Courtesy of Citywide Youth Coalition

More than a dozen attendees tuned in on Monday evening to a Facebook Live panel hosted by the Citywide Youth Coalition, a New Haven youth activist organization. At the event, local youth organizers discussed police and prison abolition, organizing tactics and the future of activism.

Seven high school and college-age activists, including the CWYC’s Organizing Director Jeremy Cajigas, led the night’s discussion on the theme of “The People’s Agenda.” The panel was the kickoff event for CWYC’s third annual Freedom Month, a month dedicated to racial justice activism and education. The CWYC is a nonprofit group based in New Haven that works to empower local youth to organize for the issues they care about with an emphasis on anti-racist work. During Freedom Month, CWYC offers community events focusing on voter education and anti-racism training. Monday night’s event sought to outline “the issues that matter most to young Black and Brown folks,” according to the event description.

“A question that we’re constantly trying to figure out as organizers is how do we really make change,” said New Haven youth activist and writer Julie Hajducky at Monday’s event. “Different organizations might have different theories of change, but I think centered in all of them is the idea of people power and unity. When we come together, we have the potential to disrupt the status quo and change what’s deemed acceptable in our society, and what’s deemed radical.” 

To start the event, panelists described the New Haven activism in which they were involved. Dave Cruz-Bustamante has worked with climate organization Sunrise New Haven and the Semilla Collective Food Garage. Erycka Ortiz has campaigned with youth-education activist group “Hearing Youth Voices” as a part of their efforts to lobby for the removal of law enforcement from area schools. Then, each panelist listed three words or phrases to describe the present moment. Some words given by the panelists were “anxious,” “hopeful,” “transformative,” “terrified” and “motivated to fight.”

The panel then became an open discussion with Cajigas moderating and posing questions. These questions covered issues of abolition, defunding the police, the two-party system, accountability for local officials and the future of activism after the upcoming election.

Panelists emphasized the importance of not seeing the election as an endpoint, but rather as a beginning for further radical work.

“While the election is super important for us, it’s also important to highlight that voting Nov. 3 is not the end-all-be-all,” said Cajigas in an interview with the News. “There’s a lot of work that’s happening on the local level that needs to be supported as well.”

Cajigas told the News that CWYC moved the opening date of this year’s Freedom Month up from Nov. 1 to Oct. 26 to increase political conversation during an election year where many will be voting early. At the Oct. 26 event, CWYC organizers expressed their intent to sustain activist efforts after the election regardless of the outcome — they are currently planning more panels for the coming weeks. 

Cajigas told the News that Freedom Month efforts will look to foster community relationships through events including a movie screening of Jordan Peele’s Us taking place this Saturday at Bassett Street. They also hope that by holding more panels similar to the one that took place on Monday they will foster discussion around matters important to local youth.

At the conclusion of Monday’s event, the youth panelists were asked to reimagine what they wanted their communities to look like 10 years from now. Their answers included hopes for better education, improved infrastructure, climate justice and abolishment of economic divides.

“In ten years, I really want to see my community being able to exist in full safety,” said Erycka Ortiz. “I see the ability to exist without it being policed, without having to feel digestible, without having to shrink ourselves. I really see our communities existing in our full dignity culturally.”

The Citywide Youth Coalition was founded in 1976. 


Sylvan Lebrun | sylvan.lebrun@yale.edu