Tag Archives: racism public health crisis

RTM Condemns Racism

This is the first of Peter Gold’s regular reports on the Representative Town Meeting’s monthly sessions. He is an RTM member writing for himself, not in an official capacity.

October’s RTM meeting was one of the longest on record. It began at 7:30 p.m. yesterday, and ended at 2 a.m. this morning.

Six of the 7 agenda items were disposed of quickly. The last item — a 2-page sense of the meeting resolution declaring racism a public health crisis, and asking the town to help combat it — led to 5 hours of debate.

The final version was adopted unanimously (28-0). It says:

The Westport RTM condemns racism in all its forms and hereby commits to actively working toward combating racism and valuing all people as deserving of equitable treatment. We see the world around us and recognize racism as a crisis, having negative effects on the public health, welfare and lives of Black, Indigenous, and other People of Color (BIPOC). Racism diminishes us all. Therefore, we ask the Town of Westport to commit to continue work already begun, and we ask the Town of Westport to develop means to evaluate our community’s progress in the areas of racial equity and justice.

All RTM members spoke out against racism, while acknowledging it exists in Westport.

A primary area of discussion focused on whether or not the resolution should be limited to condemning racism, or if it should be expanded to condemn sexism and all other forms of discrimination as well.

While many RTM members felt that expanding the resolution diluted its impact by taking the focus off racism, many others felt that all forms of discrimination, including sexism, anti-Semitism and discrimination against LGBT people are equally reprehensible, and should be condemned too.

Other areas of concern involved the appropriateness and accuracy of several of the “whereas” clauses in the original resolution; whether or not the original resolution was too “partisan,” “political,” or otherwise beyond the scope of the RTM’s powers; and the feeling that the original wording was a one-size-fits-all resolution adopted by many other towns, instead of being tailored to Westport and expressing Westport’s values and concerns.

Many RTM members spoke eloquently and passionately on both sides of these and other issues. The full debate will be posted on the town website.

The other votes were also unanimous, and straightforward:

  • Ratification of the Conservation Commission’s approval of bridge replacements for the Cavalry Road and Bayberry Lane Extension bridges over the Saugatuck River (work begins in the spring, and will last 6-8 months).
  • Approval of $310,000 for new lights at the Greens Farms Elementary School softball field; replacement of the 30-year-old lights with new LED lights will save the town approximately $185,000 over the next 25 years in electricity and maintenance costs.
  • Approval of $150,000 for an uninterruptable power supply for Town Hall and the Parks and Recreation Department. Town Hall had 3 major power failures leading to IT problems in the last 5 years — most recently during Isaias. The new power supply will provide “clean” power.
  • Approval of $349,000 for several Public Works Department requests, including designing a replacement for underground fuel and storage tanks with above-ground tanks to address environmental concerns and meet state requirements; replacing garage doors at the Public Works Center and old, non-functional doors at the transfer station to improve safety and security, meet state requirements, reduce maintenance expenses and improve efficiency in storms; upgrading the waste oil storage shed to meet state spill standards, and replacing an aging truck and excavators.

Coming soon: An uninterrupted power supply at Town Hall.

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:

——————————————————-

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.