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Students Learn Lobbying Skills

When Newtown Action Alliance (NAA) scheduled a trip to Washington, D.C., along with gun violence victims and family members, for September 17 to 19, the Junior Newtown Action Alliance (Jr NAA) group at Newtown High School also planned to go.

Newtown Action Alliance is a grassroots organization created in the weeks after 12/14 to reduce gun violence through legislation and broader cultural change. Jr NAA is led by teens.

Looking back on the trip this week, Jr NAA Chair and NHS senior Sarah Clements said NHS students attending the event were joined by other students, up to college age, for the trip. By the time the roughly 13 NHS students went before lawmakers, they were in a group of close to 100 students, according to Sarah.

“It was really a great group, because it was so diverse, not just in terms of age,” Sarah said, “but also in background and experience.” While the Newtown students shared stories about how they were affected by the events of 12/14 at Sandy Hook Elementary School, other students shared different stories relating to gun violence.

While the trip had been planned in advance, it also coincided with the shooting at the Washington Navy Yard on September 16.

The group was set to attend a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the “stand your ground” laws, according to Sarah, but that hearing was postponed. Instead the venturing students were dropped off at the Center for American Progress, “a progressive public policy research and advocacy organization,” according to its website.

“I really wanted to introduce the students to all that [the Center for American Progress] does,” said Sarah.

After a lunch, catered by the Center for American Progress, the students met up with adults at Capitol Hill, according to Sarah.

People from all over the country were lobbying, Sarah said, and for most of the students it was a first. The group continued lobbying for the second day of the trip.

Sarah said she held meetings with students before the trip to teach them “the basics of grass roots lobbying.” At first, Sarah said, it can be hard to tell a story, time and again, but the students learned and studied statistics.

Watching both adults and students advocating to lawmakers, Sarah noted the difference in how people responded to the students. The lawmakers seemed more open, more responsive when approached by a students, Sarah said.

“I’m looking forward to each successive time we go to DC to bring more and more young people,” Sarah said.

The trip, overall, Sarah said, “opened our eyes to the magnitude of the issue.”

Other students attending the trip told Sarah they learned the issues are larger than Newtown, and how the government can work to work on the issues.

For any students interested in joining Jr NAA, Sarah said to look for updates and information on the Newtown Action Alliance Facebook page and website www.newtownaction.org.

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