Gathering in front of town hall to public mourn lives lost to gun violence, about 50 Ridgefielders held a vigil for mass shooting victims in California — and Pittsburgh, and Parkland, and Newtown — then transformed their gathering into a political rally in favor of the rule of law and against any potential effort by President Donald Trump to shut down the Russia investigation.
“These are crazy times,” Aimee Berger-Girvalo said, standing atop the brick wall in front of Town Hall to address people gathered for the vigil at 5 o’clock Thursday, Nov. 8.
“This is about gun violence, and not letting that be normal.”
She quoted CNN commentator John Berman’s statement: “This is the largest mass shooting in 12 days” — referring to the speed with which Wednesday’s night shooting at a bar in Thousand Oaks, California followed the Oct. 27 shooting at a synagog in Pittsburgh.
“We come together in sorrow, and we come together in fear,” said Berger-Girvalo. “… Just a week and half ago, I attended a service at the Temple for that horrific shooting in Pennsylvania.”
She recalled the message she heard from a rabbi there: “Whenever evil darkens our world, let us be the bearers of light … Where shelter is lacking, let us be builders, When food and clothing are lacking, let us be providers…”
Berger-Girvalo urged people to stay vigilant.
“When we go home tonight to our dinners and kids,” she said, “remember: It doesn’t end … We have to continue to take action, we have to continue to be involved.”
She brought on clinical social worker Sylvia Steinert.
“Yes, I’m a mental health practitioner,” Steinert said. “But, no, I don’t have any easy solutions of answers.”
She urged people to hear the pain expressed by people in need of help.
“All of us have capacity to crack,” she said.
“Mental health is really community health. It’s the collective that matters…
“We are heartbroken. We are all suffering from the accumulation of this violence day after day after day…
“Reach out, always, and help — rather than shun those in need.”
Then Berger-Girvalo introduced Lane Murdock, the RHS student who has led student activism against guns since the shooting last February at a high school in Parkland, Fla.
“Other than going to school, being a social media first-responder to mass shootings is kind of my job,” she said. “Sometimes it feels like America is in constant mourning.”
She urged people outraged by parade of mass shootings in their country to fight for stronger gun laws that have long been discussed but, with the opposition of the gun lobby, never seem to make it into law.
“We know the statistics,” she said. “…This is an American epidemic. Thi is a uniquely American problem. It’s going to need a uniquely American solution. It looks like that does mean background checks.”
“Tomorrow we can think of solutions we needed yesterday,” Murdock said. “Right now all we can offer is a shoulder, a listening ear — and political activism!”
Rule of law
The vigil then became something of a political rally, prompted by concerns President Trump’s dismissal of Attorney General Jeff Session will signal an effort to end of Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian involvement with the last presidential election and possible connections between Russia and the Trump campaign.
Democratic Town Committee Chairman Alex Harris addressing the crowd, discussing the distinction between “law and order” as those words have been used to justify suppression of protest and minorities, as opposed to “ the rule of law” which means that no one is above the law and all segments of society are held accountable for their actions.
“There is nothing magical about attorney Mueller, but he is a key element protecting us and making sure this president — or any president — can’t put themselves above the law.”
He urged listeners not to view efforts to protect the Mueller investigation as a partisan political issue — but as something that should concern all Americans.
“We have to reach out to our neighbors and friends and family who disagree with us,” Harris said. “…Implore them to raise rule of law above the service of their party…
“Believe in the rule of law, as opposed to weaponized law,” Harris said, “…Talk to friends and neighbors. Tell them they need to raise their voices.”
After the rally, most of the crowd marched down the street from Town Hall toward the library, chanting: “Tell me what democracy looks like. This is what democracy looks like!”