Bates Students Testify at the Maine State House

On Thursday, March 7th, sixteen Bates students spent the day at the State House in Augusta. Affiliated with a new student club, Students Demand Action, we went to the State House to show support for two new gun safety proposals: a 72-hour waiting period bill for firearm purchases and a bill that would improve Maine’s firearm safety laws and invest in Maine’s mental health system. These bills were presented by two lawmakers with deep ties to Bates –  Peggy Rotundo, Maine State Senator and former Director of Policy Initiatives at the Harward Center, and Kristen Cloutier, Maine Assistant House Majority Leader representing Lewiston and current Associate Director for Center Operations at the Harward Center. We spent time with both Sen. Rotundo and Rep. Cloutier throughout the day, with Kristen kindly letting us use her office while we waited to testify in front of the Judiciary committee, and Peggy showing us around the Senate hall and encouraging us to continue being politically active. 

The day was intense, emotional, and utterly rewarding. Many students remained at the State House from 10am to 6:30pm, more than eight hours. The Harward Center’s Jenna Dela Cruz, Associate Director of Democratic Engagement and Student Activism, drove to Augusta at 7am to sign thirteen students up to testify. Had she not done this, we would have been there even later into the night, so a huge thank you to Jenna. As we waited to testify, we watched people testify both in support of and against the two bills, played games to occupy our time, and explored the State House on our own. 

The highlights of the day were testifying in front of the Legislature and supporting our peers before and after giving their testimony. None of us had done anything like this before, and everyone was nervous, but as Maggie Amann ‘25 eloquently said in her testimony, “My presence here today is not driven by comfort or desire but by necessity. My anxiety around giving testimony pales in comparison to my fear of gun violence.” Although we had practiced testifying in front of one another, testifying in front of the Legislature was a completely different experience. There were tears from students giving their testimonies, members of the public watching, and even some of the legislators. As a group, we were all prepared with hugs, candy, and encouragement after each student made their way back down to Kristen’s office.

To view our testimonies, click on this link. 

I cannot put into words how proud I am of this incredible group of people. It takes a lot of strength to mentally revisit a tragedy of the proportion our community experienced in October, and even more to share your story with your lawmakers. Many Mainers came up to us in the State House expressing their appreciation for our testimonies, as well as representatives like Rep. Vicki Doudera and Rep./Bates alum Melanie Sachs. As we discussed as a group often in this last week, we rarely speak to our friends about the shootings in October, but it is something that constantly weighs on our minds. Being able to take political action was a way to process this grief while pushing for improved gun safety measures in Maine. As these bills make their way through the legislative process, there will continue to be ways to get involved, and I hope many Bates students, faculty, and staff will begin/continue to do so. 

To get involved in these issues:

NOTE: I also wrote a piece on the prevention of gun violence for the Bates Student that was published last week.  You can access it here.