NEW HAVEN, Conn. – The Young Communist League and a new youth organization called the New Elm City Dream are on the front lines of the fight for jobs in Connecticut. The number of deaths in 2011 due to violence has risen to 32 in New Haven, where these youth groups are focused on linking the problem of youth violence to the lack of job opportunities. Most of the people who have been killed are young African American men. Most youth of color living in New Haven and other urban communities in Connecticut have been personally affected by violence.
The YCL helped found the New Elm City Dream this past September by organizing a Youth Jobs Roundtable, which was attended by over 40 young people and a number of adult leaders in the labor movement, elected officials, and other community organizations. At this meeting, youth from New Haven, also known as the “Elm City”, and its surrounding areas identified a list of challenges they face as young people. These challenges included violence, teen pregnancy, lack of job opportunities, anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant hatred, drugs in the community, and struggling to gain respect from adults. The adults at the meeting from the labor movement and elsewhere in the city committed their support for a Youth Jobs Campaign.
Prior to this September meeting, the Young Communist League was part of the massive, successful community effort in New Haven during the summer of 2011 to elect 14 working-class leaders to the city’s Board of Aldermen, where leaders with a working-class political orientation now hold a majority.
Having laid this foundation, the New Elm City Dream and the YCL are pushing the issue of jobs for youth into the public conversation in Connecticut. The first action the youth took was the collection of 650 signatures on a petition in support of Obama’s American Jobs Act and Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s Emergency Jobs to Restore the American Dream Act. The petition organizing led up to an action on November 2, when the New Elm City Dream led its first Youth Jobs March on the New Haven Green. The march was attended by over 200 people, including 80 youth and many allies from the labor and Occupy New Haven movements.
On Nov. 17, the New Elm City Dream teamed up with MoveOn.org and New Haven’s Unemployed Action Committee to hold a press conference in front of the Dixwell Avenue Q House, one of New Haven’s most historic youth and community centers. The Q House was a significant, comprehensive resource center in the heart of the African American community. It was closed down 10 years ago due to lack of funding, and community cries to reopen the center have been repeatedly ignored and disrespected since that time. The November 17 press conference called for jobs for youth and adults who want to work to rebuild centers like the Q House.
On December 4, at the People’s World Amistad Awards in New Haven, the Communist Party, YCL, and the New Elm City Dream presented a full artistic program based on the theme of “Jobs for Youth, Jobs for All!” The program included dancers, slam poets, jazz musicians, graffiti artists, and more. Over 300 people filled the auditorium at the rally-style event, which highlighted the young people and their role in advocating for their own rights to decent jobs and decent lives.
On December 6, the labor movement, Occupy New Haven, the New Elm City Dream, and others came together in a march for jobs and safe streets that was attended by over 1,000 people. Marchers flooded the first floor of City Hall on the rainy December evening, symbolizing the new political strength working people have in the city following the aldermanic elections. The youth from the New Elm City Dream were asked to lead the 1,000-person march.
On December 8, nine young people from the New Elm City Dream rode 40 minutes up the highway to Hartford, the state capital, for a rally in front of Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s office. The rally was organized by the Connecticut State AFL-CIO and the Hartford Labor Council, and called for jobs and an extension of unemployment insurance. The youth presented a giant card to Lieberman’s representative, calling on the senator to support jobs for youth and jobs for all. During a camera interview with Fox News, Teyanna Gray, a New Haven high school student, stated, “When I get money from babysitting or other jobs, I use it to help my mom out with groceries and other things we need for my family. But I’m concerned because if I see my mom struggling now, I know I will need a good job to pay for things when I get to be an adult. So that’s why we’re saying that the youth need jobs too, to be able to provide for ourselves, and we promise we won’t let you down.”
Throughout the marches, rallies, and press conferences, the young people from the YCL and the New Elm City Dream have spoken publicly about the ways that violence has affected their lives. The November 2 Youth Jobs March began with a candlelight vigil to recognize the young people who have been killed in New Haven due to gun violence. Latoya Agnew, a 19-year-old from New Haven’s Newhallville neighborhood, bravely shared her experience with gun violence at the November 17 press conference and the march on December 6. “When I was 12, my best friend and cousin was arrested and taken to jail,” she said. “Then, when he was 18, he was shot, and I was with him when he got shot. Thankfully he didn’t die, but the police didn’t do anything about the guy who shot him, so when he went back to get revenge he was arrested again.
“Now he’s in jail, and the only way I can communicate with him is through letters and phone calls,” she said, her voice breaking.
The success of the youth jobs organizing in Connecticut is an indication that there is a national need to link record youth unemployment levels with the other urgent issues that urban youth face, including the perverse frequency of deaths amongst their peers. The decision the young people have made to connect youth violence with the lack of job opportunities has also created a strong link between the youth, the labor movement, and Occupy in New Haven. Capria Marks, 16-year-old member of the New Elm City Dream, MC’d the speaking program at the Youth Jobs March on November 2. In her opening statements, she said, “When I was younger, I would hear about my friends’ grandparents dying, my parents’ elders dying, and that was sad, but it seemed more normal. But now, we’re losing our friends, our peers, our high school students! This has got to stop. The youth are here taking a stand to say we need jobs. If you remember in the civil rights movement, it was the youth who went to the front lines and even went to jail for what they believed. We are doing the same.”
Photo: People’s World