In a quest to raise enough money to travel to Orlando for a basketball tournament, the New Haven Heat was lucky to bump into a U.S. senator Saturday.
The Heat, a youth basketball organization in town, met Chris Murphy in the neighborhood Sunday as the U.S. senator walked the final miles of his third “Walk Across Connecticut,” a 70-mile trek that ended in New Haven.
While Murphy had conquered all but a few miles of his quest by the time the Dixwell Avenue team posed for him. Then he sent out a tweet about the fundraising quest.
Murphy had been walking since Thursday, beginning in Hartland and weaving through 15 towns over the weekend to end near Long Wharf Pier in New Haven.
He zigged, zagged, and held town halls along the way. The ultimate goal: to gather information and local perspectives from the constituents along the way. In his final stretches Sunday –– after tens of thousands of steps across four days –– he greeted people with enthusiasm.
“I just think I have to do exceptional things to be in touch with the state,” said Murphy.
The trip differed from his past walks. This year’s journey found him walking a month earlier due to the cancellation of the U.S. Senate’s August recess. Dressed in a T-shirt and baseball cap, he shifted his past east-to-west 110-mile route to a 70-mile north-to-south journey due to time constraints.
“I think there are a lot of members of Congress who wait for people to call and write them,” said Murphy.
He encountered a shift in constituents’ concerns this year as well. Last year, people mentioned health care more than any other issue, as the Senate debated repealing Obamacare. This year he heard a lot more about the “evil” of the Trump administration’s immigration policies, as well as support for the policies from regular watchers of Fox News, he said. Murphy, who has sided in Washington with opponents of the policies, encountered a challenge at the end of Sunday’s walk from an immigrant-rights activist who urged him to take a stronger stand.
Most people used their face time with their senator to hit “basics”: jobs, education, and welfare.
En route to Long Wharf, Murphy briskly trotted across the New Haven Green and encountered Tommy O’Neill, a New Havener who –– in just a brief few minutes –– managed to share his perspective on the values of start-ups, corporate successes like CVS Pharmacy, and the viability of food stamps combined with soup kitchens .
“I don’t use those food stamps every day. There are several soup kitchens around here. Everybody who’s homeless knows that, if you’ve been to any of the soup kitchens, that New Haven provides better service than any of the other cities,” O’Neill told Murphy, who once went on a food-stamp diet in 2013to highlight how hard it is to eat well on limited government support. He told O’Neill that outside a center city, soup kitchens aren’t always within reach for hungry people.
As he approached Long Wharf Pier, a crowd applauded vigorously.
He told the crowd about people he’d met along his walk, including a man struggling to pay his bills despite working 60 hours per week at two different jobs –– the morning shift at a Jamaican bakery and a grueling bout lasting until 2:30 a.m. at a Kentucky Fried Chicken.
“When you walk across the state, and you meet these people –– the working poor –– who are doing what we ask and still not able to get ahead, you realize how screwed up our priorities are in Washington,” Murphy said.
He said he ended his trek “tired, but excited.”
The event attracted members from groups such as Witnesses to Hunger, who will meet with the Senator on Monday at CitySeed on Grand Avenue discuss the benefits of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and urge him to fight a pending bill to cut them.
Yeminar Cortes, an undocumented woman from the immigrant rights reform group Connecticut Students for a Dream, was waiting for Murphy, as well. She presented a letter with three demands: a vote of nay on the DHS FY19 appropriations bill, a return of campaign contributions to General Dynamics, and defunding of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE. Cortes pushed Murphy for “yes” or “no” answers; he said he couldn’t give them yet.
Following is a transcript of the encounter:
Cortes: It’s a letter. I’m going to read it to you. Well, I’m going to introduce myself.
Murphy: Don’t read it to me because we don’t have time
Cortes: It’s going to be short, like five minutes.
Murphy: I’ll take the –
Cortes: Yeah, you can take the letter.
Murphy: I don’t have 5 minutes because I want to make sure I get to everybody, so can I read the letter?
Cortes: It’s very brief. It’s three demands. So my name is Yenimar Cortes. You probably remember me. I was in your office.
Murphy: Yes, thank you for coming down.
Cortes: Yeah, and I’m undocumented. I’m unafraid and unapologetic. I’m part of a mixed status family – I don’t know if you remember my story – which means that my mom, my parents, they’re undocumented, and my little sister is not which means that we live in fear of deportation every single day, and we live as you know in fear of DHS getting funded more, so I brought this letter as a list of demands. I know you say you are for immigrants, you have done a lot, but a couple of days back, June 21st, you did vote on a bill, the funding – DHS Bill – that would fund Trump’s budget, you voted “yes” to get out of that committee.
Murphy: That wasn’t Trump’s budget by the way.
Cortes: But it did fund more DHS, the point is. It doesn’t matter. Just funding more DHS. So I’m here today because of a group of Connecticut immigrants rights organizations across Connecticut. We want to give you a list of demands to remind you’re here for us.
Cortes: First, it is our demand that you vote against the FY19DHS Appropriations Budget which not only funds but greatly increases funds for immigration detention enforcement and detention centers. So all those kids out there, if you vote “yes” for this it will fund more for that. It will fund more for my parents to get deported or to get detained.
Also, we demand you stop accepting campaign contributions from and return distributions that you receive from federal contact through General Dynamics, which profits off the pain of our communities, and we know you receive contributions for your campaign from them, and they’re actually the ones that work for these children and work with them, and stuff like that. So we want you to stop accepting and return those funds from them.
And thirdly we urge you to get on the boat as we all are here to abolish ICE and to defund ICE. And by doing this you can’t do with doing these two things. So we simply want to ask you if you are going to do our demands.
It’s a simple yes or no question, Sen. Murphy.
Murphy: I’ll be happy to take this from you. Thank you, thank you for the letter.
Cortes: Yeah, just so we know clearly can we give you a yes or no. Would you be able to do that? Would you be able to vote “no?”
Murphy: I don’t know that I’m going to be voting against the DHS Bill.
Cortes: I just wanted you to know, if you vote “no,” And through a yes on it, that means you’re telling us no right now. So right now you’re not being very clear with us which means you’re saying you are going to vote for this.
Murphy: I just can’t tell you right now. We don’t have the final bill, so I can’t tell you whether I’m voting for it or not.
Cortes: Well I hope you vote no.
Murphy: I gotcha.
Cortes: And if you do vote yes, I hope you remember my face, and I hope you remember you are profiting, and you are giving these people money so that my parents live in fear every single day, so that I live in fear everyday. And not just me, but thousands of undocumented people in Connecticut, so that the people who are in sanctuary right now.
Murphy: I want to make sure, I just want to be respectful of ... Listen. I’d love to continue talking. I just want to be respectful of everybody else who might want to ...
Cortes: Yes and me too, and I want to be respectful of them, so this is an issue that’s affecting my life right now. It’s affecting people.
Murphy: Thank you for speaking about that.
Cortes: So yes or no. Back to the question.
Murphy: I can’t tell you yes or no right now. It will be an unsatisfactory answer for you, but I can’t say yes or no right now.
Cortes: So it’s a no then.
Murphy: That’s not. It may not be. We don’t have the bill yet, so I can’t tell you what I’m going to vote on it, so i just can’t say yes or no to you yet. I understand you want an answer right now, but I can’t say yes or no. Thank you.