Come Wednesday evening, thousands of people are expected to have gathered on the New Haven Green for a rally protesting the shrinking of the American middle class.
“We Are One,” a coalition of New Haven labor unions, clergy and Yale and New Haven public school students, will congregate at College and Elm Streets at 5:30 p.m. to protest rising income inequality, high unemployment and what some organizers called a general attack on working people. While the rally follows two high-profile rallies targeting labor tensions at City Hall, the “We Are One” coalition claims it has no political agenda. The main objective of the rally is to “unite people who are hungry for a voice,” said Bob Proto, a coalition member and head of the Greater New Haven Central Labor Council.
The rally comes at a time of ongoing city layoffs. The city eliminated a total of 96 positions from its payroll in February, and Mayor John DeStefano Jr. said dozens more are sure to follow in the next fiscal year.
“We are not done sizing down,” DeStefano said in an interview Tuesday evening.
Coalition members, including two clergymen, a Wilbur Cross High School student, a Yale undergraduate and a Yale custodian, met with reporters last week to discuss their hopes for the rally. They said they intend the event, not as an end in itself, but as a catalyst for a citywide grassroots movement organized around working-class issues.
Abraham Hernandez, a Fair Haven preacher and coalition member , said there is a strong and deep-rooted sense of hopelessness in parts of the city. Hernandez said he is helping to spread the word about the movement in the city’s Latino community.
“People in economically desperate straits often think they’re alone,” said Rev. Henry Morris, a Lutheran minister. “We want to get them out of their houses and outside to realize that they’re not alone.”
Morris said the working class has been “fractured and factionalized” in recent years and that the time has come to show solidarity.
Among those knocking on doors throughout the city to publicize the “We Are One” coalition is Sarah Eidelson ’12. Many Yale students, especially members of the Undergraduate Organizing Committee, are involved in organizing the rally today, Eidelson said.
Eidelson said the economic issues faced by many New Haven residents are very familiar to Yale students who have to work student jobs in order to support themselves. Eidelson also criticized the University for increasing the annual amount of self-help contribution students on financial aid are required to earn themselves last year.
Brian Wingate, a custodian in Yale’s Local 35, one of the University’s two unions, said he feels the lack of decent-paying jobs available in New Haven is an injustice. While he has a job and a daughter in college, he said, it is wrong that the city’s economic conditions do not afford his next-door neighbor the same opportunities.
While the movement has no concrete policy objectives, Wilbur Cross junior Isaiah Lee said it is not “just rhetoric.” Getting people to come out together is a prerequisite to addressing specific political concerns, he said.
Lee was also the lead organizer of Tuesday’s student protest outside City Hall, which demanded school administrators’ salaries be cut before teachers be laid off. In February, the city laid off nine teachers among 42 Board of Education layoffs. Lee said governments are trying to stabilize an economy in crisis by attacking the most vulnerable in society.
At the state level, Gov. Dannel Malloy is threatening layoffs if the state’s 45,000 employees fail to give up $2 billion in concessions over two years.
Organizers said about 2,000 protestors are expected to attend today’s rally.