Adults say the damnedest things.
After we published an article on April 3 detailing how the youth organization Never Again - Colorado will hold a town hall on Saturday, April 7, to discuss gun violence as a followup to the March 24 March for Our Lives, we heard from Congressman Mike Coffman's campaign spokesman.
The town hall is in Coffman's district; the young organizers said that they invited the congressman to attend but hadn't heard back, and that they plan to hold their event whether or not Coffman is there. At that, Coffman campaign spokesman Tyler Sandberg reached out to ask why we hadn't contacted Coffman for comment, and also to point out that the announcement of the town hall had been sent through an email address at ProgressNow, which he called a “hate-inspired group.”
That made ProgressNow ask just who was being hateful. Executive director Ian Silverii denied that ProgressNow had organized the event, and said his group had simply put the power of its communications network to work. "They asked for our help," he said of Never Again - Colorado. "We do this for organizations all the time."
In the eyes of Tay Anderson, the nineteen-year-old president of Never Again - Colorado, the adults are the ones who are acting like children. On April 4, he recorded a Facebook Live decrying the comments that Sandberg had made to Westword and charging that the war of words was distracting people from focusing on the students who truly are at the center of the event:
Anderson tells us that he felt compelled to do the Facebook Live because he was “disappointed and disgusted” by the way the conversation about Saturday's event was devolving. “We have Republicans, Democrats and Independents that sit on our board of students on Never Again - Colorado; we're not trying to push a left-wing agenda,” he says. “When I see people trying to co-opt the message and take the focus off of young people, it's very disheartening. I'm disgusted by the response from Coffman's campaign team saying that we are being supported by hate groups and a partisan agenda when we have stated in everything we have done that we are non-partisan. We are students who just want to be safe in our schools.”
While he acknowledges that ProgressNow and Indivisible groups are helping to promote the April 7 event, “it's about 99 percent student-led and -driven,” adds Anderson, who ran for the Denver Board of Education last year.
“ProgressNow and Indivisible Denver are just providing background support with different logistics that we cannot provide — like when you do events at a school, you need a certificate of insurance for liability purposes, and we don't have that while their organizations do," he explains.
The event, which starts at 6 p.m. on Saturday, April 7, at ThunderRidge High School in Highlands Ranch, will feature a panel with three speakers who have lost loved ones in mass shootings: Tom Sullivan, father of an Aurora shooting victim; Coni Sanders, daughter of Columbine shooting victim Dave Sanders, and Tom Mauser, father of Columbine shooting victim Daniel Mauser.
“We want people to hear what it's like to be a loved one of someone lost to gun violence," Anderson says. “And you'll see students taking the lead of this event — moderating so that everyone understands these complex issues. We just want to be safe in our schools; that's all we're asking."
In response to our original article, Coffman spokesman Sandberg pointed out that Coffman was the first member of Congress to hold a town hall after the Parkland shooting. "And the day after that town hall in February at Cherry Creek High School, he held a second town hall — that time with students of Rangeview High School in Aurora," Sandberg wrote in an email.
“By all means, young folks should speak their mind," he continued. "But this rally is being organized by ProgressNow — a hate-inspired partisan group looking to raise money and win elections, not solve problems. Mike has no interest associating with the smear-mongers at ProgressNow. He is seeking solutions, not stunts.”
In response, Silverii sent this: “Mike Coffman takes thousands of dollars from the NRA. Mike Coffman pays Tyler Sandberg to lie to the press with the thousands of dollars he takes from the NRA. It’s no wonder that Sandberg is trying to hide Coffman from facing the students in his district. The event is one of hundreds being organized by students across America to ask politicians who take thousands of dollars from the NRA what their plans are to stop the gun violence epidemic plaguing our country. Mike Coffman has no answers, and that's why his paid political consultants are hiding from these students and making excuses for his failures to keep them safe.”
We reached out to Coffman's congressional office on April 5 to see if he would be at the town hall. "Given this is a political event being organized by ProgressNow," responded communications director Daniel Bucheli, "I defer to our campaign manager."
The final word from Sandberg: "No."