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Transit Equity Day honors Rosa Parks' legacy

Norwich — A bouquet of red roses placed Monday on a seat, sectioned off by a red ribbon, on a Southeast Area Transit District bus signified about where Rosa Parks was sitting on a Montgomery, Ala., bus when she refused to give up her seat on Dec. 1, 1955. 

The tribute to Parks, more than six decades after her act led to the Montgomery Bus Boycott, was part of a Transit Equity Day event at the Norwich Transportation Center to honor her legacy and raise awareness of access to reliable, affordable public transportation as an equity issue, as well as an environmental one. Events were held statewide and nationwide on Monday, Parks' 106th birthday.

"We're choosing Rosa Parks' birthday because she is an iconic figure in the Civil Rights era who chose the tactic of refusing to give up her seat on the bus," said Ann Gadwah, chairwoman of the Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club. "We want to make the connection to this act of resistance to highlight the rights of all people to high-quality public transportation powered by clean, renewable energy. Everyone should have access to affordable public transportation regardless of age, race or class, and everyone, including our grandchildren and their grandchildren, has the right to clean air and a healthy climate."

Amalgamated Transit Union, Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs, the Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club, Transport Hartford Academy/Center for Latino Progress and 350 Connecticut sponsored the events across Connecticut.

"Transit Equity Day is so important because without public transportation, a lot of our people would not have the means of getting to work or school or even the grocery store," Ariana Woody, president of the Norwich branch of the NAACP, said during Monday's press conference.

She called on people to continue Parks' legacy.

"Rosa Parks did not refuse her seat just because she was tired or because that was her favorite seat," Woody said. "She made the decision not to move because she was fed up with being mistreated. She was sick and tired of being treated like a second-class citizen. On this day of Transit Equity Day, I would like everyone to take away that if you’re being mistreated or unfairly [treated] to stand up and make your voice heard. Help be part of the change you wish to see in the world. Rosa Parks once said: ‘Memories of our lives, of our works and our deeds will continue in others.' Treat others how you wish to be treated."

Jaroslaw Pizunski, ATU Local 1209 president/business agent, said: "I think that truly transportation shouldn't be a privilege, it should be a right."

Pizunski, who is also chairman of ATU Connecticut Legislative Council, called for more funding to provide better service so people can get to work, doctor's appointments or wherever they need to go. He said that every dollar spent on public transportation brings $4 in economic return.

Samantha Dynowski, state director of the Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club, said it's important for the transit system to be convenient, accessible and affordable for riders and a safe place for transit employees to work. Environmentally, the need to reduce carbon emissions has taken on greater urgency with the release of the United Nations' report on climate change and the Fourth National Climate Assessment.

"These reports highlighted the need to drastically curb greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 to avoid the worst effects of climate change, effects that have disproportionate impacts on people of color and those in poverty," she said. She supported getting more people to take public transportation and the transition to electric buses.

New London Mayor Michael Passero called for more resources, including better trains and funding for bus service, and linking the region to Providence and Boston, similar to how the western part of the state is connected to New York City.

"We want to send a message to the state that southeastern Connecticut can't be forgotten," Passero said. "Mass transit is just as important in southeastern Connecticut as it is in Fairfield County, as it is in western New Haven, as it is to Hartford County."

Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons said that public transportation is critically important to the workforce in the community. Many workers live in New London and Groton and take public transit every morning to their jobs in downtown Mystic.

Representatives of the NAACP, Sierra Club, ATU Local 1209, and the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments and local officials were among those that attended Monday's event in Norwich.

After the press conference, attendees took a ride on a clean diesel SEAT bus, driven by Pizunski, while SEAT General Manager Michael Carroll pointed out features of the bus system that serves more than 1 million passengers each year in southeastern Connecticut. He said SEAT would like to expand service, but it comes down to working with the state or another agency to obtain more funding.

k.drelich@theday.com

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