FAIRFAX, Va. — On the 14th of each month, a vigil starts with one person setting up camp on a lonely sidewalk in Fairfax.
Security personnel from the National Rifle Association keep watch.
It’s 9:30 in the morning outside NRA headquarters – searing sun marking an oppressive August morning.
The spotlight has since faded from a week ago, when network camera crews captured a familiar refrain.
“Enough is enough,” the protesters cried, wounds from El Paso and Dayton still raw.
But on an otherwise lethargic Wednesday, the sidewalk in front of the NRA crowds quickly.
The first protester is soon joined by two, three, ten others, setting up a table to send gun control letters to the Virginia Crime Commission.
It is a repeated ritual – they gather on the 14th because Sandy Hook happened on the 14th of December, 2012.
Wednesday marked the 80th month since the Newtown massacre, and the 80th regularly-scheduled vigil outside the gun group’s headquarters.
“This is a spiritual exercise for these folks,” said Rev. David Miller, a pastor from the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fairfax. “They want to be here for those who can’t be.”
Striking to see, is just who holds the protest signs.
They are mostly senior citizens.
Activists often approaching 80.
Some, exceeding 80.
And a few, crossing the street, in walkers.
They come to a similar conclusion about their efforts, and hold ambitious views of the progress they’d like to see. Each wants a seminal change in their lifetimes, unwilling to leave the fight unfinished for the next generation.
“I'll be 80 in January, and I want to see the needle move before I check out,” said Kevin Bergen, a gun control activist with the Northern Virginia chapter of the Brady Campaign.
“I want to see concrete results. I want to see legislation. I want to see that [NRA] building up for lease.”
Scores of people have attended the protest since the first month after Sandy Hook – January 2013.
They remember being greeted by middle fingers, indifferent motorists, and thoughts of whether they could move the needle of public opinion in Virginia.
By 2019, honks of approval from passing cars punctuate the protest each minute. More than 100 people still show up on an off-day.
“I come here for inspiration,” said Carol Luton, who created a “Stop Gun Violence” license plate now available across Virginia.
“We have seen a time when life was better, when it was gentler and kinder. We do not want to leave this world, as we age, for our children and our grandchildren, in such a hostile environment.”
The vigils last one hour, ending at 11 a.m.
The crowd leaves like the tide coming out, signs lowered, friends filing one-by-one back to their cars, and out of sight of the NRA.
They will return in September, 52 days before critical state elections could flip Virginia’s legislature into Democratic hands.
“We’re here in the rain, here in the snow, the point is, the issue doesn’t go away,” said Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), a Herndon-area resident who has attended the vigils since the beginning.
“A lot of people would like to be in the sunshine, but they’re no longer with us. Because some crazy fool has misused assault weapons and others to take their lives.”