Under a sign that read “Fighting For Our Future,” three local boys belted out “He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother” before a crowd of about 400 people who marched for accountability in downtown New Haven Wednesday evening — accountability on jobs from the city’s largest employer, and Election Day accountability from their neighbors. While Avion Downes and Shawn Sufra, fellow members of the anti-violence youth group Ice the Beef, backed him up, Javion Hines sang:
The road is long
with many a winding turn
that leads to who knows where
Who knows where
But I’m strong ...
The crowd in front of them, composed of students, retirees, activists, and union and community members, marched from Yale’s Cross Campus to New Haven Works at 205 Whitney Ave. with a double message: Yale should make good on a 2015 promise to hire 1,000 New Haven residents by April 1, 2019. And fellow citizens should make good with their votes on Nov. 6. Yale UNITE HERE Locals 34 & 35 organized the rally along with their affiliated political activism group, New Haven Rising.
“Jobs bring hope,” said Ernest Pagan (second from the left in photo), as he stood with the fellow members of Local 326, the carpenters’ union, on Yale’s Cross Campus. “Ned Lamont should get elected, and hopefully he’ll do the right thing by the working people.”
To support the local workers as they called on Yale to fulfill its agreement, Yale students gathered, too.
“I’m here because I think it’s important that Yale students show up to support this jobs campaign,” said Yale undergraduate Gabriel Groz, at right in photo, beside Yale undergraduate Mojique Tyler. “There’s a jobs crisis in New Haven, and Yale has the resources to hire from New Haven and continues to waver on its commitments. This is about the community holding Yale accountable to its promise.” Yale is facing an April deadline to complete a signed 2015 promise to hire 1,000 city residents, 500 of them from low-income neighborhoods.
Around 5:45 the crowd followed a line of local and state politicians, including New Haven State Rep. Toni Walker, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont, Democratic attorney general candidate William Tong, and Reverend Scott Marks, holding each other’s arms.
The hundreds marched down College Street, chanting, “Whose streets? Our streets! Whose jobs? Our jobs!” to the drums of the Elite Drill Squad and Drum Corps. Along the way to Whitney, they paused to hear Azaria McClure, a member of Local 34’s executive board, speak.
“As a Local 34 member and a New Haven resident, I know that our contract and the jobs agreement are just words on paper,” McClure said. “But I also know that we have the power to hold Yale’s feet to the fire.”
A few steps later, Teanu Reid, a Yale graduate-student teacher and member of Local 33 spoke: “As a member of the Equal Rights and Access Committee (of Local 33), we’ve been looking into the numbers on gender and race here at Yale, and what we’ve found is disturbing,” she said. “Of the 2900 students in the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, I am one of 54 black women here, a little less than 2 percent of the population. In addition to the failing to address issues of diversity here on campus, Yale has also failed to provide the jobs it promised to the New Haven community. We are not here today asking Yale for anything unreasonable or unexpected.”
Listeners cheered and shouted, “What do we want? More jobs! When do we want them? Now!”
When they arrived at New Haven Works, the job-placement organization Yale’s unions helped create jobs with the city and the business community, the crowd heard about voting from U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, who is running for reelection. A big turnout in New Haven helped him win his first term six years ago.
“This election in two weeks, first and foremost, is a moral reckoning for America – that we are better together, the strength in our diversity, that we are neighbors, that we are brothers and sisters. And we’ve got some work to do. We’ve got some work to do,” Murphy said.
“The ticket price of being an American is understanding when your country, when your democracy, is under siege. Don’t assume that this democratic experiment, that’s been around for 240 years, is around for another two hundred and forty. Don’t assume that if we don’t stand up right now, that our way of life will be there for your kids and your grandkids. This next two weeks is a decision moment for the nation. And your ticket price as an American is recognizing that that moment is here, and doing everything within your power to make sure that we are still in this together for the next 240 years.”
Then, the song.
Strong enough to carry him
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother