Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Last night’s third annual public meeting of the Greater Hartford Interfaith Coalition for Equity and Justice (Why did we ever give ourselves such an unwieldy name? GHICEJ or even simpler ICEJ is our normal shorthand) was a powerful meeting to advance the cause of justice in the state of Connecticut. There were hundreds of people, perhaps as many as a thousand people, from thirty faith communities including Muslim, Unitarian-Universalist, Friends (Quakers), Jewish, Protestant and Roman Catholic, plus representatives from 20 allied organizations who cosponsored the meeting.

The most powerful thing about the meeting was that we were speaking directly to state legislators who were not only present, but who stood up one after another to pledge their support for the specific issue based goals that the coalition has set for this legislative session. State Senators Eric Coleman and Jonathan Harris pledged their support and leadership in the senate to pass a state Earned Income Tax Credit for the working poor in the state. Representative Andy Fleischmann who is co chair of the State Education Committee pledged to support the increases in the availability of free preschool education programs and the increased state funding for local education that the coalition is supporting. Maryann Handley, co chair of the Public Health Committee supported the goal of universal, high quality, affordable, healthcare for everyone in the state. The Immigration Task Force is seeking to grant young people who are state residents but undocumented immigrants with the same rate of tuition as other state residents pay at state Colleges and Universities. Currently the undocumented pay out of state tuition, a rate three times as high as instate tuition. Representative Filipe Reinoso from Bridgeport had a last minute conflict, but a staff member from the state commissioner on Latino affairs spoke on his behalf, pledging to introduce this bill in this session as he has in a previous legislative session.

Senator Don Williams, Jr. President Pro Tempore, Connecticut General Assembly spoke in support of all of the ICEJ initiatives and gave a rousing speech encouraging our emerging powerful justice movement.

We heard powerful and challenging words from ICEJ president, the Rev Jesse White, as well as pastors Ed Horstmann, Josh Pawelek, Damaris Whittaker and Edwin Ayala, and finally from Imam Abdul-Rahmann Muhammad. The evening ended on a high note with the introduction of a new justice song “It’s Time to Wake Up.”

The most disappointing thing about the evening was the total lack of coverage in the local press. The State of the Union address by our pitiful excuse for a president began as the ICEJ meeting was ending, and commandeered a huge number of column inches in the Hartford Courant.

It was particularly gratifying to have a block of 14 people from First Presbyterian Church, Hartford, the largest number ever to attend a single ICEJ event. I am particularly thankful to the following people who attended along with myself (and to any others from our community who attended whom I did not see): Edwin Carty, Carl & Shirley Dudley, Bob & Alice Evans, Sherwood and Kate Anderson, Sherry & Anita Marchant, Lois Maxwell, Dianne Ney, Ray & Flora Perleoni.

The meeting was held in the beautiful and new sanctuary of the House of Restoration on North Main Street. This is the largest Church sanctuary in the city of Hartford in terms of seating capacity (2000) and according to their pastor, Bishop Jeremiah Tores, the oldest Latino Church in the city.

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