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Local Residents March On Washington For Gun Control

In the biting cold of 4 am, with a nearly full moon still high in the dark January 26 sky, 52 residents of Newtown, Sandy Hook, and area towns filed onto a bus parked at the Routes 25/111 commuter lot in Trumbull. Bearing posters with slogans like “One gun death = too many! 10,000 = national disgrace,” “Don’t Fund Your Retirement with Blood Profits!” and “Newtown Demands Action! We Choose Love,” carrying pillows, blankets, and thermoses full of hot coffee, the riders were headed to the March on Washington for Gun Control.

Fifty-two is not a large number, but considering the fact that he had only begun to promote the idea of bringing a group to the march as of early last week, local organizer Dave Ackert saw it as a leap of faith fulfilled.

“We had heard of marches maybe happening, and we said if [a Newtown group] goes to Washington, that’s what we should do,” said Mr Ackert’s wife, Eve, who along with their two daughters was aboard the early morning bus to Washington.

“There are so many things I can’t do, but this is something I can do. I can’t make my neighbors’ children feel better,” said Ms Ackert, who lives in an area of Sandy Hook impacted directly by the murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School on 12/14. “[Supporting] a ban on assault weapons just seems a common sense thing,” she said.

The March on Washington for Gun Control was organized over the past month by Washington, D.C., artistic director Molly Smith and Native American activist Suzanne Blue Star Boy, two women who say they are tired of gun violence that does not stop.

Those on the bus ride Saturday morning were also fed up and hoping they could make it known that they were ready for a change.

“I had to do something [after the shootings at SHS],” said Sharon Poarch, adding that she has never before taken part in a rally for change. “Even my 17-year-old said, ‘Wow, Mom. That’s not like you,’” she said.

Beatriz Delgado traveled from Norwalk to ride to Washington.

“I was really upset and had to do something,” said Ms Delgado, the mother of two young children. A citizen of Spain before moving to the United States ten years ago, she felt positive about the outcome of the day.

“In America, everything is possible. We come together to show everybody what we want to attain. The way government listens is amazing. Here, we all go together to say what we want,” Ms Delgado said.

“I wanted to come to say, ‘We’re with you.’ This could happen anywhere,” said Dave Pettinicchi of Trumbull, who traveled with his daughter, Ana, a senior at Trumbull High School. Mary Sherlach, an adult victim of 12/14, was known to him from his church, he said.

Ms Smith and Ms Blue Star Boy invited people nationwide to come to Washington to let politicians know that changes in gun laws are needed and wanted. They were thrilled, they told Mr Ackert last week, to have residents of Sandy Hook and Newtown join in, and granted hometown participants VIP status.

At least an equal number of Newtown and Sandy Hook supporters who came to Washington independently of the bus trip joined up with the bus riders at the starting point for the rally. Stamping feet against the cold, and selecting posters to carry, with names of gun violence victims from Sandy Hook and other places in the nation imprinted upon them, the marchers peered from their privately cordoned off area across to the adjacent area where thousands more supporters clustered around sections designated for people affiliated with theater, pastoral care, and for those who had traveled from other states.

“I work in the mental health field,” said Joan Huskins of Sandy Hook, as to why she had accompanied the group to Washington. “It’s not just about gun control, but about mental health; about making [mental health care] accessible to everyone, for prevention and treatment. I think gun control and mental health need to be addressed hand in hand,” said Ms Huskins.

A recently retired professor from Manhattanville College, Tony Scimone of Trumbull was on the bus for his own reasons. “When I think about all the great things that happen in a classroom contrasted with this [tragedy at SHS], I think we have to make our voices heard,” said Mr Scimone.

Ann Dalton is district nursing supervisor for Newtown schools. She contacted all of the nurses in the school system, and found “resounding support for me to attend,” she said, with all in agreement for a ban on assault weapons. Ms Dalton brought with her a poster that read, “Newtown Nurses For Safe Gun Laws.”

Katie and Andrew Morosky of Newtown and their daughters Pearl, 9, and Marie Therese, 6, drove to Washington to support the march. SHS shooting victim Lauren Rousseau had substituted for their children at Hawley School, said Ms Morosky. Both of the girls knew shooting victims through involvement in church, dance, and soccer.

“My immediate reaction [on hearing about the march] was that we have to go to Washington,” she said.

“When Obama got elected, I said, ‘I hope he does something to ban high capacity magazines,’ and that was even before this happened in Sandy Hook,” she said. The march, Ms Morosky said, was “a little more visible sign of the pain we are experiencing in Newtown.”

Jan and Jeff Neuner of Bethel were also among the chilled but determined marchers waiting for the 11 o’clock march start time.

“It’s time to take action,” said Mr Neuner. “I couldn’t just shrug my shoulders. I think this is the first step of many,” he said.

Members of the media jostled with each other to speak to Sandy Hook marchers, and to interview Ms Smith and Ms Blue Star Boy as the women circulated through the crowd.

At precisely 11 am, the announcement came to begin the march, and guided by rope-bearing escorts who kept them in and other marchers out, the Sandy Hook/Newtown participants led the nearly 6,000 marchers down Constitution Avenue toward the Washington Monument.

There, local people were granted special front-row seating to hear speakers and musicians address the cause of the day: legislation to reinstate the assault weapons ban, ban high capacity ammunition magazines, and require background checks for all gun sales, for Congress to enforce a 28-day waiting period, require mandatory gun safety training before the purchase of a gun, and outlaw bullets that shatter in the body.

‘A Spiritual And Moral Issue’

The pale winter sun peaked in and out of gray skies, and flocks of swallows swooped overhead, synchronized, it seemed, to the sound of voices raised in song that greeted the marchers. Strains of “America” and John Lennon’s “Imagine” wove their ways through the people with posters standing hip to hip behind the rows of seated guests.

Speaking first, Ms Smith noted that the reasons people were gathered together at the event was “a spiritual and moral issue.” The fight for legislation desired would be difficult, “but we will prevail,” emphasized Ms Smith, listing the many changes in attitudes and legislation that have been conquered in past decades. “This wave will become an ocean,” said Ms Smith.

“We are happy to have the Newtown contingent with us,” said Ms Blue Star Boy. “We are standing before you,” she said, “because of America’s heartbreak at what happened at Sandy Hook.”

First of the invited speakers to take the podium was D.C. Mayor Vince Gray. In the style of a fire and brimstone preacher, Mayor Gray urged the crowd to work to prevent access to guns in ways that should not be allowed.

“D.C. has been a leader on gun control for years. We cannot allow passive gun laws to threaten our neighborhoods.” Gun control, said Mayor Gray, touches the lives of everybody. He said that national action on gun control is vital, and that because local and state laws differ, “Guns find their way into areas that do have stringent gun control laws.

“We have the strength of belief,” he said. “We will honor our departed.”

“We are here as respecters of the Second Amendment,” said Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, among the speakers addressing the crowd.

“This is about gun responsibility and gun safety. It is about fewer children living in fear,” he said. “Thank you for your advocacy and passion. This is a starting point,” Mr Duncan stressed, referring to the day’s March on Washington, and brought the crowd to its feet, clapping, as he emphasized, “We must act! We must act! We must act!”

Washington, D.C., delegate to congress, Eleanor Homes Norton recognized Newtown/Sandy Hook participants when she took the stand.

“Our thanks to you. We come to bear witness with you,” she said, and vowed that supporters would work “until we vindicate your children and the adults who died with them.”

It is past time, said Congresswoman Norton, that America moves into the civilized world of nations who protect children from gun violence, and who routinely make mental health a part of health insurance plans. “We are all culpable,” she cautioned, “if we do nothing now.”

That no action to change gun laws occurred following previous massacres, she said, has sent the message to Congress that there is no need to act. “If we are not engaged,” she said, “Congress gets the message: Do nothing. The public must insist on renewing the assault gun ban,” she said. “We can end gun lobby’s free ride. They can be stopped,” she said, interrupted briefly by loud cheers and clapping from the crowd.

“All they need is a worthy opponent,” Ms Norton continued. “You are that opponent!”

“Yes we can! Yes we can!” Yes we can!” the crowd shouted back.

“We who did not act before, this time, we will step forward,” said Ms Norton, in closing. “We’re stepping up, and we will not step back!” at which point, cheers in the crowd merged into a voice chanting, “Yes we will!”

Speaker Marty Isaac, president of Connecticut Against Gun Violence Education Fund, took the most aggressive stand of the morning. While other speakers stressed a need for reasonable, common sense approaches to changing gun laws that addressed fears of those Americans fearful of their guns being taken away, Mr Isaac said, “We want assault weapons removed from states,” not just a ban on new sales.

Congressman Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) said that the price of inaction is too high, providing statistics on the numbers of people who die from gun violence every hour in the United States. “Enough pretending there is nothing we can do about it,” said Congressman Van Hollen. The idea that people need high capacity magazines for guns “has no place in a civilized society,” he said. There are common sense ideas that can be enacted, the congressman added.

There are those who are counting on the marchers at the January 26 rally to forget, said Mr Van Hollen. “Say, We will not forget! We will keep marching until Congress takes steps to protect our children and we succeed,” he said.

 

Not Waiting For              One More Tragedy

Co-sponsor of the March on Washington for Gun Control, Shannon Watts, founder of One Million Moms for Gun Control, said that among the many reasons she was present on Saturday was that she is a mother, and that she was there “for the families of Sandy Hook School, who lost the lights of their lives.

“I couldn’t stand by and wait for one more tragedy.” Common sense laws for gun control are a necessity, Ms Watts said.

With 50,000 supporters gained in just one month at One Million Moms for Gun Control, Ms Watts encouraged the crowd to “use our votes to let legislators know we won’t stand down,” and make sure that the memory of every tragic death will be the reason for ending gun violence.

“I want the [Sandy Hook] families to understand your children will be the vehicle for change,” said Marian Wright Edelman of the Children’s Defense League. “They have not died in vain,” she assured those present.

It is time to stop the gun slaughter that is a uniquely American phenomenon, Ms Edelman went on to say. “Why? It’s the guns, it’s the guns, it’s the guns,” she answered herself.

“We can and must free our nation of this scourge of gun violence,” Ms Edelman stressed, by changing the culture of Americans hanging onto a romantic notion of guns.

Speakers, who also included survivors of gun violence, told the marchers repeatedly that now was the moment to seize an opportunity for change, that “enough is enough,” and that current gun laws are unacceptable. More than one speaker used the words “common sense,” “rational,” and “reasonable” in addressing how change can take place, and that the desires of those hoping for change were not to attack the rights issued by the Second Amendment, but rather to put public interest above private interest, and to protect Americans from gun violence.

In ending, Ms Smith told the group gathered that efforts must not end with just the one march. She emphasized the speakers’ messages that more marches must happen, more voices must be heard in Congress, and the voices for gun control must become more powerful than those of gun lobbyists in order for change to happen.

 

Feeling Renewed

Newtown resident Sarah Naphan said, following the rally, that she felt the depth of grief around her during the speeches, yet came away feeling somehow renewed.

Repeatedly hearing the statistics of how gun violence is prevalent in American society struck Diane Lockwood of Portland, Conn., there to support the Sandy Hook coalition.

How frequently those numbers are referenced as just statistics “and they’re not,” Ms Lockwood said, struck her deeply. “To hear people say that enough is enough, and that it is time to make change,” was the message she carried away, she said, and added her appreciation to the Washington, D.C., organizers of the March on Washington for Gun Control.

Stepping onto the bus for the ride back to Trumbull, Redding resident Virginia DeCristoforo said, “There’s a chance [for change]. I think there’s a moral outrage, finally.”

While postrally chants of “We demand change!” or “We can do it!” may have been an expected outcome, like the silent marchers trekking the 12 blocks from 3rd Street NW in Washington that morning to the Washington Monument, the bus ride back to Connecticut was largely subdued. Movies murmured above soft voices, some slept, and the flickering lights of cellphones and laptop computers lit the increasingly darkening interior.

The bus drove on into the face of the full moon rising from the horizon, lighting the way.

“I tell you again,” said Beatriz Delgado as she settled in for the long ride home, “in America, everything is possible.”

 

Tipping Point

In an e-mail sent to march participants late Saturday night, Mr Ackert said, “The consensus seems to be that our community needs to take action to ensure that what happened here is the impetus for change… Newtown is the tipping point. It is evident that what happened to us has given us an amazing amount of clout and influence. And we must harness the power of who we are, and who we have become, to ensure that what happened in Newtown, never happens again.”

On Sunday, January 27, Ms Smith spoke with The Bee. “I thought [the march] was an incredible success,” she said, beyond her expectations. She reiterated the organizers’ pleasure in having representatives from Newtown attend.

“You all provided the passion behind bringing the march together,” said Ms Smith. “I think it’s the beginning of a movement. Your community has been the tipping point, and I think that what people in American, common sense American, which I believe is the majority, are saying is that we need sane gun laws on assault weapons,” she said.

The truth, Ms Smith said, is that change happens only when ordinary citizens standup. “[The march] was the opportunity for people to see regular human beings marching and saying we want common sense legislation,” she said. President Obama, Vice President Biden, and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) have stepped up [to support changes in gun laws],” Ms Smith said, “And now we, the people, have to speak. The more people that can be activated on a daily basis, the less likely they are to forget.”

As stones in a river are worn down by the constant flow of water over them, so too the people of America can wear down opposition to more stringent gun control laws, she said.

“[The people’s voices have to be] constant and continued. Newtown is an icon and will always be looked to for change,” she said.

A slide show of the day’s event can be found at www.newtownbee.com.

A follow-up meeting has been scheduled in the meeting room of the C.H. Booth Library, 25 Main Street, Newtown, Tuesday, January 29, from 7 to 9 pm. Objectives of the meeting are to share findings from the DC March; share findings from Monday’s Hartford Task Force hearings; prepare for February 14 Hartford March; discuss next steps; begin committee formation. Organizer David Ackert requests that participants at the Tuesday meeting follow these ground rules: Focus on objectives. Be respectful and productive. State name when called on to speak. Complete the sign-in sheet and bring business cards if desired. The meeting is open to all who live in and outside of Newtown. RSVP to

sandyhookdad@gmail.com.

More stories like this: Sandy Hook, March on Washington, Gun Control
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