by Compassion & Choices staff
March 7, 2013
Years of effort and 67% citizen support position Connecticut with a very real chance of passing aid-in-dying legislation. Even with an impassioned majority, however, strong leadership is necessary to ultimately achieve success. Compassion & Choices is fortunate to have a cadre of talented experts across the country working to secure the full range of end-of-life options for the citizens of their states. Tim Appleton, our Connecticut campaign manager, brings more than a decade of experience organizing campaigns at the local, state and national levels, including, John Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign. He works with a bounty of invaluable fellow advocates to help expand choice.
We spoke to Tim recently about his work, the crucial role of volunteers and how his passion for activism started early:
“My mother organized a teachers union for the college where she taught, Bryant & Stratton in Buffalo, New York. So ever since I was a kid, I was exposed to campaign organizing in my living room. My mom was also one of the initial organizers for Planned Parenthood in Western New York. She set a good example about getting involved and being a part of things that are bigger than just your own immediate family. As a result of that experience, I have been drawn to progressive causes that have been near and dear to my heart.
I’d been working at the state Capitol for several years when a good friend of mine contracted liver cancer. In Connecticut, to honor people, you can buy a U.S. flag and have it flown over the state Capitol, and as my friend was an U.S. Army veteran, it was very moving for the entire family when the flag was presented to him and his family. At that point I’d been talking to Jessica Grennan, the Compassion & Choices States Campaign Manager, about Compassion & Choices. Although my friend and I never spoke about death with dignity, I realized then Connecticut could do more for those at end of life than just present a flag. We should offer choice to others at end of life, and that is one of the big reasons I got involved.
The Connecticut death with dignity campaign is very exciting right now, and although the legislature has looked at this issue on a few different occasions, I get the sense this year we’ve taken this issue further than it has ever been. We had a fantastic press conference attended by six legislators. We have wonderful advocates in the field with different areas of expertise: attorneys, physicians, social workers, faith leaders, all working together for end-of-life choice here in Connecticut.
What is most exciting is we anticipate a public hearing before the Public Health Committee, likely in late March. This will be a great opportunity to educate our legislative leaders and the public about aid in dying. The goal is simple: filling the Public Hearing room with our supporters to show legislators that a majority of people in the state want this choice. That is what I wake up thinking about, what I spend my whole day working towards and one of the last things that passes through my mind when I go to bed. From my years at the legislature I know this: If we fill that room with reasonable adults and calmly educate members of the Public Health Committee the need for this legislation, we will bring this issue to places it’s never been before in Connecticut; I really believe that. That’s what we’re working for here, filling that public hearing room with reasonable people.
I know our opponents will be there in force. Right now, defeating our bill is the top legislative priority of a group called Family Institute of Connecticut, a vocal “pro-family,” anti-choice organization, well known in the halls of the state Capitol for opposition to progressive legislation such as this.
I wouldn’t be able to do anything without our volunteers, and it is great that this issue attracts the very best of the best. On more than one occasion, I’ll be talking about this issue with one of our volunteers, who will say, ‘Oh, you should speak to so and so,’ and through word of mouth our grassroots base of support has grown. Here is a great example: One of our volunteers told me to contact a recently retired Unitarian Universalist minister, and when I met him he was kind enough to say, ‘You know, Tim, I think what I’ll do is write an op-ed on this issue in my local paper.’ Because this was our first meeting, I wasn’t sure what would come of it. Well, when his beautifully written op-ed was published March 4th, I was ecstatic. Reverend Sidat Balgobin is just one more person who’s committed to this issue, and within a week he had a fantastic piece in the Norwich Bulletin. Thank you, Sidat!
What can you do to help us? One useful thing everyone can do is to contact their state legislators and explain clearly why you support legislation like this, and to ask that legislator – either over the phone or in writing – what his view is on this issue. That way we can get lawmakers’ views on record. That’s a great way people can help because we’re working to contact legislators any way possible. We need to create sort of a safe harbor around these legislators, because we know they will hear the very loud but minority voice in the state. If they hear reasonable people expressing reasonable thoughts on this issue, I think they’ll respond very well to it. If we’re the reasonable, responsible people in the room, sharply contrasted by a reckless, loud minority, that’s a debate I would love to have.
Connecticut is called The Land of Steady Habits for a reason. So it might take some time to get aid in dying passed. But I know with our great grassroots volunteers we are building something here that can serve as stepping stones to success. It might take a while, but we’re trying hard.”