“The moment we choose to love we begin to move against domination, against oppression. The moment we choose to love we begin to move towards freedom, to act in ways that liberate ourselves and others.”
- Gloria Jean Watkins (Bell Hooks), author, professor, feminist, and social activist.
On June 5, 2020, my friends and I joined thousands of other protestors, fists clenched in the air, chanting “Black Lives Matter” through our masks, demanding justice in front of the New Haven Police Department. Some of us carried signs; others arrived with shatter-resistant goggles, bandanas soaked in lemon juice, and gloves to protect ourselves; all of us were draped in black cloth, armed with hand sanitizers, and had the phone number of an attorney scribbled in ink on our forearms.
This rally was organized by members of Citywide Youth Coalition, who were calling for divestment from the carceral system and reinvestment into the education system. Protesters highlighted that policy change is fundamental in disrupting and dismantling systems of oppression and racism.
Art has taught me that we, as a society, are always in the context of each other and that nobody can thrive if the most vulnerable among us are not healthy. Illness swept the globe last year, exposing longstanding inequities that exist, making that truth abundantly clear. It has also been a time of great contrast; it is both pain and opening; it is pause and action; it is reckoning and healing. Invisible communities are now visible and brought to the public policy discourse, and it has forced us all to look inward and grow.
On June 5, Union Ave. was brimming with drumbeat, song, and poetry that communicated both collective joy and grief. New Haven residents performed Bomba as an act of resistance and spiritual expression. To honor Black lives, dancing bodies used storytelling to share their journey of suffering and resilience.
Throughout the summer, similar protests erupted across the state; artists painted Black Lives Matter on the pavement of Trinity Street in Hartford to illustrate the need for racial justice; community members took action by contacting their legislators and elevated their stories through testimony to support a sweeping police accountability bill; money poured in to support Black-owned businesses and Black-led advocacy groups; and by the end of July, the legislature passed a law to help mitigate the harm done to Black communities through policing. This bill was monumental, but there is still so much more we need to do to advance racial justice. And through relationship building and community action, I believe we can.
When I first moved to Connecticut in 2017, I met Jennifer, a fellow community organizer. She shared that she had a family member who was incarcerated for eight years, but that the white teenager who accompanied him did not receive any sentencing. She discussed the precarious nature of Black life, the inequitable access to resources in urban centers, and how even conversations on anti-Black racism can erase the experiences of Black women. She told me she struggled with truancy in high school, and I shared that I struggled with it as well.
Jennifer and I quickly learned, through movement building, it is our stories that connect us.
My father immigrated to the United States from Pakistan, and I was one of the few children of color in my school district. I grew up in a post-September 11 world, where my community was vilified and perceived as radicalized Brown bodies. I felt denied of a sense of belonging to American culture due to perpetual foreigner stereotypes and cultural scapegoating. I experienced constant taunts and threats from my classmates.
As women of color, we are forced to navigate a society never meant to be ours. Our rights are violated through surveillance culture, we endure violence, face both racial and gender bias, and the lack of cultural competence in learning spaces can make schools feel unbearable for children who look like us. Both Jennifer and I started working in the education field to address some of the challenges we faced as students, even though we were still grieving.
Together, we worked to build and move power.
We organized grassroots communities to enact policy change to ensure the liberation of our families, communities, selves, and future generations. We organized because we dreamed of a better world than our own, rooted in compassion, radical love, safety, and self-determination. Over a year ago, we both transitioned to working for Connecticut Voices for Children (CT Voices) to progress this vision further.
At CT Voices, we envision a Connecticut that is thriving and equitable, where all children achieve their full potential. Thus, in a collaborative relationship between scholarship and community engagement, we work at CT Voices to identify policies that produce and perpetuate inequalities and to replace them with anti-racist policies that ensure that power is shared equitably. Our research strives to eradicate racism by dismantling racist systems, structures, and policies.
Connecticut must address the structural issues causing a disproportionate impact on the health of low-income families and persons of color during this pandemic, or inequities will persist for many generations to come.
Connecticut has one of the highest levels of economic inequality as well as racial disparities in education, housing, policing, and so much more. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these already existing inequalities, contributing to the disparate blow COVID-19 has dealt to communities of color.1
The way that the COVID-19 pandemic has harmed our communities of color is not by accident. But rather, it is a predictable, though preventable, outcome. Current public policy contributes to Black, Hispanic, and indigenous people generally having high social vulnerability.2 However, good public policy can help decrease social vulnerability and address the structural issues that enable and enforce our racial and economic divides.
The racial and ethnic economic disparities in Connecticut are stark. Currently, 97,721 (13.3%) children in Connecticut live in poverty and of these, 27% are Black, 29% are Hispanic, and 5% are White.3-4
Our state’s tax system perpetuates poverty and the pandemic’s disparate impact on communities of color. Thus, in this 2021 Connecticut legislative session, the CT Voices advocacy efforts center on restructuring Connecticut’s tax system, so it is fair and works for everyone.
A major cause of economic injustice in Connecticut is the unfair distribution of pre-tax income. Connecticut’s regressive tax system intensifies an already high level of income inequality and a substantial racial and ethnic income gap. For example, in 2018, the median household in Connecticut had a median pre-tax income of $76,106.5 In contrast, the top one percent of tax filers in Connecticut had a pre-tax income of $3,092,389, an income nearly 41 times greater than the median household.5 Income disparities are even worse for households of color. In 2018, the median Black household in Connecticut had a pre-tax income of $47,856, meaning the top one percent had a pre-tax income nearly 65 times greater than the median Black household.5 Additionally, the median Hispanic household in Connecticut had a pre-tax income of $45,730, meaning the top one percent had a pre-tax income nearly 68 times greater than the median Hispanic household.5
Further, while the top one percent of tax filers have an average effective state and local tax rate of only 6.5%, the median household in Connecticut has an effective tax rate of 13.66% and the median Black and Hispanic households have an effective tax rate of 14.72%.5
Take home message: our tax system increases the disparity in income between the top 1% and everyone else.
We see this time of strife and upheaval as an opportunity to join together and take the bold actions necessary to tackle the structural foundations of racial, income, and wealth inequalities in our state. Two current pieces of legislation, if implemented, would provide needed financial relief for Connecticut's children and families, especially those impacted by the pandemic:
- HB 6654: An Act Establishing a Child Tax Credit (CTC) Against the Personal Income Tax; and
- SB 178: An Act Increasing The Applicable Percentage Of The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC)
These two bills will work in conjunction with each other to support Connecticut's most marginalized communities.
The EITC and CTC are powerful anti-poverty measures. They help to offset the negative impact of rising income and wealth inequality, especially in the areas of education, health, and economic opportunity. Research indicates that children in families receiving the tax credits do better in school, are likelier to attend college, and can be expected to earn more as adults.6 Implementing fair taxes by providing tax cuts for working- and middle-class families boosts the economy because it increases the amount of income available for the typical household to spend and increases aggregate demand.7
Your voice will influence decision-making.
Personal stories guide successful movements. Storytelling is critical in developing relationships, inviting others into issue campaigns, and motivating a community into action. Pediatricians can be powerful child advocates because they work directly with impacted communities and thus, have nuanced insight into the barriers to well-being that children and families in CT face, such as the impact of poverty on children's health.
Sharing your stories with decision-makers will have a significant impact on the daily rendering of patient care. Issue campaigns to advance sound policies for children's health and well-being, specifically those who have been historically disadvantaged, can be strengthened by physicians' voices and perspectives. Through power-sharing and power-building with the communities you serve, providing testimony, organizing fellow direct-service practitioners, and other political actions, pediatricians can leverage their personal experience and insight to influence legislation that will advance racial and economic justice.
How to take action:
- Submitting testimony is an important method in taking legislative action.
- You can submit testimony in support of SB 178 and HB 6654 in a Word or PDF format to FINtestimony@cga.ct.gov.
- We hope to get this legislation passed before its deadline to be voted out of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, so please email your testimony before April 22, 2021.
- Take a look at our digital toolkit. It aims to support you with easy-to-use advocacy language to push out via social media. While the frame of the toolkit is based on Twitter, we encourage you to combine tweets for social media posts that don’t have word limits. And, of course, feel free to tailor the language to make it your own. We’ve included a sample e-mail and will periodically update the toolkit with more resources, so stay tuned!
- Join our Fiscal Coalition. This coalition is comprised of community members, practitioners, and advocates, who come together to co-create policies and strategically advocate for these issues.
- Contact your legislator.
- Send a letter in support of HB 6654 to every member of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee and Appropriations Committee.
For more information, to share your thoughts, or get involved please contact:
- Sana Shah, Chief of Staff, email@example.com
- Jennifer Quaye-Hudson, Director of External Affairs, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Follow us on Twitter: @CTVoices
Sana Shah, M.S., is the Chief of Staff with Connecticut Voices for Children. She leads on government and legislative affairs as well as development. She is part of the Operations & Executive Team. Sana has over 10 years of experience working in education and advocacy for children in New Jersey, Texas, New York, and Connecticut. Growing up in an immigrant family, Sana was taught the value of solidarity and collective action; she has an extensive background building power with communities impacted by injustice. Sana has organized around issues such as criminal law reform, education equity, increasing teacher diversity in Connecticut, immigrants’ rights and liberties, and defending those who identify as LGBTQ+. Sana earned an M.S. in Education from Johns Hopkins University and a B.A. in both Psychology and History from Rutgers University-New Brunswick.