On a cold, rainy day in March, Jackson Mittleman (C’23) walked up to a podium on the National Mall.
“Thank you all for coming out in the rain,” he said to the crowd of students, members of Congress and supporters gathered there. “Gun violence doesn’t take a raincheck, so we’re not going to either.”
On that day, Mittleman was in the final stretch of his senior year. He had been wanting to enjoy the last few weeks. But he felt the familiar itch to do something and decided to organize a rally for a federal assault weapons ban. Speaker Emerita Nancy Pelosi and four U.S. representatives spoke at the event. Afterward, Mittleman was invited to the White House to meet with senior staff and policy advisors from the Domestic Policy Council.
“Even in my last semester of college, where the only thing I want to do is desperately relax, I couldn’t stop myself from saying I need to do this. If I’m not going to this, who else? If not now, then when?”
Mittleman has been fighting for gun violence prevention since he was 11 years old. It’s a mission that’s brought him to closed-door meetings with congressional members and staff; to the White House twice; to a stage in front of nearly a million people; to town halls, lobbying events and 3 a.m. bus rides; and eventually, to Georgetown. Along the way, he found his way to a new path, one that led him from the Hilltop to Capitol Hill.
How It Started
Mittleman remembers Dec. 14, 2012, well. He was in sixth grade and crouched under his desk at a school a mile away from Sandy Hook Elementary School. The school was on lockdown. At first, Mittleman and his classmates thought it was a normal drill. After three hours, they realized something was wrong.
“In that moment, I was forced to confront the reality that I might die in my first period classroom,” he said. “That day sticks with me forever.”
Later, when his parents picked him up, he learned their family friend’s son had been among the 25 children and adults killed that day at Sandy Hook. In the days following, he learned of more victims he knew.
Mittleman quickly got involved in a family friend’s advocacy group, the Newtown Action Alliance. He began traveling to DC for congressional town halls, knocking on U.S. representatives’ doors and helping organize lobbying events and community rallies. In 2018, as a junior in high school, he spoke in front of nearly a million people at the March for Our Lives rally in DC. For Mittleman, after years of hard work, the moment felt like a silver lining of sorts.
“Something bad happened, but you got to make something good out of it, hopefully,” he said. “I remember thinking, this is something I can see myself continuing with for my life.”
The more time he spent in DC, the more he felt drawn to the city and to the broader world of politics.
“I started realizing that gun violence was the issue that got me involved, but politics and legislative advocacy was what I was really interested in,” he said.
He wanted to go to Georgetown, a place, he said, that felt meant for him.
The Hilltop Arena
Mittleman transferred to Georgetown from American University in spring 2021, where he majored in government. He found his classes contextualized the work he had been doing since he was 11, deepening his understanding of social movements, government and politics. The coursework also complemented new internships he found while at Georgetown.
Through a professor, the head of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, and then an alumnus, Mittleman applied for a position at the Democratic National Committee, headquartered in downtown DC. He began working as a political intern there in summer 2022, writing memos on campaign issues. He was hooked by what he saw behind the curtain.
“When I was in eighth grade lobbying on Capitol Hill, I was incredibly naive. I didn’t understand why they couldn’t just pass this bill,” he said. “It’s all very calculated, and I’ve learned how to make those calculations myself instead of observing and reading about them. And I’ve gotten to be in rooms where those calculations are happening.”
Mittleman said the experience taught him how to understand interests on both sides of the aisle, opening up a world of strategy and “a whole other side of politics that I knew existed but had never experienced for myself.”
“I’ve loved every minute of it,” he said. “It has been so rewarding. And I would not have had this experience without Georgetown.”
As he nears leaving the Hilltop, Mittleman hopes to continue a career in politics and strategy. But he hasn’t forgotten what brought him to DC in the first place.
Continuing the Fight in DC
Throughout his years at Georgetown, Mittleman continued to lobby on Capitol Hill and advocate for gun violence prevention. As the federal affairs manager for the Newtown Action Alliance, he’d often come back to his dorm after class, change into a suit and ride the bus downtown to meet with members of Congress.
In the summer of 2022, he saw his hard work bear fruit. He and members of the Newtown Action Alliance worked with Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) on a bipartisan gun violence prevention bill, and on June 25, 2022, they were invited to the White House for the signing of the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act.
“To watch the first federal gun violence prevention legislation be signed into law 10 years after Sandy Hook and 30 years since the last bill was passed, it was a full circle moment,” Mittleman said. “To finally see some steps in the right direction was a great thing, and as a political nerd, I was excited to be at the White House on the lawn.”
In the spring of his senior year, Mittleman took a class about the 1963 March on Washington, which helped him better understand the history and hard, dedicated work of social movements, he said. The class inspired him to organize the rally for a federal assault weapons ban on behalf of the Newtown Action Alliance, five years after he last spoke on the National Mall at the March on Washington in 2018. After seeing how others have fought for social movements throughout history, Mittleman wanted to take the rally into his own hands, he said, in a city that has constantly unlocked new opportunities.
“Being in DC has allowed me to explore anything I want to do in politics,” he said. “I’m two miles away from Capitol Hill at all times. If I wasn’t in DC, I wouldn’t have been able to do three quarters of this stuff, you know?”
After graduation, Mittleman plans to stay in DC. And he plans to keep fighting for gun violence prevention.
“One of my favorite quotes is that the arc of history always bends toward justice,” he said, referring to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote. “It might take awhile, but if we keep going and keep organizing and building on networks, we’ll get there.”