March 16, 2007
By DAVID LIGHTMAN, Washington Bureau Chief
WASHINGTON -- Don't just look at the friendly eyes of Sharon Patterson-Stallings. Look at the big cross she wears around her neck.
Now look carefully at the center. There's a tiny mustard seed.
"Faith as small as a mustard seed can move a mountain," she explains, and that's why she wears that cross wherever she goes.
She wore it to see Connecticut members of Congress this week as she lobbied them to pass legislation that would require employers to provide paid sick leave to workers. She wore it as she trekked from office to office on Capitol Hill with fellow members of ACORN, the community organization in town to push for a host of causes, notably immigration reform and rebuilding the hurricane-battered Gulf Coast.
There's no mistaking where Patterson-Stallings stands and whom she represents. She's dressed for her own kind of success, in an outfit that's part comfort clothing - the dark sneakers and blue sweat pants - and part reminder to all who cross her path that she's with ACORN, like the hat and T-shirt screaming the group's name.
Shoe-leather activism is hardly new to her. She won her seat on the Hartford Board of Education in November 2005 as a candidate of the Working Families party, topping incumbent and Republican Town Chairman Michael J. Lupo by a 2-1 ratio.
A lifelong North End resident who has lived in a house on Clark Street her family has owned for 65 years, Patterson-Stallings had long been involved in grass-roots organizing.
The first march she attended was in 1963. The North End Community Action Project was protesting because black employees were working in the kitchens of two local restaurants and the organization wanted them out serving customers. The restaurants relented.
This trip is her fourth to Washington in recent years.
While the mustard seed guides her spiritual path, her political roots go back to the Kennedys. She collects pictures of the family - her grandmother has a picture of John F. Kennedy campaigning in Hartford in 1960 - and can vividly recall working at G. Fox in downtown Hartford wrapping wedding gowns on Nov. 22, 1963, when she heard that President Kennedy had been killed.
"Everyone burst into tears," she recalls.
So she had a broad smile Tuesday at an outdoor rally for the sick leave bill as Massachusetts Sen. Edward M. Kennedy wowed the crowd and promised to fight for the cause.
She sat across from the podium, looking over 300 ACORN activists cheering Kennedy's every sentence.
"He's always been there for us," she says. Case closed.
Her one major concern that day involved Republicans, who have a lot of clout in these parts. "They don't seem to listen," she says. "They ask us who these bills will affect, like they don't seem to know."
But by Thursday, Patterson-Stallings was almost beaming.
"The climate is a lot different than it was last year," she says. "People are friendlier. They listened."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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