Chanting “enough is enough” and “we want gun control now,” students, teachers, parents, and community members marched from the Corning Fountain in Bushnell Park to the steps of the State Capitol for the March For Our Lives Rally. The Hartford rally was just one of nearly a dozen similar demonstrations held across the state, and among hundreds held around the country, organized by students and their supporters calling for an end to the gun violence plaguing our nation’s schools.
“A change is coming and it starts right now, led by students like me. Our young voices will be heard,” said rally organizer Tyler Suarez. A freshman at the University of Bridgeport, Suarez has dedicated his life to school safety after his aunt, Dawn Hochsprung, the principal of Sandy Hook Elementary School was killed.
“Educators stand in solidarity with our precious and powerful students and we stand with you in saying ‘enough is enough,’” CEA President Sheila Cohen told the crowd of more than 15,000.
Cohen was among the many speakers who took to the stage, including students, politicians, local leaders, and others calling on Congress to take action to keep our schools safe and end this epidemic of mass school shootings plaguing and terrorizing our country.
“This is an issue that affects every single one of us. There must never be another single teacher, administrator, coach, custodian, bus driver, cafeteria worker, administrative assistant, any school personnel whose obituary reads, ‘remembered for giving his or her life in the line of duty.’ That’s B.S,” said Cohen.
Teachers showed their support for their students, many with signs that read: I stand with my students.
“As a teacher, I want to do anything I can to support the civic awakening of students and that is happening here in Hartford, and it is where I needed to be,” said Greenwich Education Association President Carol Sutton.
Sutton, who made the long drive from Greenwich, was joined by thousands of her colleagues, many of whom rode CEA-sponsored buses into Hartford and carried homemade signs, to unite with their students in calling for safe schools.
“We are so proud of our students for their activism. This generation has to run with this because adults have been unsuccessful so far,” said Sutton.
The March for Our Lives Rallies are part of the nationwide anti-school violence movement that began after the latest school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida that left 17 students and teachers dead. The movement is drawing attention to the need to
- Ensure schools are safe learning environments
- Urge Congress to pass strict gun and school safety laws similar to the tough laws Connecticut passed after the Sandy Hook shooting
- Provide funding for school resources and mental health services
Connecticut, which already has some of the toughest gun laws in the country, could see additional changes if the legislature approves two bills currently before them. The bills would further improve school security and address aggressive student behavior.
Westport teacher Kerstin Rao attended the rally standing under a makeshift desk, to represent all the scared children and all those lost to gun violence.
“The desk represents every parent’s worst nightmare and every teacher’s heartbreak. I am standing under the desk symbolizing a lock down drill. We have a culture of anxiety, fear, and complacency with the NRA and it is time to stop.”
CREC English language teacher Marilyn Tucker attended the rally with her 16-year-old daughter Christa to help her see what democracy is all about and to “get a taste of activism.”
“I loved it,” said the Rocky Hill High School student. “Things need to change and we all need to get involved to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
Teachers Shelby and Rob Irwin brought their two daughters to the rally.
“We all need to come together, as a community and voice our opinions. It’s really good to see our youth speaking up,” they said. “We care about our students and they need to be able to go to school without fear.”
Their 14-year-old daughter, Indigo, a Hamden freshman said school shootings are very real to her. “Someone can come into my school with a gun, and I am very afraid it will happen.” She says it’s important for adults to pay attention and listen to student concerns.
Manchester teacher Laurel Botting attended the rally with her two children. She says she never wants to choose between protecting her students or her children’s mom.
“I teach because I love kids, and I don’t want to see them hurt, shot, or die.” Botting, whose 7-year-old daughter is in a wheelchair, said “I don’t want to worry about whether my daughter can run away, because she can’t.”
Manchester teachers Joanie Corwin, Martha DiGiovanni, Corrine Colman, and Colleen Litwin became active in social justice issues after attending last year’s Women’s March. They said part of being a teacher is getting involved and speaking up for their students.
Former Trumbull para professional Jane Tipler said her school’s close proximity to Newtown really impacted the students and teachers in her community. Tipler, who is originally from the United Kingdom, said the U.S. needs stricter gun control laws. “We don’t have access to guns in the UK and don’t have these types of problems.”
“We have to stand up for our students,” said Southington Education Association President Dan Hart, who attended the rally with his wife, Susan, a retired math teacher. They said the rally sends a message to lawmakers. “It shows them what the people want and they must act by eliminating bump stocks and large magazines and take other actions that will keep our students and our schools safe.”
“Congress must take action to protect all students in every school in America,” urged Cohen.
Trumbull High School teacher Nicole Caruso Garcia said as a nation, we can no longer overlook all the violence.
“I am hopeful for the future. The students in Parkland and here in Hartford are so inspirational. They are getting things done and more action is needed. I encourage them all to vote.”
CEA sponsored one of the many voter registration tables at the rally to encourage students who will turn 18 years of age by the November election to register to vote. CEA is also working with the Connecticut Registrar of Voters to hold voter registration drives in schools across the state, encouraging students to participate in this important democratic right.
Senator Richard Blumenthal had a warning for his Congressional colleagues who stand with the NRA. “There will be consequences this November and in 2020, because young people will vote, hold you accountable, and kick you out of office.”