NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The cafeteria at Career High School was overflowing with neighbors of all ages from all parts of New Haven, Black, Latino, and White greeting each other with excitement for the grassroots power they are building.
The occasion was the launch of New Haven Rising, an organization born out of last summer's door knocking campaign that resulted in a Board of aldermen with a majority of union members and pro-labor activists.
The first act of the new Board of aldermen was to establish a committee to form a jobs pipeline. The idea emerged from the priorities that were clearly voiced in each ward for good jobs, safe streets and opportunities for youth.
By the end of the evening 300 people signed up for the new dues paying organization that will be based on a charter, still under discussion, whose foundation is "diversity, economic, social, and racial justice" to create healthy communities that serve the needs of everyone.
Specific goals will be included in the charter for housing, healthcare, jobs, youth, education, seniors, civil rights, immigrant, and native rights and environmental stewardship.
"Once we have the jobs pipeline, we're not stopping there," said Rev. Scott Marks addressing the goal of transforming New Haven to a city that puts peoples needs first.
The extreme heat that evening did not distract the spirits of the diverse crowd of healthcare, university, public and private sector workers, students, professors, clergy, and elected officials.
Marks, a founder of the Connecticut Center for a New Economy, which organized the door to door discussions that brought everyone together, emphasized the importance of making sure the jobs pipeline is put into place soon to meet the crisis of unemployment especially for youth.
The sense of solidarity at the meeting reflected enthusiasm for an independent grass roots organization in the city that could set issue priorities and expectations and hold elected officials accountable.
Door knocking will continue through the summer, and a formal organizational structure will be adopted in the fall. New Haven Rising is a 501(c)4 organization with the ability to participate in political advocacy as a non-profit.
Critics of the aldermanic campaigns had complained that the effort was driven by the unions at Yale, and charged that the new alders would be accountable to the unions and not to the community.
Voters overwhelmingly rejected that argument. Unionized workers live in communities and are a part of their neighborhoods. The union members who ran for office understood how to organize and listened carefully to their neighbors about changes they were looking for.
The initiative to take that neighborhood organizing to a new level and create a grass roots organization of labor and community is breaking new ground in the city and nationally.
Already the organization is bringing forward new leaders who have been knocking on doors for the first time and involving their neighbors in the process. Over 500 surveys were collected from these conversations in the last two months.
The draft Charter was based on the surveys and on grass roots organizing work over the last decade in the city.
Photo: Scott Marks and planning committee for New Haven Rising at Career High School, July 18. New Haven Rises