Sandy Hook Rocked Their Town. Now These High Schoolers Are Eloquent, Angry, and Heading to DC

Banner signed? Check. Sign-up sheets filled? Check. These Connecticut kids are ready to take on gun violence.

Garrett Marino was in sixth grade when a gunman attacked a nearby school—Sandy Hook Elementary. “It was a Friday, I remember it, and we had a lockdown,” he said. “And we were all just scared for our lives because we didn’t know what was happening. They told us it was a drill, but we were there for hours and hours, and it seemed like it would never end.”

That was December 2012, when 27 people were killed in a shooting spree at the elementary school. Twenty victims were young children. In the years since, Sandy Hook has become a symbol of national anguish, and a reminder of the nation’s failure to stop mass shootings.

Now 16 years old, Marino and a cadre of classmates from Newtown High School are about to pull off an impressive logistical feat: organizing eight coaches to ferry hundreds of local students and supporters to Washington D.C., where they will join an anticipated 500,000 demonstrators at the March For Our Lives, the historic student-led gun reform rally organized in the wake of the Parkland school shooting last month.

“We’re full-up,” Marino tells Mother Jones, in a hot basement room in the Edmond Town Hall on Newtown’s historic main street. “We have a long waitlist because a lot of people want to go.”

Along with Mother Jones filmmaker Mark Helenowski, I was invited to document a planing event on Thursday night with students and their families: sign-up sheets were filled, thorny questions (“Will we catch the same bus home?”) answered, and t-shirts of all sizes handed out.

Dozens of colorful Sharpies were laid out on a big banner emblazoned with the logo of the Newtown Action Alliance, a local gun reform advocacy group. On it, students wrote “We stand with you,” and other messages of love and solidarity, addressed to their peers at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. They hope to give the banner to the Parkland students at the march. “It really caused the nation to spring into action,” Marino says of the Parkland shooting. “For so long, tragedy after tragedy, nothing happened. Now, our generation is coming to the age where we’ll be able to vote.”

“Our voice will actually matter. Our voice does matter now,” he added. “I just don’t want my friends and my family to be scared in school.”

Danielle Johnson, a 15-year-old sophomore at Newtown High School, was helping out last night handing out t-shirts as people streamed past the sign-up table. She’s part of her school debate club, and has a big gift, like the Parkland activists, for landing eloquent, passionate quotes. “I want people to realize that kids have voices,” she told us during our Facebook Live broadcast. “Everyone in the class of 2020 and above will be voting in the next presidential election, so we do have voices and they do matter.”

“The fact we’re getting killed in our own schools is an issue,” she said. “And if America isn’t paying attention to us, we have to make them pay attention.”

Next up? The Newtown students will board buses at 5 a.m. on Saturday. Mother Jones will be on hand throughout to document their trip to D.C. and their participation in the march. Stay tuned.

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