margaretMargaret Steinegger-Keyser picturedThey don’t look alike and they don’t worship alike, but more than 600 members of 31 congregations spoke Tuesday with one voice about the need for tax equity, universal health care, and other social justice initiatives that it prayed the General Assembly would approve during the next five months. “We will not be kept apart on the issue of justice,” Josh Pawelek, a Unitarian pastor and vice president of the Greater Hartford Interfaith Coalition for Equity and Justice, told the crowd gathered at the Restoration House in Hartford. “Do whatever is in your power to move forward this agenda for equity and justice,” he said. The issues members of the coalition outlined for legislators Tuesday included support for a state Earned Income Tax Credit, accessible and affordable universal health care, preschool for children living at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty level, an increase in income taxes for residents making $250,000 or more a year, and in-state tuition rates for undocumented immigrants who wish to attend college in the state.

Senate President Donald Williams, D-Brooklyn,(pictured below) who invited himself to the gathering Tuesday told the crowd he supported their agenda and was ready to champion their issues at the Capitol. The fact Williams sought out an invitation to the meeting proves he is “willing to fight for fairness, equality, and opportunity,” Pawelek said.  williamsCTJN staff photo
If you weren’t convinced these issues were important before Tuesday, then the first-person testimonials helped emphasize the need in the community. Annette Womack from the First Church of the Living God said she would have benefited from an Earned Income Tax Credit. In 1995 she was injured on the job and was unable to return to work, which meant there was no money to pay the bills. In 1996 she received the federal Earned Income Tax Credit and was able to catch up on her mortgage and pay off some bills. Womack said she ran out of space, writing down all the things she could do with an extra $200. Then there was Kathy Keenan from Grace Lutheran Church, is partially deaf and has Parkinson’s disease. She said she lost her private health insurance when she was unable to work a full-time job based on her medical condition. But as soon as she did find work again, she lost her Medicaid benfits because they said she made too much money. Based on her medical condition, she often makes choices between food or medicine and recently had to raise money from friends for an expensive medical procedure. “Wouldn’t it save everyone a lot of money to have a system in place,” she said. Keenan received a standing ovation.Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, said he was energized by the enthusiasm in the room Tuesday. He said the legislature has a lot of work ahead of it. “Our table is set and grassroots support is exactly what we need,” he said. Williams agreed. He said he’s seen issues at the state Capitol turned around simply because large numbers of people come to support it. The coalition and its members already plan on attending the Jan. 31 public hearing on universal health care. In addition, it is in the early stages of circulating a petition in support of a state Earned Income Tax Credit. The petition already has more than 5,000 signatures and is growing everyday. Click here for a copy of the petition. Mike Winterfield said on March 7 the coalition will present the petition to Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Already anticipating the Republican response to the measure Winterfield made sure to mention the federal credit was enacted by former President Gerald Ford and called the ‘best anti-poverty, best pro-family, the best job creation measure to come out of Congress,’ by former President Ronald Reagan.  Inspired by social justice movements of the past the coalition’s board commissioned a justice song for the occasion, Margaret Steinegger-Keyser, the GHICEJ executive director, said. The song, written and composed by West Hartford singer/songwriter Eric Paradine, was called “It’s Time to Wake Up.” The performance, which included a diverse ensemble of musicians and singers, brought the crowd to its feet, swaying and clapping to the song. Once the song or performance is available online we will create a link.paradineCTJN staff photo