A coalition of Connecticut anti-gun and peace groups gathered in Hartford on Wednesday. The goal of the conference was to come together as a unified voice for peace and safety. The first-of-its-kind conference brought together representatives from 30 anti-gun and peace groups from around the state, just as Newtown is beginning demolition of the Sandy Hook Elementary School.
State Senator Beth Bye helped organize the conference. She's confident the organizations will work as one unified group to help put an end to violence in Connecticut. "I guess what excites me the most is the spiritual energy," said Bye. "There are a lot of religious leaders. There are people who may not be religious, but who have religion about trying to make the world a better place, and a more peaceful place."
Participants were asked to bring with them an artifact that represents for them their motivation to incite change. The Reverend Dr. Paul Hayes, Pastor of Noank Baptist Church, placed a small statue of Jesus on the table. The arms and hands of Jesus were broken off. "I learned at first it was a sense of impotency," Hayes said, "but I later realized it was my hands that had to take that place."
Newtown resident Mark Barden, whose son Daniel was killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, brought a framed photograph of his children as his artifact for change. "I came to work with Sandy Hook Promise to bring something positive from this horrible, unspeakable, senseless tragedy," he said.
A team of runners from Newtown joined together earlier this fall to race in the Hartford Marathon as part of an effort to remember victims of the shooting, and to create a positive result. They are raising funds to build a landmark performing arts center in the town.
Deborah Lewis, director of communications for the Connecticut chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, said the conference started with an unusual exercise. Participants were asked to document their preconceived ideas about the conference, and literally leave them at the door. Listen to her describe it:
"We all had homework to do," Lewis said. "We had to leave something at the door, whether you felt hopeful, or a little anxious about today, or whether you felt there was some negativity, we all had to leave that at the door. I think that was a great way to start the day, with an open mind, and an opportunity to accomplish a lot."
After a day of discussion and deliberation, participants were asked one last question: what is the single most powerful thing that can be done to make Connecticut safer and more peaceful? Organizers hope the momentum gathered on Wednesday will bring about legislation next session that will make Connecticut even safer.