In my last column, I tipped my hat in the direction of some of the many organizations that are doing good work based on the premise that Yale students and New Haven residents are citizens of the same city and share the same concerns (“Bridging town, gown key to citizenship,” 2/20). Because graduation is approaching, and because on Class Day, Yale will award no honors for commitment to New Haven, I want to salute a number of my fellow seniors who have provided extraordinary examples of citizenship during their four years here. They’ve worked on different issues and used different tactics, but they’ve all made Yale and New Haven better places.
I met Josh Eidelson for the first time at a meeting my freshman year, where my initial impression was that he talked a lot. In the four years that he’s been a friend, colleague and occasional co-conspirator, nothing has disabused me of that notion, but in every conversation we’ve had since, I’ve appreciated all the many things he has to say. Josh talks a lot because for him, more than for anyone else I’ve met since my time here, the fight for social justice is a full-time job. He’s called me from picket lines all over New Haven and Connecticut, we’ve talked about the nature of civil disobedience while sitting on the floor of the admissions office, and the other day, he handed me a copy of “Radical Teacher” that happened to have a cover picture of me wearing a sign saying “Teaching Me is Hard Work” and hollering at the top of my lungs. Josh’s greatest gift is getting other people into the fight and helping them realize how they can best contribute to making the world a better place, and for that I salute him. I can only feel sorry for whoever is on the receiving end of his work next year.
On one of the final nights before the primary election in 2004, I sat down with Jacob Leibenluft at midnight for an interview about my race for Ward 22 Democratic co-chair. I’d prepared for that interview for more than two hours, trying to be sure I had answers to the hardest questions he could possibly ask, and he asked every single one of them. Jacob set what I’ve come to consider the gold standard for city reporting at the News, and I’ve been glad to see the commitment and thoroughness he brought to the job become something of a tradition. He was hell on those of us involved in activism and politics because he knew just as much as we did or more about the issues and people we were working on. By treating New Haven as a beat just as serious as anything going on in the University, Jacob did a dual service: He brought the city to a great number of readers who never would have picked up the New Haven Register and he forced all of us to communicate better with our fellow students about the work we were doing.
I might never have been so involved in New Haven if not for one of the most hardworking, most astute and least recognized people on campus. Without Beth France, the Queer Political Action Committee might have fizzled in shock after the Domestic Partnership Amendment hearings in the spring of 2003. As the co-founder of Project Orange, Beth logged more hours — making signs, in strategy meetings, knocking on doors to register voters and driving around New Haven on Election Day to put gay rights on the city map — than anyone else I know.
She was equally brilliant as a campaign manager; there never would have been a student co-chair in Ward 22 had she and the staff she headed not figured out how to motivate student voters and produced an unprecedented Election Day turnout. As one of the founders of New Haven Action, Beth has been on the front lines of some of the most important new organizations that bring together Yale students and New Haven residents. During our freshman year, I used to dream that Beth and I would open up a little political consulting shop. Instead, she’s headed off to law school, and with any luck, I’ll keep writing next year. But no matter where she is, her patience, humility and determination are simply moving; Beth taught me how to be a better activist, and a better person. I’m only sorry I didn’t learn some of her lessons sooner.
Alyssa Rosenberg is a senior in Silliman College. Her column appears on alternate Mondays.