On RTM Agenda: Racism As A Public Health Crisis

Most Representative Town Meeting agendas focus on local matters. The 36 members discuss budgets, the library, parks and recreation, public protection and transit issues.

Occasionally though, national events intrude.

In 1972 the RTM made the New York Times, with a 17-15 vote demanding an immediate withdrawal of US troops from Vietnam.  In 1982 the body voted 24-2 (with 7 abstentions) in favor of a nuclear arms freeze.

On Tuesday, October 6 (7:30 p.m., via Zoom) — after voting on new lights at the Greens Farms Field, and replacing 40-year-old transfer station doors — the RTM will “take such action as the meeting may determine” to adopt a sense-of-the-meeting resolution asserting that “racism is a public health crisis affecting the Town of Westport and all of Connecticut.”

The proposed resolution — sponsored by Harris Falk, Mark Friedman, Amy Kaplan, Sal Liccione and Lisa Newman — says that “racism and segregation have exacerbated a health divide resulting in people of color in Connecticut bearing a disproportionate burden of illness and mortality including COVID-19 infection
and death, heart disease, diabetes, and infant mortality.”

Because “Black, Native American, Asian and Latino residents are more likely to experience poor health outcomes as a consequence of inequities in economic stability, education, physical environment, food, and access to health care” — and because those inequities are “themselves a result of racism” — the sponsors want the town to commit to “progress as an equity and justice-oriented organization, by continuing to identify specific activities to enhance diversity and to ensure antiracism principles across our leadership, staffing and contracting,” through a variety of means.

In addition, the sponsors hope to “solidify alliances and partnerships with other organizations that are confronting racism and encourage other local, state,
regional, and national entities to recognize racism as a public health crisis.”

The October 6 RTM meeting will be livestreamed at www.westportct.gov, and shown on Optimum Channel 79 and Frontier Channel 6020. Emails to RTM members can be sent to RTMmailinglist@westportct.gov. Comments to be read during the public portion of the meeting can be emailed to RTMcomments@westportct.gov.

Here’s the full text of the proposed resolution:

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WHEREAS, racism is a social system with multiple dimensions: individual racism that is interpersonal and/or internalized or systemic racism that is institutional or structural, and is a system of structuring opportunity and assigning value based on the social interpretation of how one looks; and

WHEREAS race is a social construct with no biological basis; and

WHEREAS racism unfairly disadvantages specific individuals and communities, while unfairly giving advantages to other individuals and communities, and saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources, and

WHEREAS racism is a root cause of poverty and constricts economic mobility; and

WHEREAS racism causes persistent discrimination and disparate outcomes in many areas of life, including housing, education, employment, and criminal justice, and is itself a social determinant of health; and

WHEREAS racism and segregation have exacerbated a health divide resulting in people of color in Connecticut bearing a disproportionate burden of illness and mortality including COVID-19 infection and death, heart disease, diabetes, and infant mortality; and

WHEREAS Black, Native American, Asian and Latino residents are more likely to experience poor health outcomes as a consequence of inequities in economic stability, education, physical environment, food, and access to health care and these inequities are, themselves, a result of racism; and

WHEREAS more than 100 studies have linked racism to worse health outcomes; and

WHEREAS the collective prosperity and wellbeing of Westport depends upon equitable access to opportunity for every resident regardless of the color of their skin: and

WHEREAS in August 2005, recognizing the need to achieve and celebrate a more welcoming, multicultural community, the Town of Westport established the TEAM Westport Committee to advise Town officials; and

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Town of Westport asserts that racism is a public health crisis affecting Westport and all of Connecticut;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will work to progress as an equity and justice-oriented organization, by continuing to identify specific activities to enhance diversity and to ensure antiracism principles across our leadership, staffing and contracting;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will promote equity through all policies approved by the Town of Westport and enhance educational efforts aimed at understanding, addressing and dismantling racism and how it affects the delivery of human and social services, economic development and public safety;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will improve the quality of the data Westport collects and the analysis of that data-—it is not enough to assume that an initiative is producing its intended outcome, qualitative and quantitative data should be used to assess inequities in impact and continuously improve;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will continue to advocate locally for relevant policies that improve health in communities of color, and support local, state, regional, and federal initiatives that advance efforts to dismantle systemic racism;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will further work to solidify alliances and partnerships with other organizations that are confronting racism and encourage other local, state, regional, and national entities to recognize racism as a public health crisis;

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will support community efforts to amplify issues of racism and engage actively and authentically with communities of color wherever they live; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Town of Westport will identify clear goals and objectives, including periodic reports to the Representative Town Meeting, to assess progress and capitalize on opportunities to further advance racial equity.

10 responses to “On RTM Agenda: Racism As A Public Health Crisis

  1. No🇺🇸
    Stick to Westport issues. Stop preaching.

  2. With respect, Mr. Feeley, racism IS a Westport issue, as our Staples students are making very clear to us in their essays and podcasts, and as members of TEAM Westport do in our meetings and in our book group discussions.

  3. Thank you Susan Ellis. Also, there is no mention of housing accessiblity.

  4. With respect Tom Feeley and Kathryn Silico, this is a very real issue and it effects OUR town, and as for staying in our lane, is this with our heads down and rose tinted glasses on so we may continue to ignore these important and very real issues.
    I think NOT !
    Thankfully there are plenty Of us who will support these proposals.
    Those of you who are in denial may continue on that path of course as is your right.
    But have some respect for freedom of speech especially on these important issues.

  5. Bill Strittmatter

    Very nice resolution. Can’t imagine it not passing. Of course, it is what everyone has come to know and love about Westport.

    But, C’mon people. Is that really the best you can do? Pass a feel good resolution then go back to your privileged lives fully comfortable than you’ve done your part? A bold declaration that everyone can pat themselves on the back for but, in the end, largely empty rhetoric that accomplishes pretty much nothing?

    How about this:

    An RTM resolution opening up Winslow Park and/or Baron’s South for development (by the town or otherwise) of 100% low income/affordable housing and/or breaking down Westport’s racist restrictive zoning so our fellow human beings can avail themselves of Westport’s excellent education system and, perhaps, improve their children’s lot in life.

    Or, if that “changes the town character” too much, maybe an RTM resolution that the Town will pay for the healthcare of uninsured Westporters or an RTM resolution raising the mill rate to the level of Bridgeport (or even Norwalk or Fairfield) sending the excess collections to Bridgeport, in either case to start making a real dent in the gross income and wealth inequalities that plague Connecticut than underly the “health crisis” of racism.

    Or maybe something else that, you know, actually does something? Talk is cheap. Actually doing something, on the other hand, generally costs something. Maybe even an RTM seat or two.

  6. I agree with Rozanne and Bill, in that I see very little of substance here. Addressing our restrictive zoning laws might make real change. The references to engaging with ‘communities of color wherever they live’ sounds like we’re fine with those communities staying where they are, rather than inviting them in. TEAM Westport and others, like the framers of this resolution, are doing a fine job getting us to ‘think’ about anti-racism; action is what’s needed.

  7. I have to agree with Mr. Feeley – our RTM needs to stay on its turf. This preachy resolution is a little silly.

  8. I can’t agree with Bill more. I’m very proud of being a Westporter and because of that I want to continue to strive to make this town a beacon among other towns in CT, nationally and even globally. Westport CAN continue to progress towards a brighter furtive for our children and grandchildren. Sometimes change it messy, ugly, sticky, and un agreeable but this change is necessary.

  9. Freedom of Speech or Freedom of Preach? This resolution smacks of privileged people passing a wordy, well-intended resolution that allows the authors to proclaim at their woke cocktail parties that Westport is really stepping up on the issue of systemic racism. Instead of referencing unknown, biased studies that support your narrative, how about creating a plan that actually makes substantive changes to address your concerns? Instead of hiding behind an “anonymous source” (the studies referenced), provide an example of systemic racism you see in Westport and propose a concrete solution? Ever heard of The Rooney Rule in the NFL? This is an example of a well-intended, constructive, to-the-point success story as it relates to addressing systemic racism in the NFL Head Coach hiring process. Do the work to go beyond what is essentially a feel-good preach and address an actual process that is falling short.

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