Lukas Nel, Contributing Photographer

Around 50 people gathered Saturday at the New Haven Democratic Party’s Dixwell Ave. offices for a rally meant to launch the party’s 2020 election canvassing efforts.

The rally was organized by the New Haven Democratic Town Committee in collaboration with New Haven Rising, a grassroots advocacy group, and the local Unite Here unions. Community members gathered in the strip mall parking lot, spread thin to adhere to social distancing requirements. They coordinated for the first day of their canvassing push and heard from organizers and Democratic Party leaders.

Some gathered around tables to check their voter registration status; others checked to see where they would canvass after the event. Many turned their attention to the microphone, from which local leaders discussed their platform priorities, namely Yale’s obligations to New Haven, access to health care, job creation and the need to replace President Donald Trump.

“So this event is about bringing folks together, and firing up our electorate, the voters, the folks in this community, because, you know, we’ve all been cooped up at home for the better part of 6 months,” said New Haven Ward 1 Alder Eli Sabin ’22. “We have an election that’s coming up, that’s ongoing throughout this month, and voting is the most important [thing] that’s going to happen in a long time because democracy is on the ballot.”

Sabin called for Yale to pay “its fair share of taxes,” echoing talking points that have become a standard refrain in New Haven Rising’s efforts to persuade the University to increase its contributions to the community. Sabin said Yale is receiving a $157 million tax break each year, a reference to the amount of money Yale would pay to the city if it paid property taxes on its tax-exempt buildings. Sabin pushed back on claims that the New Haven community should ask for less from the University amid the pandemic, pointing to the fact that the University’s endowment still grew by nearly a billion dollars over the past year.

Scott Marks, New Haven Rising director and Unite Here organizer, urged those in attendance to help elect local leaders who prioritize pressuring Yale to contribute more money to New Haven.

“We’ve got neighborhoods where there’s upwards of 25 percent of people going to bed without enough food in their stomach to eat,” Scott Marks told the News, explaining the importance of canvassing for the right leadership during the upcoming election. “People are dying. People have trouble getting affordable housing, and so we’re trying to change the map. For that to happen in the city of New Haven, we need Yale to change the map.”

Changing the map, Marks told the crowd, involves securing University commitment to historically redlined communities in New Haven. Marks underscored that it is residents from these communities who have suffered the most from substandard health care before and during the pandemic.

Other rally leaders and community members paid similar attention to health care concerns, both those brought upon by the pandemic and those that have long persisted in communities of color.

“I meet people every day who do not have access to high-quality, affordable health care, or if they do, it’s a program that’s just not enough. I really believe that health care should be a right, not just a privilege for the few,” Jorge Cabrera, the Democratic candidate for state senate District 17, said to the News.

The nominee told the News that he is concerned with problems with the nation’s health care system beyond the pandemic. Cabrera said that he hopes the state elects Democrats who will allow people to buy prescription drugs from Canada, and he hopes to reintroduce a previously rejected health care bill.

Scott Marks — a volunteer from New Haven, not the previously mentioned New Haven Rising director — said he came out to the Saturday morning event because he hopes a victory for the Democrats would mean a more efficient and communicative government. He told the News he believes a Democrat-controlled government in Washington and Hartford offer his community the best opportunity to address the issues of the pandemic, such as management of remote education and the discussion of community policing. He also put out a call for Yale to hire more from New Haven.

“Students should, you know, not step back, but step forward, especially in the time we’re living in now, so I say you know, just take a stand,” he said.

The New Haven Democratic Party headquarters is located at 190 Dixwell St.

Lukas Nel | lukas.nel@yale.edu