Fighting for abortion rights and gun reform, CT activists in Ridgefield say ‘We are not powerless’

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RIDGEFIELD — Chants of “We are not powerless” could be heard loudly inside the Ridgefield Playhouse as several hundred people gathered for an event called “A Night of Education & Action with ImpaCT.”

On stage was Janée Woods Weber, executive director of the CT Women’s Education and Legal Fund, who told audience members they have “a voice” and can make a difference in women’s rights.

The Wednesday evening event organized by Ridgefield residents Jessica Mancini and Glori Norwitt, was in response to the June 24 decision by the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn Roe v. Wade and revert authority to regulate abortion to voters and the states.

The goal of the evening, according to Mancini, was to educate about action steps that can be taken “to make change happen” — both locally and nationally — through advocacy.

“We understand that in advocacy, there’s a lot of burnout because you’re doing so many things. So we really wanted to bring all the nonprofits together so that people can really find out what they’re passionate about, and then find out actions that are efficient for that organization so that they can move forward and be consistent with what they love,” Mancini said.

Speakers throughout the evening included Katie Kraschel, executive director of the Solomon Center for Health Law & Policy at Yale Law School, Peggy Reeves, former state election director, and Katie Friel, fellow at Brennan Center’s Democracy Program at NYU Law.

Additionally, in the Playhouse lobby, about a dozen “action tables” from organizations including Planned Parenthood, CT Against Gun Violence and The Center for Empowerment and Education, provided information. Tickets were $10 per person.

Fighting for abortion rights

When on stage, Amanda Skinner, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, said due to the June Supreme Court decision, Connecticut will see an increase in the need for abortion services, since “abortion remains safe, legal and accessible” in the state.

She said there’s a two-week wait for first-trimester aspiration abortion procedures at local health centers.

“We have that because there’s a shortage of abortion providers,” she said.

She added over 85 percent and up to 97 percent of OB-GYNs will say they have seen patients who asked for abortion care, and less than 20 percent — and sometimes 14 percent, actually provide abortion care.

“There’s a huge access gap for people seeking abortion care. And we needed to be able to expand the pool of clinicians — appropriate, high qualified, high quality health care professionals, who could provide first trimester aspiration abortions,” she said.

She added when a woman is looking for a first-trimester abortion, “a two-week wait is way too long to ask somebody to wait. It is unacceptable.”

Skinner said a lot of the work at Planned Parenthood is focused on youth.

“It’s about working with parents and educators and help school professionals to ensure that what we are really doing is creating a society full of people who have full agency over their bodies, lives and futures, because not only do they have access to health care, not only do they operate a system that supports them actually being able to access health care, but they personally have information and knowledge,” Skinner said.

She referred to, and cheered, this week’s development in Kansas after voters overwhelmingly backed a ballot measure protecting abortion rights.

Abortion should be discussed abortion more openly by sharing one’s personal story of abortion and showing support of others, when they share their own stories on the subject. She then shared her own story about having an abortion.

She said volunteers are always needed to make phone calls, knock on doors, and support public leaders who are pro-choice.

Other issues

In Weber’s speech, she addressed the topic of gender discrimination, saying many women “remain economically burdened by income and wealth disparities due to our gender.”

She added for women of color, “especially Black woman like me, the reality is even worse because of the generational ongoing impact of racism.”

Showing a PowerPoint presentation about equal pay, she said women in Connecticut earn on average only 84 cents for every dollar paid to a man.

“The gender wage gap is even more severe for women of color in Connecticut. Asian women make only 83 cents black woman make 57 Native (American) women make 53 (cents) and Latino women make only 48 cents,” she said.

She spoke of rights for hourly workers, “who often have no voice in their schedules. They work unpredictable hours that prevent them from securing child care, from receiving medical care or going to school.”

She said here needs to be legislation that provides stability and predictability to workers.

“We need to require employers to set schedules in advance and provide compensation for last-minute changes,” Weber said. “We also need a Fair Work Week bill that will guarantee that people have adequate rest periods between shifts so you can’t be expected to close up shop at midnight and then report to work you know at 4 a.m. the next morning.”

Actions she said the public can take to encourage fair treatment in the workplace includes sharing their views with elected officials.

Jeremy Stein, executive director of CT Against Gun Violence, spoke about keeping children safe from gun violence.

He asked the audience if, upon entering the Playhouse, the thought occurred to them that a gunman could come in.

After seeing many raised hands, he said, “We cannot live like this. And if you’re not convinced already, there is a tremendous cost to gun violence.”

He said $1.2 billion is the annual cost of gun violence in the state of Connecticut, and $229 billion is what it costs the United States annually.

“This is after the shooting happens,” Stein said.

He added two-thirds of gun deaths in the United States are by suicide.

“That’s something very personal to me. My own uncle killed himself. He was a veteran. He was depressed and he had a gun, and easy access,” Stein said. “And he used it.”

Over the last 30 years, CT Against Gun Violence has worked to educate the public about gun violence. In the wake of the Sandy Hook shooting, the organization and other advocates pushed for “some of the strongest gun laws in this country,” Stein said.

He also spoke of Ethan’s Law and a ghost gun ban and getting funding at the state level “to make sure that we are concentrating on community level gun violence so we could stop the shootings that mostly affect Black and brown communities in Hartford, Bridgeport, New Haven and other places where they are seeing shootings almost every day. And that’s what we have to follow up today.”

He encouraged audience members to vote for “common sense” gun laws — and to encourage others to do the same.

He got the audience involved in his speech by having them repeat after him the words “Not one more” three times.

“Let’s see a change we want to see in this world,” Stein said.