really seen the pendulum swing just in the two short years I’ve been working on [gun violence prevention],” adding that where there were previously 12 Mom Demand Action groups in California prior to the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where 17 students and staff were murdered, there are now 35: “It has been inspiring to feel like I’ve had some part in that.”
Wheatcroft says that she has been regularly criticized and has even received death threats from those who oppose her stance on gun reform. One group that vociferously opposes her participation in San Diego politics is the San Diego County Gun Owners PAC (SDCGO). In an early response to her announcement that she would be running for City Council, the SDCGO commented on social media: “Dangerously misinformed extremist Wendy Wheatcroft is the head volunteer for gun grabbing group Moms Demand Action here in San Diego … The question is … are you going to let her win?”
Wheatcroft says, “I’ve started to learn that there is more bark than bite in those threats.”\ And, to those who characterize her as an extremist, Wheatcroft says, “I am absolutely not an extremist. Moms and Brady [Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence] … we are moderate on gun violence prevention. Liberal extremists would say melt all the guns. We are not trying to take anyone’s guns away. We are instead asking the questions: should domestic abusers and people with criminal history have guns? Most people say no. That’s where universal background checks come into play.”
Wheatcroft also adds that while her experience with Moms drew her into politics, gun violence is not the main issue that she is campaigning on. “My passion on that bleeds into other passions: the homeless crisis, affordable housing … keeping families healthy, our environment healthy, modernizing infrastructure, housing and transit to keep up with the needs of the community … Environmental issues are in the forefront and should be … Addressing our climate action plan as a city will be a huge priority.”
Wheatcroft not only talks about what is good for San Diego, but she tries to live by the same principles. On the environment, she says, “We need to drill down hard on climate impact. There are a lot of deliberate choices we all can make – what kind of car do we drive, how often do we drive, are we recycling, are we composting … It’s boring thing to talk about. But everyone can have an impact by composting. I am a master composter. I am actually trained. It’s not flashy or exciting, but it can make a difference if people are recycling their own food waste and limit their own trash waste.” Wheatcroft and her family also recently began using bar shampoo in lieu of shampoo in plastic bottles. She says, “[W]e are liking it so far … And that’s a huge impact on plastic waste. A family of five-that’s a ton of plastic waste. We made the switch and we aren’t going back.”
In reflecting on her values, Wheatcroft says, “We weren’t really big church goers or very political – but my parents instilled in us this ‘do unto others’ and acceptance of all people.” When she first got involved in politics, she said, “I thought I was just one person. Am I really going to be able to make a difference?” But, “I decided to say yes to things and to do something every single day to move this thing forward and then I will reevaluate. I had no idea that I would create a following for myself personally [or that] I would help drive this movement to the level that I have. The only intentional part was saying yes to things. That’s how I created my political will and base. I didn’t start out saying I’m going to run for office. It developed organically. And now I feel like I can’t say no to running. I can’t say no to it.”