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John Winthrop Middle School 8th graders Emi Bisson, Abby Amara, and Lindsey and Lauren Valentino led the March 24 March for Our Lives in Old Saybrook. The girls, all from Chester, were the organizers of the event, which drew hundreds to Main Street. (Photo by Emily McColl/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Marchers lined both sides of Main Street in the March 24 Old Saybrook March for Our Lives event. (Photo by Emily McColl/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
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Inspired by national events and motivated by a handful of Valley area students, Main Street in Old Saybrook was transformed into a show of solidarity as hundreds assembled for the March for Our Lives on March 24.
U.S. Congressman Joe Courtney, who was invited by Valley Regional High School student Kate Farrell, started the event with a few words about the importance of the march and the change that needs to be made.
“When he said he was proud of us and that we could call him at his office at any time to talk about this subject, that really made me feel like we are making a change and we are getting heard by the people who can help us,” said Lindsey Valentino, one of the four John Winthrop Middle School 8th graders who organized the local march.
Her fellow coordinators included her twin sister Lauren Valentino and Emi Bisson and Abby Amara, all of Chester. According to Amara, the girls began planning this event back in February following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, but they never imagined there would be such a large turnout.
“We were hoping for maybe 50 to 100 people, but we got a lot more than that, which really makes us feel supported,” said Amara.
The quartet started a Facebook page and an Instagram account to get the word out about the march and spread the word by putting up signs in area towns and word of mouth invitations.
“We knew we wanted to do something, and we knew we would not be able to get to Washington D.C., so we decided to get together and organize a march here,” explained Lindsey Valentino.
“We wanted to be heard and we want our message to make a change,” added Lauren Valentino.
“It was very important to us to get as many people as we could together to spread the message,” said Bisson, who admitted that there are times during her school day when she feels nervous about what could happen.
For 45 minutes the crowd of marchers lined both sides of Old Saybrook’s Main Street, many carrying handmade signs depicting messages such as “Game over NRA!” “Am I next?” “Protect kids NOT Guns!” and “Enough is Enough!”
While the march, one of more than 800 reported around the country, was youth organized, the demographics of the marchers ranged from those who used walkers to those who rested in strollers, and included every age in-between.
“I haven’t done this since 1967,” said Rich Alexander, who marched along side his wife Jean, both wearing T-shirts that said “Grandparents Against Assault Weapons.”
“We are here because we have grandchildren and we want to see them grow up and be safe,” said Rich Alexander.
Jean Alexander added, “There needs to be common sense legislation. There is no need for assault weapons, the only purpose for those guns is to kill people.”
“I am here because honestly because I am jealous of how active and passionate this generation is,” said Jason Simms of Deep River, who was carry his six-month-old daughter Fionnuala. “I was in high school when the Columbine shootings happened and I feel like my generation should have done more. We dropped the ball.”
He added, “Soon enough [Fionnuala] will be starting school and her first day of kindergarten will be the scariest day of my life, if things don’t change!”
Southern Connecticut State University freshman Heather Uphold, who grew up in Old Saybrook, attended the march to support the cause, but also because recent actions have caused her to think long and hard about her education major.
“I am going to school to become a teacher and I don’t want to have to be armed to do my job,” said Uphold.
Agreeing with that statement, Chester resident and Valley Regional High School student Elliot Colloton said, “Students deserve to feel safe and secure at school. This country values guns more than our lives and it has to change! We are here to march for change and action. Silence is complacency.”
“I am so proud of all the students today,” said Chester First Selectman Lauren Gister. “These kids are amazing and it is going to be the children who lead us. They have no fear. They are making a very important impact and we all need to support them.”
Impressed by the march, the cause, and the large number of people who came out in support, Michael Honiski, owner SWAG on Old Saybrook’s Main Street, said, “In the past 10 years that I have been a business owner here, there have been several marches and protests in the center of town, but none has had such a large turnout. This is great to see. I think the important thing is that this is people participating in democracy; this is what makes our country so great! Everyone can have a voice and be heard and I think that is what these kids will remember from this march.”
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