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This is an expanded version of a story first posted on Wednesday, March 14.
Members of the Junior Newtown Action Alliance (Jr NAA) had green and white signs prepared for March 14, the day when Women’s March Youth Empower called for National School Walkout events against gun violence.
On one side the Jr NAA signs read End Gun Violence. On the other side, the Jr NAA logo was printed with #HonorWithAction below it. Students also had handwritten signs that shared messages like #NeverAgain and #Enough. #Action. Kids for change!
The walkout was held exactly one month after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. Members of Jr NAA shared that they want students in Parkland to know Newtown students support them.
NHS students were given the choice to participate in the walkout. Students could choose to take part, gather for personal learning time in the cafeteria or library, or go to the school’s gymnasium to sign a banner that will be shared with students in Parkland.
According to Jr NAA Co-Chairs Jackson Mittleman and Tommy Murray, both juniors at Newtown High School, the banner will be taken to Washington, DC, on March 24 for the March For Our Lives. Jackson said they plan to deliver the banner personally to Parkland students.
Just after 10 am Wednesday, NHS students who chose to take part in the school’s walkout exited the main lobby to the building’s front parking lot. Students filled in space between parked cars while holding signs high and chanting, at times, “We want change,” as shared in a live video broadcast on the Jr NAA’s Facebook page.
Roughly 20 Jr NAA students organized the walkout at the high school. According to NHS senior and Jr NAA member Julia DiMartino, the group wanted to project a unified message that change is needed. Julia said Newtown students know what it is like to experience tragedy and they want the Parkland students to know they are supported.
Jr NAA member and NHS senior Hana Rosenthal said she hopes the NHS walkout helps prove “that our generation has one united voice.”
Standing near Hana, NHS senior and Jr NAA member Shannon Cheh added, “Our generation is not going to back down any time soon, and we will not stop until change gets to the Congress floor.”
Jackson said elected officials should know that if change is not supported, then today’s students will vote them out of office in 2018 and 2020.
Rory Edwards, a fellow senior and Jr NAA member, said he hopes the NHS walkout shares the message that the students are frustrated over what has been happening with gun violence.
According to participant reports, a majority of students walked out of NHS for the event.
According to a video posted online from the walkout, the event included reading the names of gun violence victims. Following the reading, Jackson, using a megaphone, said, “Newtown High School we have had enough of gun violence.” Students responded with cheers.
Dr Lorrie Rodrigue, who will officially be superintendent of schools in Newtown on March 19, shared on Twitter that the Jr NAA students “led a well orchestrated demonstration to support changes in legislation to make schools safer.”
After the walkout, Dr Rodrigue said she hopes the students learned that if they truly believe in something they should learn about the topic and take a stance if they believe they can make a positive change in the world. She said it was courageous for students to stand up and try to make a difference after another tragedy.
Across town, Newtown Middle School students were given the choice to attend a learning lab period or gather in the school’s cafeteria to sign paper banners. Following the event, Principal Thomas Einhorn said he is proud of the respect his students showed each other, regardless of what other students chose to do.
“I hope they learned we all have a right to express our opinion, but, more importantly, we have a duty to respect the choices others make,” he said. Mr Einhorn added that NMS tried to be respectful of community wishes for the day.
As Dr Rodrigue told the Board of Education at its meeting on March 6, only NMS and NHS recognized the walkout for the day.
Wednesday evening, Jr NAA hosted a rally in front of the Newtown-based National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF). In a press release before the event the group explained the rally was held to call for the President and Congress to pass a ban on assault weapons, high capacity magazines and bump stocks; require background checks on all gun sales; raise the minimum age to purchase all guns to 21; pass extreme risk protection laws to temporarily remove guns from those suffering from a crisis; and make the #NoNRAMoney pledge to stop taking money from the NRA, NSSF, and other gun lobby organizations.
NHS sophomore Ryssa Swanson and freshman Erica Friedrich attended the rally. Ryssa held a sign that read “I should not be afraid to go to school.” Erica’s sign read “Together we demand change.”
By 6:45 pm the line of people participating in the quiet gathering stretched from the stop sign at the corner of Mile Hill and Queen Street to the driveway entrance of NSSF, about 45 yards. Just 15 minutes later the line was multiple people deep in areas. The rally ran from 6:30 pm to 8 pm. Almost everyone held a sign.
Jr NAA member and NHS junior Jenny Wadhwa said she was attending the rally because after a while she began to realize that Americans were becoming numb to gun tragedies. She said it felt like nothing was happening, but now it feels like “the time is now.” In her hands, Jenny held hot chocolate to keep warm on the cold evening.
Jr NAA Co-Chair Tommy Murray also attended the rally. He said he felt the walkout earlier in the day went well and was powerful.
“I just want to send a message to the government that students have a voice, we have had enough of these shootings, and we want change,” said Tommy.
While looking across the street at the rally, Po Murray, Tommy’s mother and chairwoman of NAA, expressed pride in what the students were doing.
“I’m really proud of these students for using their voice to make our country safer,” Ms Murray said.
When reached earlier in the day for a comment about the planned rally, NSSF Director of Public Affairs Michael Bazinet rereleased a statement from February: “The senseless loss of life that occurred on February 14 in Parkland, Fla., is unimaginable and heartbreaking. Members of the firearms industry share the goal of all Americans in wanting to see violence in our society reduced and our communities and children made safer. The National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), as the industry’s trade association, has led the way in improving the FBI National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) through our successful FixNICS initiative that has changed the law in 16 states and improved the quality of reporting by states to NICS of disqualifying records. The industry welcomes the opportunity to participate in the national conversation to find common ground that will help us all achieve our shared goal. NSSF has long advocated for effective solutions to help prevent access to firearms by unauthorized individuals including criminals, children and the dangerously mentally ill.”
Jr NAA Co-Chair Tommy Murray stands on Tinkerfield Road Wednesday evening, before heading across Mile Hill Road to join a rally organized by young adults who wanted to project a unified message that change is needed. The evening rally, held in front of NSSF headquarters, was the second event organized by Jr NAA on March 14.
Sasha Allen, right, of Newtown, carried a sign at Wednesday evening’s rally with a message that said 87 percent of those ages 14 and under who are killed by guns in developed countries are children in the United States. Sasha called the idea of guns being valued more than the lives of children “disgusting.” Sasha was joined at the rally by Brittany Blakeman of Oxford, who carried a sign that said “Our lives are worth more than your hobby.”
—Bee Photo, Hicks
Newtown High School students Erica Friedrich, left, and Ryssa Swanson, who had both participated in the National School Walkout Wednesday morning, also attended the Jr NAA rally Wednesday evening.
—Bee Photo, Hicks
Melissa Leyva, left, and Cara Manes both carried signs proclaiming #Enough during Wednesday evening’s rally in front of NSSF.
—Bee Photo, Hicks
—Bee Photo, Hicks
“We cannot accept this craziness,” Barbara Richardson said Wednesday, arriving at the rally carrying a sign that declared Never Again on one side and School Is No Place For Fear on the other.
—Bee Photo, Hicks
Nearly 55 people had gathered in front of National Shooting Sports Foundation headquarters by 7 pm Wednesday, March 14, for the second Jr NAA event of the day. A walkout at Newtown High School and the evening rally on Mile Hill Road were coordinated by the local youth group as part of a national effort by Women’s March Youth Empower.