Tag Archives: connecticut

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.

Marching on Washington

The night of the election, and the day after the election, when my husband and I despaired about what a Trump presidency would mean for our country and were obsessively checking our Facebook feeds and asking ourselves and our friends what we should do, we found a movement to march on Washington D.C. We called the dogsitter and purchased bus tickets, busted out the acrylics and painted a slogan based on a phrase that emerged from one of the dozens of frustrated, outraged, despairing conversations we’d shared over the last two months, and boarded at 1 in the morning this past Saturday. And we marched on Washington.

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Slogan is our response to a narrow definition of “real America” that excluded most Americans.

You can’t really see my purple #refugeeswelcome button in support of IRIS in Connecticut, but it’s there. As well as my “get shit done” pink bandanna that makes appearances when I tackle major cleaning projects or holiday dinners. Or the possibility of tear gas.

As we walked the two miles from where dozens of buses parked in RFK stadium – I heard estimates of 1200 buses later – to the rallying point for the CT group, we passed smiling National Guardsmen and women and D.C. officers wishing us good morning. Some men in an armored car waved to us and gave us a thumbs up. Residents chatted with us from their windows. Lawn signs that had been put up for Martin Luther King Jr. Day with quotes from him, and it was an amazing experience to pass them in the quiet of Saturday morning and read them as I went to march for human rights.

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“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

I’d like to say the level of camaraderie was surprising, but it really wasn’t. Women came with garbage bags full of extra pink hats that they were passing out to strangers. Volunteers, cops, and other rally attendees pointed each other in the right directions. We passed an older couple who said “don’t mind us, we’re a little slow,” and all I could think to say was, “I’m glad you’re here.”

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Women of all backgrounds and abilities were here. On the other side of the museum, American Indian women in full traditional dress and Standing Rock t-shirts were talking with passersby. People involved with Black Lives Matter were there. Men were there joining in the chants, like echoing the women’s “My body, my choice” with “Their body, their choice.” We did a few “this is what a feminist looks like” chants, once at the very moment a college bro walked by with a sign reading “this is what a feminist looks like,” to much cheering. I saw more rollators and more wheelchairs than ever before, and tons of “We the People” posters portraying women in star-spangled hijab and proud Latina women. Some participants snapped photos of our sign or gave us nods of agreement.

Even though by 11 am the crowds were impossible, and we couldn’t hear the speakers or even see the giant screen, and though we were squished so close that we could barely lift our arms and it took us half an hour just to cross to the opposite corner of the street in a vain attempt to meet up with friends two blocks away, and though the march portion itself didn’t start until 2:30 though it was scheduled for 1:00, and even though my energy and my back both gave out around 3:30 and we didn’t make it to the White House or to see any of our friends, we were part of this, and we showed up for a massive peaceful protest that we felt was our duty as Americans to attend.

I am 30 years old, and I just attended my first big political demonstration.

Other things that happened:

  • “We don’t want your little hands anywhere near our underpants!”
  • “Build a fence around Mike Pence!”
  • Gloria Steinem and BLM activists and other women of color were among the speakers
  • Way less garbage than I would have expected considering march organizers planned for 200,000 attendees and there were more than 500,000
  • “Tree people” hanging out and letting us know when there was movement
  • Talking to women who bused there overnight from Missouri
  • Lots of signs held by older women along the lines of “I can’t believe I’m still marching for this”
  • Coffee shop workers who kept their places warm, their bathrooms open, and their patience intact
  • Pro-life women were apparently at the march, and I am so happy that they came despite the controversy over listing them as partners
  • A truly lovely older woman from my church, who went to Nicaragua with me and helps with the refugee family we sponsor, appeared at our bus pickup and I realized I had expected to run into her all along.
  • Two other people in my RCIA class marched in Washington
  • A huge number of friends and acquaintances attended marches in L.A., Philadelphia, Manhattan

I am so glad that I was part of this.