New Haven Independent, by Uma Ramiah

March 8, 2011

State Sen. Toni Harp
A state legislative power duo wants to hear more from women back home.

So New Haven’s State Sen. Toni Harp and State Rep. Toni Walker told community forum panel Monday night at Gateway Community College sponsored by the Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority of New Haven to discuss the ravaging impact of the economy on women.

Their message? Keep talking. Get active. Let lawmakers like us hear from you about not wanting education and women’s health care de-funded.

Harp and Walker co-chair the state legislature’s powerful Appropriations Committee.

“The legislative branch at the local, state and federal level is a mechanism to hear peoples’ voices,” Harp told the audience of nearly 100 people, most of them women.

She suggested writing to the Board of Aldermen. “They have to respond,” she said. “And if you have a state rep or state senator, you can contact us. We can put bills in on your behalf.”

She also encouraged testifying at committee hearings.

“It’s almost as important to be against something as to be for some things. Your voice must be heard.”

And women’s voices, panel members told the audience, become ever more crucial as the economy shrinks and funding is cut.

Walker chimed in.

Uma Ramiah PhotoUma Ramiah Photo, State Rep. Toni Walker
“Nine times out of ten, Sen. Harp and I are already voting the way you want us to,” she said, “so you’ve got to reach out to all the legislative members.”

Panel member and moderator Teresa Younger, executive director of Connecticut’s Permanent Commission on the Status of Women, explained that the first wave of the recession had an impact on predominantly male industries: construction, finance, etc.

 Teresa Younger, PCSW Executive Director
But now, she said, we’re in a second wave.

“And the things under attack are the things that make women comfortable to walk the streets at night. It’s a stepped up attack on women’s rights,” she said. “We’re looking at funding cuts to health care, education, community services.”

She mentioned the ongoing budget-cutting threat to Planned Parenthood services. “That was about whether women should have control over their bodies, have access to birth control, even have an annual pap smear.”

These are basic, necessary services, she said.

“When [former Speaker] Nancy Pelosi was in the [U.S.] House [of Represetnatives],” Younger noted, “jealth care and job training all went to the front of the conversation.”

As the House changed to male leadership, she said, one area that’s not being cut is military spending.

“Discretionary spending, though, is being cut left and right.”

Mary Swain, a 57-year-old first-year Gateway student (pictured above), stood up to protest cuts to education.
“We’re here in 2011, and I’m still trying to obtain my associates degree while funds are being cut,” she said.

Swain, who is on disability and supports both children and grandchildren, said she’s working towards a degree in general studies.

“We keep talking about class,” she said. “But this ship is going down. If we were on the Titanic, would class matter? We’re just trying to survive,” she said.

And it’s not just the poor being affected, she said. The middle class is at risk now too.

“It really is probable one of the hardest things, doing what you’re doing, keeping your family whole,” Walker responded. And again, she encouraged contacting legislators in the face of education and other cuts.

“Sometimes we don’t respond right away because we get three to 400 emails a day,” she said. “But we are here for you.”

Don’t let this be the only time you reach out, she said.

“Make this a beginning. Make it a continuation.”

Original Article