New Haven is home to a thriving ecosystem of community organizers, many of whom are young people, fighting at the grassroots level for better, brighter, and safer futures for their generation and ones to come. The stories of youth organizers across the nation are often overlooked and silenced by dominant political narratives, yet their drive to enact change persists. The urgency of the issues we face, from police violence to white supremacy to climate change (and their manifold overlaps), are most pressing for young people across the United States and the world. Against this background, the Herald asked three youth organizers in New Haven to share their thoughts on what motivates them in their struggle for justice.
Dave Cruz-Bustamante, Freshman at Wilbur Cross High School, Coordinator and Community Organizer at Sunrise New Haven, and Operations Apprentice at Citywide Youth Coalition
For me, and for many of my fellow organizers, combating the climate crisis is not solely about saving the oceans and trees. It’s about saving our childhood corner stores, the brick buildings where we learned to read and write, the neighborhood willow tree, our grandparents’ porches. The places we long to return to, and the places we call home.
The climate crisis is a deeply personal and existential issue for me. The lives of my friends and family in the United States and abroad depend on mitigating its impact. I fight for environmental justice because I have an everlasting hope of a well society, a society in bienestar*, one in which both the community and the land are healthy. I continue to fight because I am as certain as the rising sun that the demands and triumphs of the people will prevail.
Studying history, we observe countless movements borne out of a desire for something better. But no effort will be able to address and correct the oppression that the Black, Brown, and Indigenous working class and underclass face in both the Global North and South if there is no habitable piece of land on which we can organize and demonstrate.
Building power among young people, like those in Sunrise Movement New Haven and Citywide Youth Coalition, is key to effective organizing. Making sure our needs are met, caring for each other, having open and honest conversations, and staying true to our principles of anti-capitalism, anti-racism, and anti-colonialism without compromise is what keeps the fight worth fighting for. Keeping militant optimism in every stride we make and sharing the vision of abolition and reconstruction is how we build a society and a youth population that are ready to mobilize—not only to react, but to be proactive. A society that pioneers the way to bienestar.
*Bienestar: A Spanish South American term that refers to the state of a person or society whose physical and mental conditions provide a feeling of satisfaction and tranquility
Kiana Flores, Senior at Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School and Co-founder of the New Haven Climate Movement Youth Action Team
My heritage moves me to take climate action, to organize to preserve the rich cultures of the communities most threatened by the climate crisis. I come from a family of Honduran immigrants, and my own father was displaced by Hurricane Mitch in 1998. I believe that the climate crisis is not a foreign or future issue, which is why, through my organizing with New Haven Climate Movement, I strive to make New Haven’s city officials address the effects of climate on our community and take the necessary action to mitigate this expansive issue.
In this unique, virtual setting, organizations like New Haven Climate Movement have been able to use social media to increase our membership. Using platforms like Zoom has also helped us accommodate our members’ schedules and more easily coordinate our weekly meetings. Of course, we are always looking to improve our communication methods and hope to explore new methods to engage even more youth members.
Jaeana Bethea, Junior at Amistad High School, Actions Team Lead at Sunrise New Haven, and Community Organizer at CityWide Youth Coalition
I can vividly remember all of the panic surrounding the Flint, Michigan water crisis. It happened while I was in middle school. I never really spent much time thinking more deeply about the issue until I got to high school, when we had a whole unit focused on the water crisis. I realized that Flint wasn’t an isolated incident. The government and the fossil fuel industry are constantly degrading the environment for financial gain. It’s no coincidence that a lot of this happens in communities of color. Flint, a predominantly Black city, faced catastrophic and everlasting consequences due to environmental carelessness. The city decided to change water sources because it would be cheaper. The water wasn’t treated properly, causing residents to become sick with lead poisoning.
We can find additional examples of environmental racism today by looking at companies like Dakota Access and Enbridge repeatedly trying to build pipelines that would go through Indigenous land and poison local water supply. In New Haven, rising sea levels would hit Fair Haven first and hardest, and community members have limited resources to relocate. I got involved with Sunrise New Haven because I understand that climate justice is racial justice. I understand that fossil fuel industries are targeting communities of color, causing us to develop more health issues than our white counterparts. I understand that in the case of a climate emergency, people of color will be hit the hardest.