Mailbag: ‘You belittled us’ : An open letter from Morristown student march organizers to Assemblyman Jay Webber

High school students and 11th District Congressional candidates at students' Town Hall on gun reforms, Morristown, April 7, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
High school students and 11th District Congressional candidates at students' Town Hall on gun reforms, Morristown, April 7, 2018. Photo by Jeff Sovelove
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Dear Assemblyman Webber,

On Friday, April 27, the three students involved with the March For Our Lives in Morristown attended a meeting with you at your Parsippany office.

As one of the candidates currently running to represent us in the 11th congressional district of New Jersey, we reached out to you and your campaign in good faith to invite you to participate in our Town Hall For Our Lives event.

As you know, the town hall, centered on gun violence and school safety, was intended as a venue for all candidates running in New Jersey’s 11th congressional district regardless of party.

Your chief of staff responded that you could not attend the town hall due to scheduling issue, but instead offered to set up a meeting for us with you. Subsequently, we emailed your chief of staff to confirm our meeting with the additional hope of beginning a dialogue about the format of the meeting. Two emails went unanswered.

On April 27th, we arrived at your office in order to fulfill your request to meet with us separate from the event. Since this meeting was set up in response to our invitation to attend our town hall, we reasonably expected to have the opportunity to ask you the same questions we asked the other candidates who did attend the April 7th Town Hall For Our Lives, a group that included two of your fellow Republican candidates.

Additionally, we were hoping we could live-stream your answers just as we live-streamed the town hall event. When we entered your office, we were surprised to find other students present. We had not been informed about the format of the meeting nor that there would be other students there.

The other students were invited by you or your staff. Only then did your staff inform us that the other students had not consented to being filmed, and for this reason, we could not live-stream the meeting.

The students you brought to the meeting were cheerful, well-prepared, and knowledgeable about the topic of gun safety. Even though the format of the meeting was different from what we expected, we began the meeting thinking we might still have a chance to ask you, Assemblyman Webber, about ​your ​views on school safety and gun violence.

We walked in to the room with our questions in one hand, and pens in the other to write down your answers. However, you insisted that the discussion should remain a debate between students. You did not answer our questions nor offer any of of your own opinions on the issues at hand.

Unfortunately, the meeting devolved into arguments between students and ended with you feeling aggrieved by one of our Facebook posts.

Your response to that post, meant to simply update the other students who are a part of March for Our Lives Morristown, ended with you intimidating and attempting to humiliate us. Your actions belittled us, and one of us left that meeting near tears.

We walked out of the meeting in shock. We realized that we never had a shot in that room. We never expected this outcome. We have interacted with several politicians over the past months, including an informative discussion with Republican State Senator Kristin Corrado the previous week at a rally for school safety in Wayne, NJ.

No one treated us like this. You treated us poorly and put us in an extremely uncomfortable situation. And we still don’t know where you stand on the issues.

As mentioned above, we invited every declared candidate in NJ congressional District 11 to our town hall, which took place on April 7th.

Two Republican candidates, Patrick Allocco and Martin Hewitt, along with four Democratic candidates, Mitchell Cobert, Tamara Harris, Mikie Sherrill and Mark Washburne, attended. We asked each candidate the attached 11 questions. The candidates were respectful to each other and to those of us running the event. A wide range of views was shared and we found the event very informative.

We are focused on making gun violence and school safety a nonpartisan issue. We don’t believe that any one political party owns all the right ideas and that progress will only be made if we all work together.

We sincerely hope that you feel the same way. You stated in ​Parsippany Focus, ​“As the father of seven children, I know firsthand that the safety of our children and communities is of the utmost importance, and we should seek common ground on the best ways to ensure it.”

We came to the meeting with you, Assemblyman Webber, with no motivation other than to hear your ideas on gun violence and school safety.

Assemblyman Webber, we’d like to extend an offer for a do-over. We’d like to meet with you again to ask you the same questions that your colleagues answered, and to record and broadcast your answers so that voters in the 11th District know where you stand. We humbly await your reply.

Sincerely,

Alexandra Stephens, Morris Township
Bella Bhimani, Mendham Township
Meghana Maddali, Denville

Questions from the Town Hall For Our Lives on 4/7/18

  • Where do you stand on banning assault style rifles/semi-automatic weapons?
  • Do you have political ties with the NRA?
  • How will you help prevent the NRA from pushing unsafe regulations and laws in Washington?
  • Do you support legislative changes such as repealing the Dickey amendment?
  • This issue of gun control and gun violence disproportionately affects people of color. How will you do a better job of considering their rights and protecting them?
  • Many believe their right to maintain arms stems from the principle of protection. Do you think this is a valid argument? How would you respond to a concerned constituent who feels the need to protect themselves with firearms?
  • How will you ensure the safety of those affected by domestic violence in relation to guns? What about police violence and guns?
  • Do you feel that there should be more safety regulations in schools such as metal detectors, ID badges and overall stronger security?
  • How do you feel about students being the ones to lead this movement? Do you fully support the students?
  • How do you think campaign finance law contributes to the NRA’s hold on congress? What will you do to stop it?
  • How do you plan on helping the problem of the lack of voter registration and participation from young people ages 18-24?
  • Do you believe that the 2nd Amendment needs to be amended, removed, or left untouched?

Editor’s note: The opinions expressed above are the authors’, and do not necessarily reflect those of this publication.

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5 COMMENTS

  1. Alexandra, Bella, Meghana, Well done. You are smart and dignified and don’t deserve representatives who treat you, or the urgent issue you are raising, like that. The kids will win.

  2. To the dear youth upon whom our future depends: Thank you for being human, and civilized, and poised. Thank you for not lowering yourselves to the “new” fad of playground mentality and tactics that are running rampant in today’s government. Thank you for staying the course of politeness and respect in your public dealings. Your encounter with Mr. Weber must have felt like a cold bucket of water thrown in your face, but please know that you are in the right, and you are behaving so well, and don’t ever give in or lower your standards of behavior to “meet” the challenge at hand when it’s this low. Hold the line. You are our hope for a future. Thank you so much for being out there, doing.

  3. Kudos to these students fro standing firm. Not only did the assemblyman ambush these students, but he then issued a misleading press release implying that it was an effective meeting. (Had it been a positive meeting as he implied, there would have been evidence because he would have joined the youth in a photo op as all pols jump to do).
    The bi partisan gun safety forum that these students held, which I attended, was top notch. The students were highly professional and did everything that concerned citizenry should do to shine light on lawmakers’ views.
    Webber’s eventual meeting was conducted behind closed doors, with lack of transparency and he obviously recalled it differently than his potential constituents – this is not the kind of ethics and transparency our district deserves.

  4. Nice, im voting for this guy. He understands that kids should debate kids while the adults sit at the real table.

  5. This is a wonderful offer byt the students and gracious opportunity for Jay Webber to accept, in spite of how he treated these students. No matter our differences, we should all treat each others with respect. The students did that and Jay Webber did not. We, the public, still want to hear his answers to the students’ reasonable questions. Assemblyman Webber, take them up on their offer.

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