Tag Archives: activism

On Connecticut’s Fiscal Year 2018-19 Budget, and Concentrated Activism

So, for the second or third year in a row (at least, but remember I’m fairly new to caring about this) there are cuts in Malloy’s budget for the state. In previous years, Connecticut libraries lost massive funding for their delivery system, and we’ve never recovered. We also have not had a statewide catalog for well over a year, maybe even two. CT Humanities had to eliminate their Quick Grant program last year due to cuts, which means less funding for cultural programs in libraries. And the parks. Several state parks reduced their hours, or camping seasons, and some parks closed their campgrounds entirely. This year, the statewide library delivery system, CT Humanities, and DEEP are all facing cuts yet again. I don’t know how we’re supposed to handle it. And I’m especially angry about the state parks, and especially because the season passes and parking fees that I proudly paid, thinking I was supporting the parks, goes into the state’s general fund. So I sent an email to Governor Malloy, and also gave it as written testimony to the Appropriations Committee that is doing public hearings about the budget this weekend:

I am writing to urge you to preserve funding for Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, which is facing a cut in the 2018-2019 fiscal year.

Growing up at the foot of Blue Mountain in eastern Pennsylvania, I learned to value the beauty and importance of our country’s natural landscape and resources. My childhood was spent hiking on trails, making lean-tos, memorizing bird species, and camping in state parks. As a child, I also saw the environmental devastation brought by zinc companies, which stripped all animal and plant life from one side of the mountain for decades.

As an adult who has lived in Connecticut since 2011, I now value our natural resources even more. I live a five minute drive away from Sleeping Giant State Park, and I have spent countless afternoons hiking its trails – and exploring trails in parks throughout the state – with my husband and dog in pursuit of exercise, education, and entertainment that requires little or no money. Sometimes in the parks, I find myself with a few moments of privacy within our densely-populated state, and at other times, I find community in other Connecticans who are out enjoying nature with their own families, and who also believe in the importance of preserving our natural spaces within the state park system.

However, our parks system is not perfect. Our state parks are severely underfunded, with Connecticut ranking 49th out of all 50 states for lowest percentage of the overall state budget allocated to parks. Our camping facilities are not as modernized and welcoming as those in nearby states, with privies in campsites like Macedonia Brook State Park, and only one dog-friendly campground in the entire state after the closure of the Connecticut’s second dog-friendly campground, Devil’s Hopyard State Park, last July.

I strongly believe in the importance of maintaining our state parks for recreational, educational, and health purposes. Our state parks are open to enjoyment by all residents, and parks like People’s State Forest, Gillette Castle, Wolf Den, and Day Pond preserve local history within the park borders. Time outdoors has been linked to lower rates of obesity, attention deficit disorder, and depression in children, and adults are well-aware of the peaceful effects of walking in nature. Without our state parks providing experiences of the natural world, we will be less healthy and less happy – and without their protection through DEEP, we may lose those valuable experiences and resources, the way my hometown lost part of their mountain.

An easy first step to preserve DEEP funding is to separate the parking fee revenues at our state parks, which currently goes into the general fund, into a fund earmarked solely for parks. It is estimated that this move alone would provide around $6 million in revenue. I am also in support of a $10 charge on all vehicle registrations in exchange for free parking at our state parks, which would encourage more Connecticans to utilize our protected natural spaces and generate an estimated $14.3 million in revenue.

Our state’s parks are too important to us, and to our children, for us to further reduce their already shamefully low amount of funding.

Yesterday, after going to a work-related social justice event and running errands, I drove up to Hartford so I could give testimony in-person. Fun fact: if you want to be in the lottery for speaking order at a 4:30pm public hearing at the Hartford Legislative Building, you must show up between 9:00 am and 1:00 pm. I, like many people, am terrible at digesting information that I read on a computer/phone screen, so I missed this. Not that I could have really done anything about it, really. So I wandered around for about 10 minutes, wondering if everyone else wearing suits and business attire were there on behalf of their jobs or if I was just breaking an unspoken norm by wearing jeans, and found some security guards and staff members who helped me get on the end of the speaking list. It was nearly 8:30 by the time I got my three minutes to speak, and I focused on my experiences as a kid in a poor family whose vacations were hiking on trails and visiting state parks, how state parks are open to everyone, how they preserve local history and improve health, and how Connecticut is beautiful and it’s a state that deserves a robust park system. It was a really long day and I had to wake up and go to work early the next morning, but I’m glad I came out to see the hearing process and meet other people who are fighting on behalf of DEEP. I’m also glad to see that the Appropriations Committee was sympathetic to the vast majority of those giving testimony. I’m under the impression that the speakers who showed up are frequent advocates in Hartford, and that the committee members are, unfortunately, used to fighting against budget cuts.
So why am I fighting for DEEP and the state parks? According to a number of activist-related things I’ve been reading such as this Medium article on how to #StayOutraged, it’s best to concentrate your efforts on one or two issues. I’ve decided that the issues I’ll actively fight for are social justice where it intersects with immigration and race, and on a local level, the environment. Planned Parenthood will get lots of support, as will DAPL. The arts and humanities have advocates, as do LGBT organizations. I’m still supportive of these causes, of course, but my local parks need somebody to speak up for them, keep them clean, and remind people of their importance. And I need to fight for the incredibly brave refugee families I have met who fled their homes and may never see their parents and siblings again, and for the girls and boys in my town and across the nation who receive direct and indirect messages about their worth as human being because of the color of their skin or the neighborhood where they live.

This week.

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I have no one word that can accurately express exactly what the last week has been to me.

First there was… whatever happened Monday and Tuesday. I don’t even remember. Writing a ton, I guess, and reposting something on cervical cancer and how women of color are disproportionately affected, and coming out on Facebook to defend Planned Parenthood as somebody who uses their services and has gotten cancer screenings from them. I joined my local state park’s association and got in touch with people doing cleanups, and donated to my cousin’s March of Dimes fund for her adorable son. Then I found a news article buried somewhere on the internet rumoring that Trump was going to sign an executive order to ban refugees for 120 days. I spent the night furiously looking up my representatives’ contact information so I could ask them what they would do to protect and welcome refugees in my town, and what they would do about Connecticut’s sanctuary cities. And about what IRIS needed.

Wednesday I could barely function at work, between hounding my representatives and checking the news every 2 minutes to see if the executive orders went through, and posting entreaties to my Facebook friends. I despaired. I got angry with people who didn’t seem to care that people’s lives might be at risk, or the parallels between the terrible refugee situation we had during World War II and the current rhetoric. Some people online were still talking about alternative facts, and I was worried that the dozen or so refugees I knew… scratch that, it’s more like 20 refugees… would be deported and sent back to a place that wasn’t their home. I learned that the currently settled refugees were safe (for now), but realized that students and friends in academia would be barred from leaving, or at least coming back into, the country that was their workplace and home. And I started wondering what the next step in extreme vetting would be, seeing that refugees already undergo extreme vetting.

This is not justice.

My anger has not abated through the last few days. Through seeing the National Parks Service’s alt-Twitter account materialize, and protests that spontaneously formed at JFK Airport and other airports throughout the country yesterday, where attorneys showed up with handmade signs scrawled “immigration lawyer” in English and Arabic. Through hateful posts on Facebook from people who themselves have been radicalized. Through realizing how illegal, unconstitutional, and un-American it is. And how un-Christian the ban is, and then realizing how many religious conservatives were remaining silent through it all (all of them, it seemed). I did my RCIA readings on the topic of Christian morality and found them timely. I bought a megaphone on Amazon and I played sad songs on guitar until 2 in the morning.

Today was a day of action, though, as I feel so many future days will be, and I let my anger propel me to good actions. I did the church thing and again found the readings resonated with everything going on – the beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12 that steer one’s moral life, the first letter to the Corinthians that states ‘God chose the foolish of the world to shame the wise, and God chose the weak of the world to shame the strong.’ Initially I read that as a reflection of our political climate wherein populists revolted against the “elite” in the Democratic party, and then as a call for me to humble myself before those who don’t feel the same outrage. Maybe it speaks to how our whole democratic system has been pulled upside-down in a matter of days. There are a few ways to read that.

In the afternoon my husband and I went with another student up to Bradley Airport outside Hartford and joined a protest that we found out about the night before, organized by CAIR. Hundreds were in the arrivals section chanting louder than I’ve ever heard before.

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No hate, no fear, refugees / Muslims / immigrants are welcome here.

This is what democracy looks like.

Build a wall, we’ll tear it down.

No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA.

There were a couple “We the People” posters with the star-spangled hijabi, and a girl who was wearing her own.

After the protest wound down and I talked to a librarian from western Mass for a few seconds, it was back home to fuel up, then back to New Haven for a benefit concert featuring a bunch of Yale musical groups. We couldn’t make the vigil beforehand, but we heard the turnout was massive. As for the concert turnout, Battell Chapel was at capacity with more than 1100 attendees and standing room only by the time we arrived.

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The talent in this room was amazing. There was a quartet who performed video game music (!) and I had to explain to my husband, who has probably never played an RPG, the greatness of composers like Nobuo Uematsu. I smiled straight through their performance. There were combined choirs who performed peace song medleys, a capella groups, a solo guitarist who used distortion and sampler pedals to perform original works, choirs that performed moving pieces that reminded me of my favorite songs during my choir days, a fun song with a clarinet and electric violin, and an accompanied choir that did “No One Is Alone” and may have involuntarily caused me to cry, because, Sondheim. Didn’t help that I was singing along, though…

The money they raised was astounding too, roughly $14,000 that will benefit IRIS. After the performance, I read from IRIS’ Facebook page that their 5k Run for Refugees a week from now is at capacity, and they’re trying to have a second heat in the afternoon to meet demand.

Maybe we’ll survive the next four years. But only if we keep caring, keep fighting, keep giving, and keep loving.

11.12.16

As a Christian, I am heartbroken. Being a disciple of Christ means working within oneself to extend compassion and love to all human beings and especially to vulnerable people – in 2016 United States that means refugees, women, religious and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ, mentally ill, the homeless, the undocumented. Being a Christian to me means possessing a responsibility to make this world a better place for all people in it, not just people who are like me. And this country, one that claims so many other followers of Christ and worshipers of the God who is pure love, has spoken out and voted in defense of myopic self-interest at best, and at worst, the opposite of love: hatred, bigotry, sexism, and xenophobia.

That’s how  I updated my Facebook status on Wednesday, the day after the election. Before this week, I’d sign onto Facebook maybe once a month or so. Since Wednesday, though, I’m on it constantly and putting up multiple posts per day, reading news articles people link to and checking their statuses. I’ve been on Facebook more in the past four days than in the past year. The first day or two were posts like mine, which encouraged me to post my own. Saddened that bigotry won. Unbelieving. Angry and fearful for the LGBT and Muslim and Black and Latino people in their lives. I hoped I’d wake up Wednesday morning, Thursday morning, and it would all be a dream and go away. I felt empty inside, like I had lost something very dear to me. And I had: I’d lost my belief that good would prevail in America, and that we as a nation would act in the best interest of everyone who lived here. After the grief (or rather, concurrent with the grief) came posts about how to fight his policies. How to get active in politics, organizations to donate time and money to, Change.org petitions for the electoral college to follow the popular vote, rallies and marches and community conversations to attend. I donated to Sierra Club and ACLU and shared my story with Planned Parenthood and urged my Facebook followers to do the same. I attended a peaceful protest last night in New Haven, and read the notes for a community conversation that I missed.

The Facebook conversations are changing now to report violence and hate-filled actions. The friend of a friend, an academic in South Philly, had her car keyed and “it’s our pussy now, bitch” or something like that carved into it. Black students in the area of PA where I get up are being bullied and called names. Teachers’ students have gone from asking if their parents will be deported to reporting classmates telling them that their parents will be deported. Somebody opened fire on a protest in Portland. And Donald Trump is silent on the violence that has been condoned by his speech over the past year and that people feel they can come out and say now that he’s won the election.

I understand how the whole “Make America Great Again” message could have resonated. It’s the same reason folks got swept up in Obama’s “Yes We Can” eight years ago. And I treat it with the same deep skepticism that I did Obama’s 2008 campaign. It’s an empty promise with no real path forward. But anyway, Trump was a break from politics as usual, and I know lots of people voted for him as a protest against Hillary Clinton. And in a normal election, protest votes are usually fine. But you can’t deny the racist, sexist underpinnings of his speech, and I cannot forgive those non-racist, non-sexist Trump voters for implicitly giving the green light to the ones who are spray painting swastikas and saying “you’re next” to brown men and women. Especially since his racist and sexist rhetoric was always 1) illegal or 2) unconstitutional. The young, college educated Republicans I know believe the Constitution is a near-sacred document, but lots of them came out and voted for a candidate that doesn’t seem to give a lick about the Constitution. And who endorses racist practices and sexually assaults women. And is a fascist.

I also can’t forgive myself for not fighting harder than I did. I thought we had this. The “sensible” people I talk most with, and the media I consume, told me they and others were going to come out and vote against Trump. I thought I had done my part by participating in social justice stuff at my church and letting some people know about it, posting my photos of a service trip to Nicaragua and sharing a fundraiser link right before our Syrian refugee family came over in July. I should have talked to my grandmothers about how sweet and polite the kids are, and how the parents are desperate to learn English and find work, and how they have shown immense gratitude and hospitality to me and members of my church. I shouldn’t have worried about appearing holier-than-thou if I talked about it. I should have checked the box for ‘Democrat’ instead of ‘Unaffiliated’ when I registered in March so I could vote in the primaries and get on mailing lists to help make phone calls and canvas my town. I should have tried to talk more with my stepdad about what I encountered in Black neighborhoods in Philly, Chicago, and New Haven. I should have convinced my apolitical mom to go out and vote. I should have pushed people to recognize the racist code underpinning some of the phrases they’ve picked up from the political sphere. I should have checked in with my liberal friends and made sure they were registered to vote.

I didn’t though, and now this election started a fire in me to start fighting back as hard as I can. I need to keep that anger to propel me, because once I start waking up in the morning and I don’t feel that burning inside right away, once I no longer want to shout with my husband about injustice, I still need to keep this fight going. For at least the next four years, and throughout my life. It’s only the last two or three years of my life that I’ve realized the sort of power that I have, that I can be the change I want to see in the world. Now it’s time to stand up and do it.

Planned Parenthood

Post-election, I shared my story to Planned Parenthood. You can give your own story here. The following is what I told them:

Planned Parenthood has been my most important health provider for the past 12 years. When I became sexually active with my boyfriend (now husband) I was uninsured and working part-time while going to college. Planned Parenthood’s health professionals gave me pelvic exams, cancer screenings, disease screenings, birth control options, and all the information I needed to be healthy. I paid on a sliding scale, which wasn’t an option for me if I’d gone to a private OBGYN. Through two moves across the country, insurance coverage and insurance loss, and a years-long struggle with underemployment, Planned Parenthood gave me access to highly effective methods of prescription birth control. Thanks to Planned Parenthood, we have never had to deal with an unplanned pregnancy. Thanks to Planned Parenthood, I have never had to choose between getting an abortion, dropping out of college, or giving a child up for adoption. When my husband and I do choose to have children, we are able to give them the best life possible, and it’s because of the services provided only by Planned Parenthood. I now have health coverage and can visit any OBGYN I’d like, and I choose to be a patient at Planned Parenthood because of their continued level of professionalism, and because I believe in their mission of making basic health services accessible to all.