Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign spent the weekend in New Haven leading with strong suits — an appeal to feminism from America’s potential first female president, and trying to shore up support from black voters, particularly black women voters. It also sought to strenghten a weak spot—the candidate’s position on the minimum wage.
The Democratic presidential campaign held events in town Friday, Saturday and Sunday to that end. It’s bringing back former President Bill Clinton on Monday for a rally at Wilbur Cross High School, on the eve of Tuesday’s Connecticut primary pitting Clinton against fellow Democrat Bernie Sanders. (The 42nd president was just in the Elm City to shake hands with potential voters last Thursday.)
Hillary Clinton herself showed up in town Saturday for a a closed-door event with dozen people at Orangeside on Temple.
The campaign gathered home health care workers from the greater New Haven area: Service Employees International Union (SEIU) members engaged in the “Fight for 15;” representatives of Leadership, Education and Athletics in Partnership (LEAP); and state and local government officials, including New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, and State Senate President Martin Looney to discuss the a host of national and economic issues. Attendees were most vocal about the quest to raise the federal minimum wage from $7.25 to $15 an hour.
Clinton has stumbled on the issue, which has been popular with the Democratic base during this primary season. Her opponent, Bernie Sanders, has come out for a $15 wage, in tune with the national movement. Clinton came out for a $12 national wage with the option of supporting individual states seeking to raise it to $15 — and found herself hounded about it during debates.
Slightly on the defensive, she came out Saturday appealing to workers concerned about income inequality and the declining economic fortunes of the working and middle classes. That signature issue has long belonged to Sanders; Clinton has begun to adopt select aspects of it into her platform.
For a little over an hour, a discussion revolving around economic disparities — which kept everyone in the room from so much as touching their platters of New Haven’s famous square donuts — served as Clinton’s springboard into a series of comments on how she plans to champion working families, improve public education, and raise the minimum wage, if she wins the presidency in November.
New Haven Mayor Toni Harp spoke up for affordable housing. Immigration rights advocate Mike Wishnie, a professor at Yale Law School, advocated for better protection for undocumented workers. Others in the room jumped into stories from their own professions, discussing how difficult low wages and little-to-no paid leave had made their lives.
“We want for everyone to fulfill his or her own potential, to have a chance to get ahead and stay ahead — that’s what it’s all about,” Clinton said.
“I fear that we are losing that dream,” she said. “There are many reasons for that … but we have to figure out what to do. We can’t just watch it, complain about it, pray about it, worry about it — we’ve got to figure out what to do about it. We have to pay attention to caregiving, because a lot of the families that I know, that I hear from are juggling those responsibilities.”
She was determined, she said, to hear out the voters who were most likely to fight for those issues.
“I love my job,” Terrell Williams, a New Haven native who works as a certified nursing and patient care assistant for $13.50 per hour, told Clinton. He is active in SEIU’s fight to raise the minimum wage.
“I’m in a situation where I work seven days a week, somewhere between 60 and 70 hours,” Williams said.
“It’s just rough. I’m trying to be dependable, but mental health is a huge issue … It’s hard to keep your patients’ mental health at 100 percent when you’re having problems with your own. Stresses are: which bill can I pay this month?””
Others echoed that sentiment. “I’m part of the Fight for 15, and she [Clinton] has spoken about how we need to get people out of poverty and bring up salaries for people to make a living in this country,” said Maribel Rodriguez, 47, a certified nursing assistant who works out of Waterbury.
“We’re the wealthiest country in the world, and we need to improve within ourselves. We need equal pay [as well]. This is one of the reasons I am voting for Hillary, equal pay for women. She has the history of working in Congress to make changes, and she could do a great job as a president. We don’t get paid enough for the work we do. I take care of elderly residents in my nursing home, I’ve been there 29 years, and I struggle paycheck to paycheck.”
Clinton nodded solemnly. “People should have full-time jobs, with benefits,” she said. “Otherwise, you’re never going to get caught up.”
Planned Parenthood Chief Weighs In
Clinton’s appearance on Saturday followed a get-out-the-vote event held the day before, when Planned Parenthood President and CEO Cecile Richards and U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro advocated for Clinton at the Blue State Coffee on 360 Congress Ave. The event was organized by Hillary for America with help from Blue State CEO Carolyn Greenspan.
In an hour-long discussion with 25 Yale students, health care professionals, and representatives of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England and NARAL Pro Choice, Richards painted Clinton as the only choice for commander in chief, citing her advocacy for reproductive choice and tough stance on the gun lobby.
The two are not only important issues for the 2016 election, Richards maintained. As matters of policy, they are inextricably linked as gun violence has erupted at Planned Parenthood clinics across the country.
“It has been a tough time for women’s health and for women’s health care access,” she said. “I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but on the Republican side, we have never had a crop of candidates more opposed to reproductive health care access than we have [historically] in the Republican primary. It’s really incredible. Not only that, they want to end access to safe and legal abortion, and end access to Planned Parenthood. It has been a theme throughout every Republican debate. I want to thank Hillary Clinton for actually getting the issue of abortion rights into the conversation ... It’s about time. That’s the kind of leader that she always has been.”
That advocacy for access to safe and legal abortion, Richards explained, is intimately tied to Clinton’s proposal for increased gun control on a national level.
“I saw the influence of the NRA in Congress, and it is profound,” she said. “One of the reasons I was motivated to leave that work and go to Planned Parenthood is I felt that we needed the counterbalance. I’m very proud, actually, that today Planned Parenthood has twice as many supporters as the NRA has members in America. But we need a president and we need a Congress that will take on the gun lobby ... for common sense gun reform. We’re seeing a record number of attacks on health centers, arsons, harassment of women. What happened in Colorado Springs, where the worst imaginable took place and three people were murdered outside of our health centers there ... we need a president who speaks out on that, and who will take issue ... That is the kind of resilience we have to show. We have to stand up to not only acts of violence — we have to stand up to the lobby that allows it to happen. ”
As Richards wrapped up her comments, both she and Clinton supporters from New Haven’s chapter of Hillary for America made a plea to attendees to spend the weekend and Monday knocking on doors and phone banking. Hardcore Clinton supporter Jacqueline Kozin and NARAL Pro-Choice CT Board Director Mike Brown reminded those in the room that there was a vote looming in the Connecticut legislature on paid family leave, and that Clinton was the kind of candidate who sides with leave advocates. Yale Senior Haley Adams, who founded Yale Students for Hillary in 2013, advocated for fighting sexism door-to-door and holding casual conversations with primary voters as they made their last decisions.
Richards issued one last rallying cry: Be brave. Be feminists. And don’t be apologetic about it.
“There are a lot of supporters for Hillary that have been quiet about their support, and I think that’s a shame,” she said. “The most important thing we can do is be unequivocal, strong, not apologetic about why we support Hillary ... the most important thing we can do is be forthright. Whether it’s for LGBT rights, Black Lives Matter, it’s ... when people stand up and actually put out their point of view in a strong and unapologetic way, it helps everyone else stand up just that much taller.”
A Delta Takes A Turn
On Sunday, meanwhile, when more than 10,000 Bernie Sanders supporters filled the Green, the Clinton campaign held another event, this one targeted at shoring up support from black women, a bloc the Clinton campaign has successfully courted throughout the primary season.
U.S. Reps. Marcia Fudge of Ohio and Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, joined New Haven’s own U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro at a meet-and-greet Sunday at Betsy Ross Arts Magnet School’s Parish Hall.
The Clinton supporters stressed the importance of women voting, but also of bringing someone else to the polls to vote.
The overwhelming majority of the people in attendance were members of the New Haven Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. A not-for-profit organization, Delta Sigma Theta has a membership that consists of more than 200,000 predominately black, college educated women, including high profile women like New Haven Mayor Toni Harp, who has endorsed Clinton.
Not only is Fudge a member of Delta Sigma Theta; she is a former national president.
She predicted Sunday that if people don’t get out and vote, not just in Tuesday’s primary election but in the November general election, the country would change so drastically that it would not recover in her lifetime.
“I’m not a young person, but I know that it will take a long time to turn that ship around again,” she said. “People have to understand how important it is.”
Fudge characterized the current times as “dark” and “out of sync with God.”
“We need to bring some light,” she said. “I know you’re going to go vote, but I need you to get others to vote. Talking to you all is like preaching to the choir as they say. But I need young people to vote. Unless you’re going to vote for Bernie. Then, I’m going to be mad.”
That comment drew laughs.
Fudge said more seriously that she needed young people to vote because it is their future that is at stake.
“Young people, this election is about you,” she said. “So, I want you to not just hear the sound bite, or read the headline. I need you to look at a person’s body of work. Because what a person has done is a good indication of what they will do.”
Though the sorority cannot endorse candidates, Clinton has shown that she knows the power of Delta and the other eight black Greek-lettered organizations, of which hundreds of thousands of African-Americans are members.
She was the guest speaker at Delta Sigma Theta’s 100th anniversary in 2013—an event that drew more than 40,000 members to the nation’s capitol that week.
Click on the above video to listen to Fudge’s entire speech.