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Parkland, Newtown Students Inspire ‘March For Our Lives’ Protestors Across Generations

Three Connecticut students took center stage Saturday at the “March For Our Lives” rally in Washington, D.C., organized in response to last month’s school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 people.

The students presented a banner from the Newtown Community to the Parkland community.

“We know your pain. We know what you are going through. And we are inspired by your fight for change,” said Jackson Mittleman, a junior at Newtown High School.

Mittleman spoke alongside his classmate Tommy Murray, who was in 6th grade on lockdown when a gunman killed 20 students and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012.

“Since then, I have attended vigils. I have protested in front of the gun lobby in our town. I have sent letters to Congress. I have traveled to D.C. to meet with Congress to beg them to do something to stop gun violence but they did nothing,” Murray said.  “They didn’t ban assault weapons or pass universal background check bills and now the entire Parkland community is shattered the way our town was after the massacre in my elementary school.”

Matthew Soto of Stratford was 15 when his sister Victoria Soto, a teacher, was killed in the Sandy Hook shooting. He said the epidemic of gun violence affects too many schools, churches, movie theaters, neighborhoods, and homes.

“America, I am pleading with you to realize this is not ok. We do not have to live like this. To my fellow students, it is our time to stand up, register to vote, bring power to the polls, and show those that say that our lives are not more important to a gun that we are important. That we matter.”

Jenny Wadhwa, a junior at Newtown High School, said the Newtown students were able to come out in full force Saturday thanks to the support of their parents and community.

“This is a kid-led movement, but it’s really also about all those adults who are standing behind us making our voices be heard.” she said.

The students’ message resonated with people holding smaller marches back in their home state, including a group of 75 senior citizens at the Watermark at 3030 Park senior living facility in Bridgeport, Conn.  

Credit Valorie Luther / Creative Concepts, LLC
Residents of the Watermark at 3030 Park senior living facility, their family members, and friends protest with banners and signs just outside the Bridgeport, Conn., facility.

“We’ve talked about these issues over dinner and over, you know, other social events and I knew that at least some of them would be supportive and it turned out that a lot of them than I realized were very supportive” said Linda Cohen-Calger, a 76-year-old retired lawyer.

A relative of hers was shot and killed in 1984 by a criminal that she says should never have had had a gun.    

“I will tell you that our family never really got over it,” said Cohen-Calger. “We think about him all the time. We miss him all the time. It was a real tragic event.”

She said the march won’t be the end of her activism. “I want to make sure everybody’s registered and everybody gets out there to vote for people who believe in common sense gun measures.”  

Alyssa Befumo, a student at Huntington High School on Long Island, is one of the hundreds of student organizers around the country. She registered voters at the solidarity rally in Huntington that drew more than 1,000 people.

“We have had a lot of people surprised that they could register to vote before age of 18,” Befuomo said. “We are informing people, a lot of kids who seem excited to vote when it’s time. A lot of people looking to change their political affiliation.”

Fred Gladstone attended the Farmingdale march with his wife and daughter.

“In six weeks, these high school students have done more than the Democratic Party has done in the past 20 years,” Gladstone said, “So I give them enormous credit.”

Credit Jay Shah / WSHU
Student speakers from Long Island introduce elected officials at a rally held at Farmingdale State College. Nearly 1,000 people were in attendance.

Back in Washington, the Newtown students called out President Trump, Congress, and all elected leaders throughout the country.

“You have failed us and we have had enough of your NRA agenda,” said Newtown High School Junior Jackson Mittleman. “I’m calling out those who have taken money from the NRA. You better bring that check to the bank in put it in your retirement fund because we’re gonna vote you out!”

Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters said the Trump administration applauds the many courageous young Americans exercising their first amendment rights and that keeping children safe is a top priority of President Trump.