Christine Stuart/ ctnewsjunkie
Parkland students march to the tent (Christine Stuart/ ctnewsjunkie)

NEWTOWN, CT — It was the last stop on the March for Our Lives tour and it was a chance for the Newtown students to meet the Parkland students and talk about the movement that united them.

The students met behind the large white tent set up for the event on the Fairfield Hills campus. A “No press” sign was prominently displayed as the meetings between the students occurred and the speaking program was finalized.

Hundreds gathered in front of the stage Sunday to hear from the students. No politicians were allowed to speak even though many, including those with a primary in two days, showed up to shake hands and show their support for sensible gun laws.

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Matt Deitsch and Jaclyn Corin, two Parkland students (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

Jaclyn Corin, a student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School kicked off the rally by reminding everyone that it has been 179 days since the shooting took the lives of 17 students and educators at her school in Parkland, Florida, and 2,068 days since the same happened to 26 students and educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown.

“Two-thousand sixty-eight days since my friend Natalie has had to look into her little brother’s room and find an empty bed,” Corin said.

She was referring to Natalie Barden, whose bother, Daniel, was one of the first-graders killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Sunday was the first time Barden spoke publicly about the loss of her brother. She was 10 years old when he was killed.

“For a long time, it was too difficult for me to think about gun violence and participate in this conversation,” Barden said. “But I can no longer allow myself to stay out of it.”

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Mark and Natalie Barden sing Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

She said the Junior Newtown Action Alliance has shown her how to get involved and the students from Parkland “showed me we have to use our voices to enact this change that simply must come.”

She sang Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind” while her father accompanied her on the guitar.

“Both Parkland and Newtown never expected this level of violence to touch our communities,” Corin said. “We are both suburban areas with similar population demographics.”

They are now united, according to Corin, by unimaginable pain and strength that rose from the victims and survivors in the aftermath of both tragedies.

Matt Deitsch, another Parkland student, said there’s no way to erase the pain and suffering the two towns have experienced, “but there is a way to erase this from happening again. There’s a way to erase the everyday violence that inflicts communities around the United States of America.”

The mission of March for Our Lives is “to assure that no special interest group or political agenda is more critical than the timely passage of legislation to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant in our country.”

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Stoneman Douglas T-shirt (Christine Stuart / ctnewsjunkie)

They want universal background checks, they want the ATF to have access to a digitized, searchable database, funds for the Center for Disease Control to research gun violence, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and a ban on semi-automatic assault rifles.

Deitsch said they’ve had a unique look at America this summer. From California to Texas to Baltimore, they met people in more than 80 cities who agreed and disagreed. Some of their rallies have been met with counter protesters. But Sunday’s event in Newtown lacked any type of counter-protest.

The students have also made a point of registering people to vote.

He said they’ve registered more young people to vote than any single effort has managed.

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And when they didn’t think they had the strength, they were reminded of how movements work.

“The foundation for this movement was beneath us the whole time,” Deitsch said, adding that they were inspired to do the tour by the labor movement and the freedom rides that had young people traveling across the country for civil rights.

He said the current system is working to divide the nation, while their movement is working to find solutions. Deitsch said they will not end their march until the violence stops.

The event brought together urban and suburban students from across the country and in Connecticut.

A group of 32 youth from Hartford helped host the event.

Joshua Fee of Hartford Communities That Care Youth Leadership Academy said there’s gun violence in their community not because they’re “black and it’s not because we’re in gangs — we are not. And it’s not because we’re not smart—all of us want to attend college or be in a trade. It’s not because we’re lazy.”

He said they’ve been working on research to prevent gun violence and all violence in their community every Saturday. Dayzra Bournes, another youth from the group, said alleviate poverty, organize research to support entrepreneurs, address the achievement gap, and improve broadband internet service are just a few of the proven ways to end the violence.

Jeremy Stein, executive director of Connecticut Against Gun Violence, said gun safety should not be a partisan issue.

“We hope people vote for common sense gun laws,” Stein said, adding that it was disheartening to see that the five Republicans running for governor don’t see it as an important issue.

In their last debate, the Republican candidates for governor said the issue of 3D printed guns was something the federal government should handle.

Stein said that while they might be speaking to the base of their party, he’s confident that those in favor of “common sense gun laws” far outnumber the Connecticut Citizens Defense League when it comes to influencing an election.

Newtown students Tommy Murray and Jackson Mittleman say they were inspired by Parkland students.

Posted by on Sunday, August 12, 2018