Tom Swan and Angel Serrano

Recorded August 14, 2021 Archived August 14, 2021 39:46 minutes
0:00 / 0:00
Id: mby020981


Coworkers Tom Swan (60) and Angel Serrano (38) discuss their work with Connecticut Citizen Action Group, an organization dedicated to building a more just society.

Subject Log / Time Code

TS describes what CCAG does and how long he has been with the organization. He describes the ways in which their mission and strategy has evolved over the years.
AS talks about his involvement in CCAG's climate justice work.
TS discusses what brought him to CCAG, and describes some of the people he's been able to meet by working for the organization.
TS and AS describe some of their favorite actions and victories with the organization.
TS and AS reflect on what advice they would give people interested in getting involved in activist work.
TS and AS describe what they hope CCAG will tackle in the future.
AS asks TS what challenges he sees for the organization going forward.


  • Tom Swan
  • Angel Serrano



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00:05 Hello, how you doing? Tom? I'm Angel Serrano for the record of Angel, Serrano my age. I'm 38 years old. Today, is Saturday, the 14th 2000 to 2021. I'm in Hartford, Connecticut. And I'm sorry I'm going to be talking with Tom swan and we are co-workers at the same organization ccag, which is Connecticut, Citizen Action Group. I'll let Tom introduce himself further.

00:43 Hey Angela, how you doing? My name's? Tom swan. I am 60 years. Old. Today is Saturday, August 14th. 2021. I am in Coventry Connecticut and my partner on, this is Angel Serrano who I have the pleasure of working with at the Connecticut Citizen action.

01:10 Great. So, how you doing today, Tom?

01:15 Good. It's a little warm. But you know what? I'm going to. We're going to get through this exactly.

01:24 So,

01:27 I had a couple things for you, a few questions.

01:34 Anybody listening that there's I like to like them to know something about, it's the experiences that you had, with Connecticut, Citizen Action Group /, Connecticut, Citizen research group. If you could just explain, like, what is tcag? What is it that we do? What is our mission? And how long have you worked for the organization?

01:59 So, ccg is a Statewide membership organization, based in Connecticut, is the name would say. We've been around, nearly 50 years, to celebrate, her 50th birthday.

02:16 When our mission is a metra statement membership organization, dedicated to actively engaging in altering, the relations of power in order to build a more just Society.

02:32 I have been the director almost 28 years and we have during that time. We've been engaged in a pretty broad range of strategies and worked on a lot of different exciting issues. And

02:56 That includes everything from some of the work. We're working on together on climate Justice, to healthcare to progressive. Taxation campaign, Finance reform. Over the year pretty. Over the years for you, consistently, we've Incorporated direct action is one of the strategies we use.

03:34 Awesome. I know a lot of great work has been done.

03:40 So you just drive the mission?

03:43 CT Ag and what it is unlike since you started working with c c a g e

03:53 Have you seen that Mission evolved in any way change or has it been consistent over the years?

04:02 So, pretty soon. After I started, we

04:07 Went through staff and board retreat, where we came up with that mission. I taken ways in it.

04:18 I did I take this variety of ways in it.

04:22 Improved in been strengthened. I mean, early on. And what's the big issues that everybody was concerned about, was the role of money in politics? And in 2005. We hope we correlation Partners in a lot of them, especially, cause we helped to pass the citizens election program. The best Statewide Public financing system for candidates. It's really helped it and also made a big difference. We Believe by the number of issues. I think, since we started I think

05:07 As with many organizations the

05:10 Centrality of incorporating, a racial Equity lens and looking at our work has intensified and we continue to try to hold herself to that more and more. We roll to gotten better at incorporating of working with.

05:30 What we call the three faces of power. Before I came, the organizing strategy was off. And about, you know, winning concrete, improvements in people's life-altering, the relations of power. And when I talk about the three faces and power, it has a lot more in terms of challenging worldview challenging. Some of the things that are challenges in the country that we are in right now.

06:09 Commodification. We can go through the range of different types of things. There's a much more intentionality in our part about how we are trying to address some of these in the offer a worldview. That emphasizes a lot more about equality has a strong role for Democratic governance and

06:32 About fulfilling the needs of the many, instead of just a few.

06:38 So I didn't enjoy see, you been around with us for a couple years now and

06:47 And something that it has been.

06:50 New Urdu us and exciting for those of us for a long time. It's been some of the work on climate Justice and we didn't that you've been a wide swath that you've been asking to do between work on some of the equity stuff. But I want to some of the Direct Corporate engagement and I think that's exciting. I don't know if you want to share any thoughts on that in your experiences.

07:20 Yeah, well.

07:24 When I was presented with the idea of the campaign with the the corporate stuff is very new to it. And I was a little bit intimidated, right? Because, you know,

07:37 You going against corporations? Right? Like that is one of the toughest battles. So

07:44 It was an interesting idea to me.

07:47 You know, you have the opportunity to just be creative and trying to bring problem-solving into some of the issues and like to some of the actions that we've organized.

08:04 In all that has been very exciting and it's very gray. I mean,

08:10 The permission from where nights that I only been a year-and-a-half. But it is a consistent like social justice. Like she hears, you really cares about the citizens of Connecticut and

08:23 And the planet and we're just looking to do.

08:27 What we can locally to lead on, you know, I'm on these issues of the climate and social justice and equity in.

08:38 Healthcare in all this stuff and is really as a team effort, but it's it's been awesome. Like so far.

08:49 But I was intimidated at first. It wasn't just a corporate component to the work. It was about stopping the money pipeline that underwrites fossil fuels and supports them. And it should be going after insurance companies which in Hartford. It's exact right place to do it, but most people

09:25 Don't take their mind and the way that you've been taking money this time of night, take care of, it's exciting. And I understand how, you know, it might have felt a little intimidating at first, but if I think it's paid off or efforts have put pressure on the company's to eunos and they really thinking about it. I hope and, you know,

09:53 It's always exciting to take on Corporate America in the insurance capital of the world. As they say that, you know, it's a grand opportunity to make a difference right here on this state. So it like I said, it was a great opportunity to try to really make some change. And I understand. I've been knowing

10:19 And I fully support it. So.

10:23 Took you want to read the chance to do some of the work with renews? Both regionally at the state level? And

10:33 And you know that I know that you got some exciting plans going but

10:40 Give me a pretty big victory this year that.

10:44 You know, where is?

10:48 Really amazing is being looked at at National month.

10:53 Yeah, we had the housing Bill to housing energy-efficient, retrofit Bill, like for short, it's going to allow.

11:05 People's homes to be.

11:11 Retrofitted with Energy Efficiency upgrades while

11:15 Removing any barriers like lad as best as vermiculite and stuff like that. Like it was a major Windows wee lad than that. We're leaders as a state and the country with this kind of legislation and was very exciting to be part of that far at Universe part of. Can I get renews and as a regional left her where we're going and New England. I mean people really supported us in coming up with the policy and you know, helping us shape it. And we had a great legislative champion and couldn't ask for a better scenario for passing this bill.

11:56 Yeah, I know and those environmental hazards you spoke about have been a real barrier to people of limited means from being able to get take advantage of your efficiency or the renewable energy programs that we have. And you know the work that you and the renews table did took it from 0 to 100 1 year and look forward to the next phases. We're hoping to do the same thing for food Justice next year and environmental justice. So

12:37 Organizing 2224 that effort coming up this next session. So,

12:46 I think we have a good Champion lined up. So hopefully everything will mirror, like the housing Bill and go as smoothly, but whatever happens ccog will be there.

13:05 So, I'm just kind of curious, like, what made you work for c c. A g, like, What attracted you to the

13:15 So, I had been living in DC and my father was sick and Syracuse, New York. So you going home to help my mom, some of that, but I got invited this interview Renee. Sure. I want to go to Connecticut and I walked in and do it like 30 people in the world really diverse leader staff, maybe twenty people. And I walked out after a two-and-a-half-hour interview and I said that was a really great conversation. And then I said, oh no, what I didn't say. No, but I won't say another word for a chance. They're going to offer me the job. What are you going to do?

14:02 I ended up taking it and I mean, it, it was in discussion allowed on issues. There's a lot of discussion on money and politics and economics. This is an organization that

14:20 I knew him from different circles and had a storied history and I haven't looked back.

14:30 Awesome, and it's been what now, 28, 30 years. You said. What is it 20000 thinking?

14:44 Next month or the month after that.

14:48 Oh, that's awesome. Was one of the first things I did.

14:52 Was the UAW. At this time, the Auto Workers unit used to.

15:01 Charter two planes went out of Hartford of went out of Boston and they would take 150 Community activists and local elected officials. In 150 rank-and-file union members and take us to the retreat center in Black Lake that I think had to pay phones cell, phones Barefoot in the snow to school uphill, both ways.

15:37 The release of amazing things that happened while we were there and that was within my first month and I just

15:45 Got to meet all these intense people in. And I'm convinced that that is part of the reason why New England is, is blue and Progressive. Is it is their people from 28 years ago, that I still know. And keep in touch with that are doing phenomenal work. And moved on to be Congress Secretary of State where the head of different unions and we had to struggle and get to know each other.

16:17 Matthew Shepard was killed while you're there.

16:20 And,

16:24 It was.

16:26 To see the president of the UAW, who's local?

16:31 30 Rosanna was actually part of the Colts for your manufacturing, get up and give this lesson is to have the struggle for LGBT. Equality was all of our struggle and watching people get up and tell their stories and the emotions and having a Sheridan. And Dad intensive the setting. I mean, it just after, I went a couple times, it was stopped but it was unbelievable experience. That will stay with me and I think with the organization and the entire region for a very long time.

17:08 Yeah, I remember seeing this learning about that story. Actually, when MTV was on, they gave a movie about Matthew Shepard and what happened to him, and I was so shocked.

17:26 It's crazy. How you you, you mention that because that, that burned in my brain?

17:33 So unfortunate that wasn't something that I expected right back to see.

17:41 The leader of the Auto Workers for all of New England, New York City, in Puerto Rico, to be taken that on. And right, have the special session to just resign. Okay, that's cool.

17:57 Yeah, cool. So as long as you're strolling through Memory Lane, what was some of your most favorite actions or victories that you took part of?

18:12 So,

18:16 Summer bear.

18:21 Summerville.

18:24 I think, are you ugly or biggest victory was winning the citizens elect a rip. I mean to pass a public financing program. Dad over 90% of all the candidates. Who legislature except for governor virtually, all of Statewide offices and participated in more Progressive legislation that actually, you know, where the lobbyists probably, arguably our greatest Victory on the whole. We are there were a ton of actions that we had dad.

19:09 Led up to it. Some of them will result in him in the governor actually going to jail and we had

19:19 Starting at a sentencing. And then with the new governor everywhere. She went, we had people lined up to do a human billboard in these really ugly yellow. T-shirts that campaign Finance reform now and he knows a lot and it was all over the news when passing that we did what we called in Armada and that was in a fundraiser that won the Senate leadership Excel and we had a river boat. They started at Riverfront recapture and we had a dozen boats including gay.

20:08 Speed boat that were around this old fashioned river boat with a hundred or so people on the ground when we use dry ice for a power plant with somebody is Mister, but

20:21 And, you know, the where is the banner drop from the bridge? One of them was 9, king, size sheets, showing together, that's in democracy. Not for sale. We did a lot of things directly going to answer the governor. So that was

20:40 That was a pretty big deal. We didn't Action Insurance hearing once where?

20:50 We had it, been shut down and the number it was when Anthem was taken over Blue Cross and

20:58 We took over the hearing.

21:02 In a really pretty powerful way of resulted in a 45 million dollar Progressive Healthcare Foundation. We stopped the state, from regulating the energy Market. We pass the health-care reforms over the years. So we've had a lot of significant.

21:27 Direct action. And a lot of them. I mean, you you've done a couple with The Travelers golf tournaments where, you know, we're trying to get them to stop investing 3.5 billion dollars in fossil fuels and just stop underwriting projects, really harmful to the plan if their policyholders and shareholders, and I think some of those actions

21:57 Portuguese in March this year. And I mean, I haven't been here as long as you have, but I can say that I taken part of some memorable actions. I mean, just the fact that, you know, we had a bunch of drummers.

22:26 Go right by the golf course in Middletown where Trevor's plays golf tournament every year fly a plane over it with a banner that says, you know, Travelers on the right climate change. We made a lot of noise. We made some people mad while we were there, you know, we had puppets, we had, you know, banners we had all kinds of stuff to just get the attention and then, you know, some golfers did look our way and we're wondering what was it? What was this all about? And then people would ask cuz what are we here for? And people would be supportive of it, you know, only one or two people really were really, really mad that we were there.

23:13 But the company was definitely mad that we were there.

23:21 But it was awesome. You know, those were memorable things, what we did in Greenwich, with the hazmat suits or here in the heat, you know, it was just a hard March, you know, because we were hot and you know, we had this big Pipeline and faucet that represented a fossil fuel Pipeline and that we we made and, you know, just the arts and crafts that go to organizing a protest and all that stuff. That's all most memorable to me. And I'm like, I said, I'm glad to be part of it song.

24:00 But yeah, and you're being modest in your role in helping to organize those but that's okay. Let me know please, if we figured out how to do socially distant actions, to keep the momentum going and times and the one where we had 150 folks show up at,

24:29 David cordani house, the CEO of Cigna who took 79 million dollars increases pay over four times in the middle of a pandemic and then threaten the governor that he was going to up and move jobs out of Connecticut. If we passed the public option was one that is you said, it, takes people off. It was noticed but I think it it shows the degree it wouldn't, when we engage folks in the way. We wait to engage them. They really like to

25:15 To participate in things that are both creative fun in have an impact, even if they're really angry behind what they're doing.

25:25 Yeah.

25:26 Yeah, we definitely have great supporters.

25:33 So I shall bring you into the question. I was a lot of activists out there. Then I only there maybe members of ccag. They may not be, but they're all fighting the climate fight and there's a new generation all the time coming and what kind of advice would you save for somebody who wants to get in this kind of work, you know, activism organizing political work.

26:03 What kind of advice would you have for the future in continuing the fight? After we're done, doing what we're doing?

26:14 While you're already bearing me know.

26:22 Like I said, we

26:26 First, I want to say that the

26:31 Generation of younger activist. Weatherby, blacklivesmatter Sunrise, movement.

26:43 Serious, we're going to Rising efforts that have been taking place over the last few years. I found to be extremely impressive and feel like I've learned a lot from writing Connecticut, one of the groups in additions and they said, it's been really visible and vocal and keeping the pressure on it. And is it snowing in c4d, which was the students for a dream, but it shifted into Healthcare access and all of them. I really exciting. I think that people do a better job than previous generations and understanding the relationship between the different.

27:34 Struggles and taking somewhat more about.

27:40 Radical analysis of what, what the solution is in. And I think that's all both needed, but important if I had any recommendations,

27:54 I think it's

27:57 Dream, big stick to your principal and and you know don't give up in part because we can't the challenges that we're seeing every day. Whether it's around the pandemic or the rise of white supremacy, climate change. The challenges are really great. And we got to continuously push ourselves and each other to how we're better and how we were able to sustain it for a long time. And while also pushing each other to be better. I think it's important to realize none of us are perfect. So,

28:45 It's I find it to be both to really exciting and challenging time. And even though I'm older, I have a 3 and a 10 year olds and I watched the challenges going on in this world and I feel like I want to fight even harder than I did twenty years ago.

29:06 And I was pretty tough at that time. You might not believe in angels.

29:12 I believe, I believe the time.

29:18 Yeah, what advice would you give?

29:25 Just,

29:31 I don't know. Just

29:34 Already.

29:37 To follow your interest with your heart, you know? Like

29:43 So many times.

29:46 Emma Garrett.

29:49 They feel like it's a big challenge. Such a big topic, climate change, you know, and such a complicated topic is so many things and I just hope that people don't even though it might be.

30:05 A little bit intimidating. I still feel that people should have the courage to really dig down and

30:14 You don't find it in their heart like to find their passion in this once you have developed a passion for it. It becomes

30:24 Second nature like the work is no longer work. It's like you're getting paid to do something you believe in, you know, it's not a lot of opportunities. So like to to get involved in this kind of work. Like, I would just advise like people to follow their hearts. And like you said during big and, you know, just

30:46 Have an ideal of Arby.

30:52 Inclusive of everything intolerant and just try to have an open mind.

30:59 Of things and Maz you learn, your mind will will change. And but just know that you are doing the good fight and no matter how daunting in may look as a challenge. You may feel like you're not doing a lot, but believe me you are and just for people not to get burnt out by that and just like to continue with their passion. You know, like that's that's what I advise young organizers that are trying to get into this or y'all activist this like just know you that you are making a difference and people will tell you when you're doing a good job in your, you know, so

31:44 Is there a rewarding field? I should say.

31:49 So I'm glad you feel that way.

31:55 So,

31:58 Looking into the future.

32:02 What do you think? Do you not asking you to predict the future, but what kinds of things do you see now developing that you see ccag will probably get involved in in future fights.

32:17 I think we're going to continue to really ramp up around the

32:24 Well, climate Justice there. Be some of the things in challenging the financing of this stuff directly going after some of the utilities pressuring politicians on I think.

32:43 The issue of inequality.

32:47 Has been played in a variety of ways for us. And I think we need to continue to hold that in particularly some of the work of Education, which happened to

33:05 Children and Wacker schools over the last year-and-a-half and socialization and pressure on families is something I don't think

33:19 Policymakers have really begun their grapple with, and I think we need to figure out how we listen to

33:27 Those folks and figuring out Solutions in pressuring really hard or we're going to, we can't continue to see that the difference is in the Haves and the Have Nots continue and expand if the way it's been expanding and we need to deal with the underlying differences in terms of race and ethnicity.

33:56 You do something. We've never worked on but I believe would be supportive if there was a strategy on that. It's forgot how we really approach the issue of reparations and historically. What went on campaign.

34:20 And then we're going to continue to work on Health Care. It is ridiculous that the United States has the most expensive Health Care in the world and them wants to know if companies country has the worst outcomes and that's because we're too many of us. We treat Healthcare like a commodity and Healthcare is not a toaster of it. It's something that is about. If you do it, right? You deal with the wholeness of the person and that includes mental health and dental health,

34:57 All of that and when David cordani can take 79 million dollars out of a system in the mix of the pandemic and there is something really wrong with it. So what are some of the things you're hoping that we take on?

35:16 Open is different than what I think. Well, I don't know. I haven't really thought about it so much. I always thought that at some point in the future. We're going to have to check some point.

35:31 I think that you don't even gracian is going to be a big issue in the future. The whole wages thing living wage is big. I know that can make it already, has an increasing minimum wage every year but

35:48 In the end, we did help in passing that but yeah, you're right. But yeah, I think that's going to be a bigger and bigger issues. Is the pay of people's pay. And how much actual benefits they get the health care. I know that's ccag had something to do with the Husky, right at the Husky.

36:09 Yes, I would love to see an expansion of that somehow.

36:14 You know.

36:16 Maybe to allow.

36:19 People with a little bit bigger income to still qualify, you know, because I think the limit is a little low, you know, I'm right now during the pandemic, they changed it but

36:33 But dumb.

36:35 Yeah, I like to see an expansion of the Husky and more people qualify for it.

36:42 I don't think like that.

36:49 It's been great talking to you today. Tom. Just the very last question I have for you is what kind of challenges do you see, do you see any challenges for us going forward?

37:03 That we need to look out for.

37:11 Yes, I mean, I think there's a lot and we won debt.

37:17 Did Tim my mind as we talked about some of the issues that we want to be working on and all we got to figure out how we confront head-on the rise of white supremacy and the scariness behind that. I just don't think that the really wealthy or going to.

37:43 I'm going to recognize the need to level the playing field and that their greed is part of the problem and how far they go and what they support.

37:55 And then the influence and power of Corporations is on many, of our issues is really wanted. And how do we peel that back in a way that gives regular folks avoid sending degree of security, what's happening? So those are some of the challenges along with the organizational ones always, resources and people NGO. We can't we can't write the paycheck stub.

38:36 By the politicians or whatever. But,

38:40 Yes, I like you feel really blessed to work for an organization that's willing to take the risk. It does and the stand up on principle and to really try most days all days. We try to most days we do.

38:56 And I want to thank you for this discussion, is always a really enjoyed catching up.

39:03 Thanks, Mom. Do you see something that I did a tan in terms of challenges?

39:12 Fighting rich white folks is definitely one. So yeah, I agree with you, man. This is really well. Said what you said, I agree, a hundred percent. I say that jokingly, but there's good people. Everyone has a good day and nice talking to you. All right. Yes. Thank you very much Angel. As always. It's a pleasure hanging. All right.