Women leaders of Baltimore attended the Breaking Down Barriers Roundtable, which was hosted by Hillary for Maryland at the Maryland Women’s Heritage Center March 30, to discuss policies that would enhance the lives of women in Maryland.
Among the 14 women on the panel were Tessa Hill-Alston, president of the Baltimore City Branch of the NAACP; Paris Bienert, president of the Maryland Women’s Political Caucus; Khalilah Harris, senior advisor to the director at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management; and Maryland Del. Brooke Lierman, D-Dist. 46.
Also in attendance were Ricarra Jones, political organizer with 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East; Tashea Coates, former member of the Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee in the 45th District and Rebecca Nagle, founder and co-director of FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture.
Host and moderator Karenthia Barber, representative of Hillary Clinton’s national campaign, quizzed the leaders about the policies they want changed in Baltimore. The women were questioned on three topics: working women, policing issues, and public education.
On the issue of working women, leaders were asked about the changes needed to ensure equity in the workplace and to make it easier for women to balance work and family.
“Paid sick leave is one really important policy change,” Nagle said. She added, “Another really important policy change is raising the minimum wage. Our minimum wage is not a living wage; it’s not enough money for people to be able to support a family.”
Harris chimed in: “There are lots of systems and policies in this city and in this state that are contributors to systemic oppression. Some of them look like they are intended to help people when, instead, it is set up to keep people in their place.”
Bienert said change would not happen unless more women were elected “from the most local office all the way up to president of the United States.
“Women are not going to be fully and equally represented until women are at the table making these policy changes,” she said.
On policing policy, the panelists were asked what reforms should be implemented on the state or national level to address police brutality, the disconnect between officers and communities, and other issues, and ways to make Baltimore streets safer for everyone.
“We have to stop allowing the police to police themselves” was Jones’ suggestion.
“I think it’s critical, especially for Baltimore City, that its police live within city limits,” Harris said. “If we can, within Baltimore City limits, enact some legislation to ensure that our police are community police and not occupiers of our community, I think we can go a long way.”
Attendees of the roundtable signaled approval and agreement with Harris’s response with a hearty applause.
On the subject of public education, panelists were asked what improvements could be made to help Baltimore youth receive a quality education to improve their chances of success in life.
“We need affordable childcare, universal pre-k, to make sure that when kids enter the system they are ready to learn, and we need to figure out summer opportunities for kids,” said Lierman, who also indicated a need to integrate schools.
“Right now schools are being closed because of, geographically, where they sit,” opined Hill-Aston. “No child should be left out based on where they live or what their parent can’t afford and so everyone is not going to make it.”
Coates added, “The reason that Montgomery County and Prince George’s County is so strong is because of the PTA. In order to make change from the bottom up, it starts with the parents first.
There was a question-and-answer session after the event for attendees to ask the women questions.
Other participants of the roundtable included: Verna Jones-Rodwell, former Maryland state senator; Mary Pat Clarke, Baltimore City Council member representing the 14th District; LaDavia Drane, National African American Outreach for Hillary for America; Brittany Oliver, director of Hollaback! Baltimore; Stephanie Pettaway, supervisor at the Baltimore County Department of Social Services.