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Po Murray, chairman of the Newtown Action Alliance and The Newtown Foundation, along with board member Tom Campbell and residents Phil and Jojo Keane were among hundreds of Newtown residents and visitors who packed St Mark’s Episcopal Church in Washington, DC, December 6, for the 5th Annual National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence. But they also took advantage of the opportunity to advocate both publicly and privately with lawmakers about supporting common-sense firearms initiatives.
The Newtown Foundation and the Newtown Action Alliance with support from Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown Survivor Network, Faiths United to Prevent Gun Violence, Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, Organizing for Action, States United to Prevent Gun Violence, St Marks Episcopal Church, and Women’s March on Washington held a series of events in Washington including the vigil to honor of all victims of gun violence and survivors.
“The Fifth Annual National Vigil for All Victims was a beautiful tribute honoring the lives taken by gun violence from Sandy Hook and beyond,” Ms Murray told The Newtown Bee. “We stood united with families and survivors directly impacted by gun violence from 20 states, gun violence prevention organizations, faith leaders, advocates, and elected officials to shine a light on the devastating impact of gun violence and, once again, we renewed our commitment to ending gun violence in America.”
Ms Murray said the Newtown Action Alliance and the Newtown Foundation do not want Newtown to be defined by the tragedy it experienced on December 14, 2012.
“We want to be defined by our work to make other families and communities safer in America,” she said. “We are currently coordinating nearly 300 nationwide vigils and events to #EndGunViolence during the month of December. We know that we are on the right side of history since the majority of Americans stand with us.”
Besides the emotional experience of gathering with so many advocates and victims of gun violence at the vigil, Mr Keane said it was first time that he and his wife ever had a chance to walk the halls of Congress and visit US Senate offices.
“What struck us most was the passion at which our elected officials from Connecticut spoke,” Mr Keane told The Bee. “I had not seen that before, I think that what we’re seeing is a sense of real anger and a fed-upness that has really set it in. Don’t get me wrong, they’re not giving up, there seems to be a sense of renewed optimism. Everyone has fire in their belly.”
The Keanes were particularly impressed by a rancher from New Mexico and a gun owner, who donned his cowboy hat and “spoke beautifully about sensible gun laws and background checks,” Mr Keane said.
“It’s people like him that will help the message spread that sensible gun laws don’t mean we’re coming to take your guns away,” he added. “That’s the myth that the gun lobby is perpetually reinforcing.”
Mr Campbell said while he was fired up by the blitz of passionate survivors and constituents that flooded lawmakers’ Congressional and Senate offices, he was also deeply moved at what was his own fifth annual pilgrimage to the vigil. He said singer/songwriter Natalie Merchant performed The Beatles’ “Let it Be,” and adopted activist Pete Seeger’s call and response style as St Mark’s swelled with the sound of voices singing along to “We Shall Overcome.”
“You could sense the raw emotion there,” Mr Campbell said. “It was good. She led the whole congregation at that point.”
He said another high point of each of his five years heading down to the nation’s capital with the alliance is the solidarity he sees with so many other like-minded groups and new friends he meets.
“It’s an emotional trip, but this is something we all feel is important,” Mr Campbell said. “What makes it so much more compelling are these people from 18 other states — and there are so many new people. We even met some who lost their family members just a few months ago in Las Vegas.”
While many survivors have related their own horrific stories to Mr Campbell, everyone participating also wants to make an impression on the lawmakers they visit.
“There is a certain curative power in sharing these stories. You can see it when people come together and share their similar experiences, and it gives them the courage and power to come out and speak about these things.”