‘I’ve been marching since the 1960s’: Reelected state senator optimistic for the future

TRUMBULL — State Sen. Marilyn Moore can see the future. In fact, she saw it on stage as Joe Biden and Kamala Harris celebrated the election results Saturday night, and she sees it all around her when she visits schools in the 22nd Senate District.

“Look at the blended families on the stage, and look at how different those kids looked than the ones that would have been there 25 years ago,” Moore said. “They are the symbol of what is to come.”

Moore, who recently won a fourth term representing the district that includes all of Trumbull, most of western Bridgeport and a small part of Monroe, said she sees something similar happening all around her.

“When you look at young people today, I have hope,” she said. “Look at all the interracial dating and marriages that are common now. Race just really doesn’t matter to them. I think they will make the difference in the future.”

Despite the fact that she will turn 72 on Friday, Moore said that as the lone woman of color in the state Senate, she intends to hold down the fort until that next generation is ready to take over leadership in the fight to end racial prejudice and injustice. Having just watched a 77-year-old Biden campaign against a 74-year-old Donald Trump, Moore said she doesn’t see her own political career ending any time soon.

“I don’t see an end until I get some things done that I still need to get done, or until someone else steps up with the same love for the community,” she said.

Moore, a Bridgeport resident, is sometimes criticized in Trumbull for not being more engaged with the town. She said she has tried for years to become more involved in Trumbull, with limited success.

“I think in six years, I’ve been invited to maybe two events that weren’t political,” she said. “I used to read the paper and see what was going on in town, and then show up. But unless I had a sign on me, people don’t know who I am. And (people who recognize me) stare. They don’t really see me as part of their community.”

In Bridgeport, the situation is somewhat inverted. Moore’s popularity among the city residents is high enough that she nearly unseated incumbent Democratic Mayor Joe Ganim in a primary last year, despite being forced to run a write-in campaign. The city’s Democrats have also backed her opponent in a party primary for the 22nd District three times, even though she was an incumbent in two of those races.

“It’s funny, in the suburban towns people look at me, a Black Democrat from Bridgeport, and they think I’m part of the political party machine,” she said. “But they keep running candidates against me.”

Moore’s unpopularity with the city’s Democratic Party remains something of a mystery to her.

“I don’t know, maybe they just want someone they can control,” she said. “But I don’t accept anyone’s crumbs and I won’t be beholden to anyone.”

In the recent election, Moore defeated Republican challenger Steve Choi of Trumbull by a margin of 61.3 percent to 36.8. That margin was mainly built up in Bridgeport, where Moore collected 75.8 percent of the vote. In Trumbull, the margin was 53.2 to 45.1. Moore lost among Monroe voters 2,062 to 1,673, a margin of just under 10 percentage points.

As a Black woman representing two predominantly white towns, Moore acknowledged that discussions about race could be difficult and awkward.

“But it’s the reality,” she said.

For example, she said, the Trumbull Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Task Force was recently approved unanimously by the town council. But the discussion around town was startling to some of the task force’s members.

“Trumbull seems to have gotten more racist over the years,” Sue Neil said on the night the task force formed. “Especially having seen what people are writing. You hear, ‘They had the (Black Lives Matter) rally, what more do they need?’”

Tara Figueroa, who would later be elected chair of the task force, noted that people in town who had never experienced racism were perfectly comfortable stating that it did not exist.

“Privilege affords the luxury to feel like this is a choice,” she said. “For minorities like myself, we don’t feel that luxury. This is an imperative.”

During discussion, some council members expressed concern that there would be “bias” among task force members, and some sought to require an even split among political party affiliation.

When Trumbull High School students began organizing and demanding a more racially inclusive curriculum, Moore said a common reply was to caution against trying to change too much too soon.

“People say, ‘These things take time,’” she said. “Well I’ve been marching since the 1960s. How long does it take?”

The tendency to see racial justice as a political issue was disheartening, Moore said. Addressing it is one of her top legislative priorities. Moore said she has informed Senate President pro-tem Martin Looney, D-New Haven, that she would like legislators to receive racial diversity training every two years.

“People need to see how racism plays out, what role it has in race and poverty,” she said. “That’s the only way to break the cycle of race and poverty, and leaving our kids behind in things like education.”

The COVID-19 pandemic, she believes, makes this an opportune time to begin discussing race and poverty because the people most affected have been nursing home residents and people of color, she said.

“People acknowledge that COVID has had a devastating impact on people in nursing homes, who are primarily white,” she said. “The workers are primarily Black and brown. So a lot of conversations have centered around race, ethnicity and equity because the clients in these facilities may not be poor, but the people who serve them are. And the workers can’t stay home. They go to work and come home, and their kids go to school.”

Moore said she had spoken to Looney and was optimistic that such a program would begin this term. But if it doesn’t, she’ll keep fighting until it does, she said.

“I don’t see myself walking away,” she said. “I’ll keep fighting for the community, it’s all I can do.”