Intimate Vigil United Advocacy Groups, Residents Following Mass Shootings
An intimate but powerful vigil on August 8 culminating with attendees at Newtown United Methodist Church joining hands and singing the spiritual "We Shall Overcome" honored more than 30 victims who were killed and injured during three recent mass shootings.
The roughly hour long event was organized by Barbara Sibley, who represents Moms Demand Action. The Thurdsay evening event within the Sandy Hook church was presented in partnership with Newtown Action Alliance (NAA), and CT Against Gun Violence (CAGV), organizations that sprung up in the aftermath of 12/14, which occurred just a short distance from the NUMC vigil site.
Around 100 attendees gathered to mourn the lives taken last weekend in El Paso, Texas, and in Dayton, Ohio; at a street fair August 5 in Brooklyn, N.Y.; and others killed every day across America by gun violence.
The intention of the organizers was to not only provide an appropriate, intimate setting for local residents and visitors to gather and grieve, but to also encourage attendees to take further or continued action to lobby federal lawmakers on supporting common sense firearms measures.
Ms Sibley, 12/14 survivor Jordan Gomes, NAA Vice Chair David Stowe, and CAGV Director Jeremy Ian Stein additionally urged visitors to complete cards that will be presented to Connecticut legislators for their "unwavering support of common sense gun safety laws," along with postcards being dispatched to key US Senators, encouraging them to vote on the current HR 8 bill, and federal background checks.
Organizers provided orange roses to survivors of gun violence who attended the event.
At several points during the vigil, the husband and wife duo Pete and Anne Sibley provided perfect musical accompaniment that combined his soft guitar strumming and harmonies with her gentle vocals.
To open the vigil, NUMC Pastor Lori Miller welcomed visitors, reminding everyone that "we want to pray for the end to hatred.
"We will not let hate, apathy, and violence win," she said, reflecting on the spate of mass shootings that Ms Sibley said claimed 38 lives and injured 114 over a period of less than 24 hours the previous weekend.
Ms Sibley asked attendees to also remember and pray for the countless witnesses to these horrific events whose lives will be "forever changed," as a result of the violence and "tragic, preventable shootings" that happened before their eyes.
Calling the seemingly escalating incidents of mass shootings a "public health crisis," Ms Sibley, who was trapped just outside Sandy Hook Elementary School while her child was inside on 12/14, said the current situation "demands urgent action."
"These [survivors and witnesses] have become members of a club that nobody wants to join," she said, "the millions of Americans whose lives are changed by gun violence."
"And this club just keeps getting bigger every day," she said of the growing list of mass shooting survivors left to carry on.
Ms Gomes, who was able to make it out of Sandy Hook School that December morning in 2012, said she was challenged to translate her emotions about the latest shootings into words.
"I had lots of feelings I didn't know how to share, and lots of points I didn't know how to make," she confessed. "I am a strong advocate for gun violence prevention, but tonight is not the place to politicize the passings of those in El Paso, Brooklyn, and Dayton. Tonight should be about remembrance."
Ms Gomes said she struggled after her experiences at Sandy Hook because she "never really had time to mourn freely. I believe all of us deserve a time and place to just breathe and to step away from the outcry so we can just feel."
She said that those lost must be remembered for the people they were and the lives they led up until the end, versus as just another statistic.
"I remember after Sandy Hook — especially the outpouring of love and support from people I didn't know and places I never knew existed. Those were the things that meant most to me during those darkest of days: that people were thinking about me and our community," she said. "Our sense of community makes us resilient, and with that we have the ability to rebuild and destroy the hatred and racism that has been part of these recent events and know peace."
Ms Gomes, along with Mr Stein and Mr Stowe, then read the names of the recent victims, and as each name was read, Ms Sibley toned a small bell to mark their passing. Attendees were then asked to come forward to place shiny green stones in a collection chalice as a sign of support and solidarity for mas shooting survivors elsewhere.
Moving to the microphone, Mr Stein noted that the approximately 100 stones that were placed reminded him of the approximately 100 lives that would be claimed by gun violence across the US that day.
"I don't like the feeling," he said. "So many names — it's unbelievable. And it's not enough to be in this room — when we leave this sacred place we need to act...we need to do something."
Mr Stein praised state lawmakers for their proactive work on common sense gun laws, but lamented that "we are only as safe as our neighboring states, and that is why we need every state and Congress to act...today."
Mr Stowe told vigil attendees that they could help support the effort by attending a planned early December gathering of advocates and NAA supporters for a national vigil and lobbying of various federal lawmakers in Washington, DC.
"It's a very empowering experience, so we organize a day of advocacy, and there will also be a national gun violence prevention conference happening at that same time as well," he said.
As the main event wound toward its closing, the Sibleys began singing "We Shall Overcome," as a number of attendees formed a huge circle and everyone else in the sanctuary held hands and joined in. As visitors began filing out, sharing hugs, they converged at tables outside to sign postcards and a banner of support.
For more information on NAA, visit newtownactionalliance.org; for details about Moms Demand Action, go to momsdemandaction.org; and to support the CAGV, visit cagv.org.