More than 60 people gathered in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square Wednesday night to honor lives lost by gun violence.
By Joy Taylor, Photos by Amy and Mick Melvin
In an attempt to demand action to end gun violence in the country, in the wake of yet another mass shooting – this one during a concert in Las Vegas on Sunday – more than 60 people, young and old, gathered Wednesday evening in West Hartford’s Blue Back Square for a peace vigil.
The vigil was held is in coordination with the National Day of Action to send #LoveToLasVegas, and came a day after a service of prayer and healing that was held at First Church West Hartford.
The goal of the National Day of Action was to have unified vigils across the nation to honor the victims who were killed and injured with a strong message to #DemandAction to #EndGunViolence in our nation. Members of a local political action group, Indivisible Connecticut, were in the crowd.
Names of the 59 Las Vegas victims were on pieces of paper that were disbursed among the crowd, and those names were also read aloud during the 90-minute vigil.
Also on Wednesday, there were anchor events held in Washington D.C., Las Vegas, and in Newtown, CT. There was also a vigil and rally at the National Shooting Sports Foundation.
Jillian Gilchrest, a West Hartford resident who advocates for state laws to prevent violence against women, improve women’s health, and secure gender equity and is with the “Women’s March CT – We March On” organization was instrumental in organizing this rally.
Bishop John Selders, with Moral Monday CT, spoke about staying connected to our neighbors. “So many things suggest we are not connected … but love overcomes hate and fear,” he said.
Selders reminded those gathered of the need to make a commitment to spread love. And, in the words of American philosopher and political activist Cornel Wes, said we need to “get on board” with our actions and commitments.
State Sen. Beth Bye said she couldn’t help but notice that the crowd was noticeably smaller than when a similar vigil took place for the gun violence victims from the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, FL. “Are we becoming numb to it?” she asked the audience.
The crowd may have been on the small side, but those gathered were there to not only pray and find community, but to make change.
“This has been a year of standing up for something,” Bye said, noting that issues ranging from women’s rights, science/environment, to gun violence and stricter gun control laws have been raised in rallies across the country.
In Connecticut, Bye explained, the debate over what size machine gun magazines would be allowed took 17 hours. Fear is driving so much of our thoughts, and some people are so afraid that they are only able to find comfort in owning machine guns in their homes.
Bye led the crowd in a chant of “Enough, enough, enough … enough.”
Connecticut did pass the strongest gun safety laws and the deaths have decreased, Bye said, but she urged the crowd to stay in touch with your politicians because we need all communities to be safer from senseless deaths.
Janet Rice, with Mothers United Against Violence, said she was heartbroken to be speaking yet again of deaths as a result of weapons of mass destruction being in the wrong hands. Rice lost her only son to gun violence five years ago.
“Just yesterday my 4-year-old granddaughter asked if she put on her super hero cape, could she fly to heaven to see her daddy?” Heartbroken, Rice had to let her know that she will never see him, but if she puts her mind to it, she can only see him in her dreams.
The theme of the event was: “Hate cannot drive out hate. Love overcomes hate and fear.” Brief speeches were broken up with musical interludes by students from West Hartford’s Hall and Conard high schools.
Iran Nazario, with Peace Center of CT also spoke of personal loss. It was the 10th anniversary of his brother’s death.
“Terror is real. Growing up in a gun lifestyle convinces you that it’s normal [to have guns],” Nazario said. He spoke of the importance of talking to our youth about compassion and tolerance instead of resorting to violence.
West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor got up to speak after what she said was “another hard week [for our communities and country].” Cantor spoke of the hope that people can change and learn to respect their neighbors, citing a story she heard on NPR about a white supremacist who gradually learned, after years of working side-by-side with people of all races and sexual orientations, that he could indeed respect all people. Cantor said he eventually learned that the people he was marching against on the weekends were respectful to him and pleasant co-workers during the work week, so he stopped going to rallies.
Executive Director and Founder of CT Center for Nonviolence Victoria Christgau sang some familiar songs of hope, including “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” substituting, the words “ain’t nobody gonna let gun violence turn me around.”
West Hartford Town Council member Beth Kerrigan, a key organizer of the vigil, took a moment to acknowledge the need to grieve, then heal, and then continue to fight.
“This tragedy divides us,” Kerrigan said. “Gun tragedies pull people apart.”
Farmington resident Kate Hamilton Moser was invited to share a deeply personal story of her own experience as a victim of domestic violence, which she acknowledged is not unique, yet was something that she needed to share. “We don’t have to have one more woman or child live in fear,” she said, due to guns being in the wrong hands.
At the age of 17, Moser said she stood up against an angry stepfather who beat her mother and threatened them all several times with guns and violence. Her moving story has been made public on her Facebook page.
Deacon Art Miller closed the evening with prayers and an urging for all to make peace with the people who challenge us. “We have to love our neighbors,” he said. “We must be instruments of peace.”
The evening was closed by linking of arms and chanting of “We Shall Overcome.”
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