Occupy New Haven at City Hall

Occupy New Haven at City Hall (Win Vitowsky Photo)

Weeks before a new labor-backed board of alderman is set to be sworn in, City Hall was overrun by labor supporters and union members last Tuesday. The event, first a rally that took up the entire first floor, then a march through downtown New Haven, marks the first major coordinated effort between the Greater New Haven Central Labor Council and Occupy New Haven.

"This isn't about union verses non-union, this isn't about Dixwell versus Fair Haven," says Chris Garraffa of Occupy New Haven. "This is about the 1 percent versus the 99 percent."

Speakers at the rally called for more resources for youth centers and for good jobs to be created in the city.

Tayisha Walker, a recently elected alderwoman who is a cook's helper and member of Yale's bluecollar local 35, says more marches and actions will take place in support of other people's efforts to form a union or get a good contract. Walker is one of 18 aldermen backed by a coalition of labor unions who are set to take office in January.

Latoya Agnew, of New Elm City Dream, a youth organization whose rallying cry is "Jobs For Youth, Jobs For All," told a somber story about a friend who was shot and then incarcerated.

"When is this going to stop?" 19-year-Agnew asked the crowd. When youth have something better to do than hang out on the corners, she says, answering her own question.

As the rally was wrapping up, Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come" blasted through the sound system through City Hall, then was cut short by Twisted Sister's rock n' roll anthem "We're Not Gonna Take It." It was an appropriate mix of classic soul and timeless anthemic rock 'n' roll that summed up the spirit of a union-occupy alliance.

Lonnie Thomas III, a 17-year-old who is also a member of New Elm City Dream, says his uncle, the Rev. Scott Marks, encouraged him to join the group.

"You see how old I am?" Thomas says. "I should have been working already. But there's nothing out there. I like to build things. My pop was a construction worker. I want to work construction, too. But around here the best you can get is flipping burgers. And you even have to be 18 to work at Burger King."

David Elkin is a sophomore at Wilbur Cross High School and Education Center for the Arts. He has been involved with Occupy New Haven since it started, but his mom won't let him camp out there. When asked what he wants to be when he grows up, Elkin smiles and says, "A radical."

"The system is broken. And it's not just a little broken. It is inherently broken," Elkin says. "There is an increasingly larger gap between the rich and the poor and this generation has to do something about it."

A contingent from Yale's Graduate Student Employees Organization also joined the march.

Joe Klett is a 30-year-old from California, who came to New Haven to study sociology at Yale.

"I went to San Diego city college when it was $10 a credit, and wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for California's public education system," Klett says as he walks in the rain passed Chase bank with nearly a thousand people chanting around him.

When asked how these issues affect his family, Klett reluctantly admits that his mother, a California public school teacher, is facing an uncertain future in the face of "random budget cuts." But what do graduate students have in common with bluecollar workers at Yale?

"We are employees," Klett says. "Don't get me wrong we love what we do here, but Yale is a corporation and is increasingly being run that way."

After the march a handful of people went over to the Occupy New Haven camp. Occupy Hartford, which was evicted from its site the same day (see Greg Hladky's article in this edition). Some of the Hartford occupiers moved in to the New Haven Green that night.

Rev. Marks, who is also a founding member of Connecticut Center for a New Economy, expands upon the idea of a labor movement united with Occupy New Haven.

"They came to remove Occupy Hartford today," Marks says. "Soon, they may come to evict New Haven. If you live in the community, and you get the word, get down here and defend Occupy New Haven."