In the wake of the spate of gun violence massacres, resuming again with deadly consequences, we are at a familiar crossroads: Do we revert to our usual, American individualized ‘othering,’, or do we reconcile that there is no ‘them’- only ‘us,’ that we refuse to claim?

State Rep. Anne Hughes

I’m campaigning to reframe the American ‘us’ from some of y’all to “ALL of us all!”

It’s time to claim we all belong to this place, this promise of America; we all deserve to be safe in our American community, and it’s time we declare a ‘ceasefire’ and release the prisoners of war — those incarcerated from our state-sanctioned war on drugs and our deliberately unjust laws designed to deprive some of us economic justice, opportunity, education, health, liberty, and life itself.

We have the opportunity to get it right, right now.

Systemic racism permeates the walls of our prisons and policies, determining who is allowed access to communities rich with resources, and who was and is still barred; who had and has access to capital, to loans, to zip codes with quality public education and services, to livable wage jobs, and who doesn’t; who is hunted by police as ‘perpetrators’ and criminals, and who is protected; who has access to counsel and justice, and who doesn’t.

These are the structural barriers in policy that deny and divide, not the personal discrimination and unconscious bias that may or may not dwell in our hearts. (Spoiler alert: what does/doesn’t inhabit our unconscious or our hearts doesn’t matter as much as the impact of these structural barriers. I’m not calling us all racists here, but I am owning the policies and economic systems that we have stubbornly refused to dismantle– because of who they benefit, and who is barred from belonging, who is systematically deprived of the American promise and her economic justice.)

That’s why lawmaking matters at the crossroads we face now. The MORE Act, passed last year in Congress’ House of Representatives, focused on the social equity perspective and disproportionate criminalization of people of color in the War on Drugs. We must modernize and end federal marijuana prohibition through good policy, as well as measures that help restore and repair those who were targeted in the War on Drugs and Black and brown communities.

That’s where our CT House bill, HB 6377, An Act Concerning a Modern and Equitable Cannabis Workforce, can lead the way.  HB6377 defines equity, allows home growing of cannabis, priority licensing for equity applicants, jobs program for those with adverse criminal histories, a green jobs economic launchpad with labor peace agreements, protections for students and parents, support for native tribes, and investment to impacted communities and corruption protections.

This is our ‘us’ moment: Everybody in, especially those who have been left out, and ensure equity resources through policy that restores those most harmed by our systems first. Connecticut has this extraordinary chance to model economic recovery and growth from the ground up for the whole country.

We have fierce proposals before the General Assembly now that restore access to justice denied and delayed: The Protect Act, Stop Solitary: Stop Extreme Isolation and Abusive Restraints: SB 1059, and Correction Accountability; SB 972, end profiting off of incarcerated phone calls with families; Collateral Employment Consequences of a Criminal Record: HB 6474; Clean slate: HB 5935. Time to end state-sanctioned torture and release the ‘Prisoners of War on Drugs.’

We got to experience first-hand Connecticut’s solitary confinement cell, recreated to spec, for lawmakers to enter at the Capitol with actual taped horrific sounds assaulting our senses. I could not endure being locked in the cell for longer than 20 minutes.

The damn war is over. Nobody won. (Somebody tell Biden.) Let’s declare a ‘ceasefire’ and support those returning from this war with a real GI-bill: equity-based policies and economic justice that repairs the American promise to those denied for so long, including SB 753 to end prison gerrymandering.

Like me, many of my legislative colleagues were not elected to protect the status quo, we were elected (again), to serve the public, repair and restore the public good, and challenge the rigged system.

Time for a ceasefire on the War on Drugs, time to pass a Recovery For All Budget, time to make healthcare a right in the wake of this deadly pandemic, and time to make equity not just a promise, but an American reality though policy.  We’ve got some reconciling to do, and we’re here for us, Connecticut. All of us. Time to get it right, right now!

Anne Hughes represents Connecticut’s 135th District (Easton, Redding and Weston) and is Co-Chair of the Democratic Progressive Caucus of the Connecticut House of Representatives.

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