In an annual roundtable talk held Sunday in celebration of Black History Month, local activists, students and union leaders joined together to learn about civil rights and discuss “The Struggle for Voting Rights and Economic Justice, in History and Today.”
The purpose of the event, held Sunday at the New Haven People’s Center and organized by the People’s Weekly World newspaper, was to mobilize awareness of irregularities in voting mechanisms and laws, organizers said.
“We have done so much — so much yet to go,” said Libero Della Piana, co-founder of California-based Expose Racism and Advance School Excellence and national co-chair of the Young Communists’ League.
In the first round of events, New Haven activists and members of the Communist party acted in historical sketches of the civil rights movement in America, focusing on the development of voters’ rights in the South.
Speakers recounted various examples of voters’ rights movements from Mississippi and Alabama, citing the 50,000 Strong March and the elimination of the literacy test for voters under the Johnson administration.
George Fishman, a New Haven resident, reminded the audience that the right to vote was not always considered a right — people have had to work for it.
“Voting rights were not handed to the people on a silver platter, or on any platter for that matter,” Fishman said.
Several speakers expressed outrage over the Supreme Court’s pro-Bush ruling in December, saying it violated the principle of “count every vote.”
The presidential election also featured in the second portion of the program, which was a roundtable discussion.
Joelle Fishman, daughter of George Fishman, chair of the Connecticut Communist Party and chief organizer of the roundtable discussion, talked about the events she witnessed in West Palm Beach, Fla., in the wake of the presidential election.
Fishman said the residents of Florida were outraged at the Supreme Court decision, because so many of them — women, workers and blacks — had tried to keep George W. Bush ’68 out of the White House by voting, only to have their votes not count.
“I saw the incredible anger of the people,” Fishman said.
Whitney Kelly, a freshman at the Cooperative High School and a member of the Coalition to End Child Poverty in Connecticut, read a poem she wrote which asked people to help and not look away when they see a social problem staring them in the face.
Another panelist, Dick Days, a member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists and an alderman in the city of Bloomfield, Conn., spoke about how the civil rights movement personally affected him.
Days also stressed the need for the civil rights movement today to “recapture family orientation” by giving youths a stake in issues today.
“These days kids have no idea about the struggle or how we got where we are today,” he said.
Before the day’s events began, Walter Isaac, a New Haven resident, leaned in to test the microphones.
“We have voices,” he said, and this theme was apparent in the diversity of messages that followed in the rest of the day.