The March For Our Lives event in East Haddam was one of 12 happening in Connecticut—and more than 800 across the globe for that matter.
It was about kids and families standing together against gun violence—particularly in schools. This one, though, was more like a vigil.
Sophie Spaner, 15, is a high school sophomore from Deep River. Spaner performed as the vigil’s emcee.
“It’s very important to me, as well as students across the country, that this is a student-driven movement,” Spaner said.
She addressed a big crowd in the small town and she invited her fellow students up to the makeshift stage outside of a coffee shop to read the names of victims of gun violence.
“I think it’s horrible that we live in a world where students go to school and they’re scared,” Spaner said
Shea Campion, 14, goes to school with Spaner.
“For my sign, I wrote ‘NEVER AGAIN’ and I wrote all of the names of everyone who was killed in a school shooting since the beginning of 2017,” said Campion while holding up her sign.
Campion rallied in their memory and to reinforce student-driven action.
“We have politicians who aren’t doing anything for change,” Campion said. “As I’m older and I can take a stand, I have the words I can say, I have things I can do.”
Rhath Tokarz, 11, also carried a sign. The message on his read “protect kids—not guns, not AR15’s”
“They’re not really public weapons at all,” Tokarz said. “They’re more like military weapons.”
Rhath and some others waved signs at cars to get honks. Across the street from them were a group of counter-protestors. A woman with a megaphone yelled out “Trump” periodically.
Chris Walsh shouted, “We love our children so much that we have them read the Constitution.” He lives in East Haddam.
“I have tremendous respect for people on that side of the road—we are not against safety in schools. It’s just that we believe that common-sense solutions do not include gun bans,” Walsh said.
Rather than gun control, Walsh wants more resource officers and more threat assessments to be done in schools. He also called for the curriculum to have more “god and patriotism.”
The site of this protest has been a spot of contention among locals since Donald Trump was elected president in November of 2016. It’s a café called “Two Wrasslin’ Cats,.” about a mile away from the famous swing bridge that carries cars over the Connecticut River. The controversy started when a sign featuring a quote from civil rights activist Shaun King was vandalized.
“And the community was outraged by that because it was a sign of inclusion and standing with marginalized groups,” said Stephanie Armstrong, who is the chairman of a group called “Together We Rise CT.”
Ever since then, Armstrong’s group has held a vigil every Saturday at this spot. They invited the kids to use the space for their local March For Our Lives event.
“We want to listen to them and we want to learn from them because adults haven’t done it,” Armstrong said.
Approximately 300 people showed up and signed in. Armstrong said that’s double the amount that had registered online.