While bells in Connecticut tolled 26 times to honor the lives of the 20 children and six adults killed one year before, more than 30 people weathered the wind on the corner of Westlake and Thousand Oaks boulevards Saturday in support of the still-grieving families.
Armed with signs reading “Remember Sandy Hook” and “Newtown is our town,” the goal of the rally was to remind the local public that gun violence is pervasive— not to push the buttons of gun owners or make a political statement about gun legislation, according to organizers.
Each time a car honked during the two-hour rally, the group felt their message was being heard.
Alan Weiner, head of the Conejo Valley chapter of Organizing for Action, which sponsored the rally, said the noise in Westlake and all across the country was to remind people that change is brought on by action.
“ It’s about spreading the message, making people who honk their horn feel like, ‘OK, I’m standing up for something,’” Weiner said. “All we’re trying to do is start making some noise so people remember that (they can make the difference).”
Organizing for Action, a registered nonprofit, is an offspring of the 2008 community-organizing group Obama for America. The group now organizes rallies and supports causes that follow the agenda of President Barack Obama.
Weiner said the group used the hashtag “#WeAreNewtown” on social media platforms Facebook and Twitter to spread the message and get others involved.
Janet Eckhouse, the organizer of the rally and a team leader for the Conejo Valley chapter, repeatedly emphasized that she and her team did not organize Friday’s rally to push gun control legislation.
“Today, we’re about remembering Newtown . . . and (the school shooting) in Colorado magnifies it as well,” said Eckhouse, referring to the shooting at Arapahoe High School in Centennial, Colo., the previous day, Dec. 13, that left the shooter dead and another person in a coma.
The organizer said many of the Saturday’s ralliers were part of Organizing for Action, but concerned members of the Ventura County Democratic Party and local mayors also took part.
“We invited all of the mayors from Ventura County to Agoura Hills,” Eckhouse said.
Mayor Fred Gaines of Calabasas, Mayor Pro Tem Illece Buckley Weber of Agoura Hills and Councilmember Ellis Green, former mayor of Port Hueneme, attended. Each raised a sign supporting Newtown and spoke with demonstrators.
As a member of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Gaines said he is close to the situation and feels it is about time to close loopholes that allow guns to fall in the hands of potentially dangerous individuals.
“Honestly, one of the greatest failures of the United States is the inability to gain control of these guns,” he said.
To make a change, Gaines said, voters must realize violence doesn’t just happen on TV screens and in the movies.
“(Violence) is not just far away from home. In the LAX shooting not long ago, Brian Ludmer, a Calabasas high school teacher, was shot,” he said.
For a mayor, he said, a violent shooting in your city is a nightmare.
“It’s devastating. It unfairly paints a picture of all the people in a city and most of all is a tragedy,” Gaines said. “We can’t become numb to it; we have to do everything we can to prevent it from happening again.”
Green said he had no problem adding the rally to his schedule.
“This is the best way to support the community. (Newtown) has suffered enough, but we can’t let people forget,” Green said. “We have to do our jobs as adults and protect children. This is a time for all of California to stand up.”
Not all passing motorists were pleased with the rally. Some shouted about gun rights as they drove by, others held their finger out the window.
Buckley Weber said she understands the fear some have of losing their Second Amendment rights, but that’s not the only message.
“I support gun legislation, but I also know there’s a delicate balance between (Second Amendment) rights and keeping kids safe,” she said. “It’s time to keep kids safe and take the next step.”
Demonstrator Ruth Lauro of Simi Valley heard a motorist, stopped at a red light, yell out that guns shouldn’t be taken away from law-abiding civilians.
“We’re not trying to take away your guns,” Lauro responded. “If you’re a hunter, you’re a hunter. But when you’re not hunting, lock away your guns so your children don’t get them and become the criminals.”
Team leader Satya Karra reached out to high school students in the area through social media to appear at the rally, but few came out to show their support.
Two Agoura Hills high school students who didn’t want to give their last names were the only minors present.
Chloe and Caroline, both 16, expressed their frustration with the lack of support from local young people.
The girls said they plan to start a club on campus to raise awareness and get more students out to rallies with Organizing for Action.
“We find it personal for our generation because we’d be the ones affected if a school shooting happened,” Chloe said. “(Students) might think there are more important things like homework —or studying for finals—but there’s always time for something more important.”