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Madeleine Fort is on a Mission

In 2015, Dylann Roof opened fire during a prayer circle at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church killing nine people in Charleston, South Carolina. Although there had been other mass shootings that year, this one affected Fort so strongly she wanted to do something—anything—to address the problem of gun violence.

So Fort began to do some research and discovered the site Gunviolencearchive.org, which compiles statistics on deaths and injuries due to guns. In 2015, 13,486 people died. The number seemed overwhelming to Fort and, as someone who spends her days working with numbers, she also knew that, in general, “humans are really bad at understanding big numbers.” Fort wanted to come up with a way to get people to really “see” a big number. She decided to fold a brightly colored origami crane for each gun death. One for one. “I started in 2015 and I have been folding them ever since,” said Fort.

The crane is an important symbol in Japanese culture. Folding 1,000 origami cranes was traditionally believed to be a symbol of hope. Years later, Sadako Sasaki, a girl who survived the bombing of Hiroshima, made paper cranes before her death from leukemia, a result of the effects of the bomb. Since that time, paper cranes have become a symbol of healing and a desire for peace. “Every time I watch a movie, every time I sit down and have two available hands, I make a crane,” said Fort. “And I’m still nowhere near done.”

It takes her about 45 seconds to a minute to make a crane. On average, Fort makes about 25 per day. So far, she has 5,212 stuffed into three Trader Joe’s bags under her bed. It took her four hours to count them. “I think I’ve proved my point to some extent,” said Fort. “I thought I could do this by myself but it is overwhelming.” Despite her best efforts, she is still far from her goal.

Fort doesn’t use origami paper because it is too expensive, so she makes do with used post-it notes. “I really hope that if I ever finish, when people look at 13,000 cranes they will …see absurdity of all of this (gun violence).” 

For now, Fort tries to spread the word about her efforts as best she can. She had a display during Olin’s Fall Expo with one whole table stacked four-deep full of multicolored cranes. As people stopped by and asked questions, Fort is was only too happy to answer them because educating people about gun violence is part of her mission too.

Of course, what she could really use these days is an extra set of hands.