I grew up in Waterbury, Connecticut. When I was 21 years old and newly married, we opened a small luncheonette. We were struggling to survive with the business, and I was unhappy about the amount the electric company required for a deposit. An organizer from the Connecticut Citizen Action Group (CCAG) came to my restaurant and told me that if I didn't like the electric rates, I could protest them.
I was a Waterbury housewife and I didn't have a clue about activism. Although I was registered, I'd only voted a couple of times based on the person's looks, or whatever. I was surprised to hear that if I didn't like something, I could actually do something about it, that it was possible to win. I went to a meeting in a church basement, and people stood up and talked and so did I.
Then I went to the public hearing and I wore a sticker on my lapel for the first time in my life. The organizer assured me that I didn't have to talk very fancy, so I stood up and talked briefly about my high rates. It was fun, I met some nice people and people actually listened to me, so I wanted to do it some more. I got hooked.
I started to go to more meetings, and also started to run meetings, and eventually the utility company only got one-third or two-thirds of the rate increase that they wanted. Then came a city property tax re-evaluation, and I became a leader on that issue, and an expert on property taxes. We held a meeting at the local school and 1300 angry citizens showed up. While we were on stage running the meeting, the mayor came and people booed. We very skillfully held the meeting together.
We realized we couldn't just work on the local level, we needed to address these kinds of issues on state level. In working to change the way property taxes were assessed, I got my first taste of the state capitol, and I learned how the legislative session worked. My state representative did not support the CCAG bill -- she lived in a wealthier part of town and was tied in with businesses who were assessed at a lower rate than the residential property owners. I remember lobbying her and thinking how it was not too nice the way she was talking to us.
Three, four, five nights a week I went to hearings, meetings. I was at the state capitol and also got involved on the national level. Looking back, I credit CCAG with a lot of things. One thing my experience taught me is that I wasn't stupid, that I wasn't wrong to question things, or to want to be involved. I grew up in a town that was working class and very prejudiced; we had backward notions about people's color and work ethic. CCAG really changed that