Two years ago, on December 14, 2012, I was living in the Netherlands and it was mid-afternoon when the news started to filter in, first via news alerts on my phone and quickly thereafter through texts from my mother, about a shooting in Newtown. Sandy Hook Elementary School, where 28 people would die that day (26 victims at the school – 20 children aged six or seven, 6 adults – as well as the shooter and his mother), sits about three and a half miles – as the crow flies – from her house.
By the time I got back for Christmas a week or so later, the tens of thousands of teddy bears that had lined the streets of Sandy Hook were gone, as was Anderson Cooper and the rest of the media that had camped in Treadwell Park. On one of my first days back, I drove through Newtown for the first time in several years and saw that, save for a few visible memorials and the lone police car stationed outside the entrance to the abandoned school, things seemed to be somewhat normalized. Back in Europe, I had been shaken by the fact that Sandy Hook was so close to home and that I had gone to high school with a bunch of kids from Newtown (to clarify, Sandy Hook is one of several villages or hamlets within the town of Newtown). Not one to be effected by these kinds of events, I was put at ease by the fact that there were so few visible scars.
I moved back to the area, Southbury – the town across Lake Zoar from Sandy Hook –the following summer and worked on a political campaign in my new town where I heard that Newtown, despite a local election, was effectively a “no-politics-zone” at this point. No one wanted to challenge the First Selectwoman, Pat Llodra (R), because of her grace and leadership following 12/14, and with reason. I have heard almost nothing spoke ill of her and running a campaign against someone like that is nigh impossible.
The following January I was hired by Kim Fawcett, a State Representative from Fairfield (a town on the shoreline about 45 minutes from Sandy Hook where I had gone to high school) who was planning to run for State Senate in the district that included both Newtown and Fairfield. In my interview we talked about how difficult it would be to run a campaign in Newtown and how careful we would have to be to not politicize what had happened, while, at the same time, highlighting that Kim would be the best candidate to protect the new gun legislation that had passed in the spring after 12/14 and fight for the continued support for the families and the community. Fortunately, Kim had already built a great relationship with the gun violence prevention (GVP) community in Newtown and so when I started work later that spring I was thrust into a group of advocates who were not only passionate about GVP but about getting Kim elected.
In mid-June, Kim and I and two busloads from the Newtown Action Alliance and elsewhere took a chartered bus down to New York City to walk across the Brooklyn Bridge with Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. A couple days later we started going door-to-door in Newtown and quickly began to realize just how deeply etched the scars are from that December day. Everyday through the rest of the summer we heard from families whose children were in the school or had gone to the school or who were friends with families who had lost a child or all of the above. One day I unknowingly knocked on the door of one of the families and was quickly rebuked by the husband, he “wasn’t interested.” This happens a lot when you knock on random doors but is always a little annoying so I didn’t think much of it until I found out a couple houses down and I felt like an ass. Another day we went down Yogananda Street, where the shooter and his mother lived and whose house is the subject of many current questions.
The thing is, there were 28 deaths and 27 families that were affected that day but it goes much further than that. Kate Mayer and Miranda Pacchiana, two activists with whom we worked very closely, described it like a ripple, a series of concentric circles that spread out from the center of the tragedy and touch those surrounding it with decreasing force. Kate and Miranda are closer to the center than I am but would not like to hear me say they were close to the events. Both have kids who were in older grades and only Miranda’s went to Sandy Hook, but both feel a responsibility because their kids came home that day and 20 others didn’t. They admit it may be survivors guilt, I just think it is because they have been hurt, however tangentially, by something wrong and they want to fix that wrong.
There is perhaps no better symbol for the modern age of slacktivism than the colored rubber bracelet. Pay a couple dollars and show your “support” for a cause. Mine is green, with Sandy Hook in white letters, a red heart with a halo and wings and on the inside it reads “With Love (the “o” is a heart) and Prayers from GoodsForGiving.com”. That’s all well and good but what struck me most are the 26 names in raised lettering: Olivia Ana Noah Benjamin Dylan Emilie Allison Caroline Madeleine Chase Avielle Josephine Lauren, and below: Jessica Victoria Grace Charlotte Mary Catherine James Jack Dawn Rachel Jesse Anne Marie Daniel, followed by 12.14.12. That’s powerful stuff and I didn’t even have to donate (read: pay) a dollar.
Those 26 names, to me, represent the 11,868 gun deaths this year in the US. In 2013, 30 people were killed per day by guns. Currently, the US fits snuggly between Mexico and Argentina with 10.3 deaths per 100,000 people, for the sake of relativity, the nearest wealthy (I am purposefully not using the term developed) nation on the same list is Switzerland with 3.84 deaths per 100,000. I will not go in depth here into an argument for stricter gun regulation; especially increased background checks, a national database of gun owners and their licenses, restrictions on handguns, high capacity rifles and their magazines, stringent storage laws, and the ability of courts and police to remove weapons from situations of domestic violence and mental instability. I have done that to some extent elsewhere. I will say that it is the absurdity of these numbers and their direct link to the lack gun regulation (see numbers 4 and 5 here, also here), and not emotion, idealism, or fear of guns that informs my position on this subject. More to the point, it is also not particularly why I wear a green Sandy Hook bracelet.
I wear my bracelet because of Kate and Miranda, Monte Frank and Po Murray, leaders in the Newtown Action Alliance, and Pete Muckell, a registered Republican and gun owner who also recognizes the absurdity, and Shaul Praver, a rabbi in Newtown who I believe gave me the bracelet. Most of all, I wear it because of Abbey Clements and Carol Wexler, two teachers who were in the building two years ago today and who herded their children to safety and who shared their stories with Kim and me.
I wear my bracelet because of their humanity and passion and their belief that if something is wrong you should do everything you can to fix it and because they are able to stand athwart absurdity and greed and irrationality, yelling Stop, at a time when no one is inclined to do so, or to have much patience with those who so urge it. I hope you forgive me for borrowing that definition.