The sounds of her mother's screams and the vision of her aunt being dragged into the street by the hair, her face beaten into the concrete. Falling into an abusive relationship herself when she was just a teenager and remaining in it for 12 years. These are the painful, yet galvanizing memories that motivate Marie Garza.

Garza is the organizer of last summer's Brides' March in St. Paul. "More than 100 people marched, and I want [2011's March] to be bigger and better," Garza said. Female survivors, their support persons and many Twin City-area police officers walked the three miles from Our Lady of Guadalupe Church to the state Capitol to raise awareness of domestic violence. Many wore wedding gowns, some wore tuxedos. The June 12 event included a "reception" after the march at Joseph's Grill donated by the restaurant.

The Brides' March was named for a similar event held annually in New York City that honors Gladys Ricart, a Ridgefield, N.J., woman who was shot and killed by an abusive ex-boyfriend hours before her wedding to another. Ricart died wearing her wedding gown.

"I speak for those who can't speak," said Garza, 31, a single mom of two. "I want people to remember that [the victims had] lived. They had a life."

Garza's mother, Elizabeth, is the inspiration for her work. Finally breaking the bonds tying her to her abusive partner, Elizabeth found love and stability with her second husband. Her happiness was short-lived, however. She died of cancer when Marie was 12.

Seeing what the violence in her home had done to her mother's spirit was not enough to keep Garza from falling into the same trap. "When you grow up with it you don't know any better," she said. "Controlling behavior means they love you. That's why strong girls you'd never think in a million years would be victims are. We think it's normal. [You're] in too deep and it's easier to stay than to leave."
Often calling the police is not an option for fear the abuser will just be more violent when he returns home. But one police officer did make a difference. Maplewood Police Lt. Michael Shortreed's handling of domestic abuse cases made such an impact on Garza that she decided to become a police officer. She's one class shy of an associate of arts degree in criminal justice/law enforcement at Century College.

Garza also has founded Liz's Daughter, an organization to help those battered in domestic violence. Through Liz's Daughter, Garza is launching Girlz Take 'N Action, an after-school program in her old neighborhood on the west side of St. Paul. "We worry about them getting pregnant and contracting STDs. Why don't we teach them about domestic violence?" Garza said. There will be some field trips to women's shelters "to show them the road they can go down" if they allow themselves to be abused. "I want to help girls on the start of their [life] journey," Garza said.

Be A Changemaker:
Next summer's Twin Cities Brides' March is June 10, 2011. Garza is asking marchers to solicit pledges for the three-mile trek. Also, if you have creative skills (still and video photography, web creation, T-shirt screening, sign making) or, of course, cash to donate, contact Garza at Lizsdaughter@gmail.com. Financial contributions should be sent to Liz's Daughter, in care of her fiscal agent, The Minnesota Latino Peace Officers Association, P.O. Box 600186, 
St. Paul, MN 55106.