2008 was a year of challenges and great rewards for the Connecticut Center for a New Economy (CCNE). The energy generated by the presidential election gave us the opportunity to reach out to new constituencies, to find new friends and create new alliances.
We continued working to strengthen the capacity of Connecticut’s working families to organize and improve their communities and emphasized on increasing civic participation among low-income neighborhoods. In greater Hartford and New Haven, we conducted forums and presentations with faith-based groups, community groups and unions on our visionary economic blueprint project and on health care reform. During the summer we put five interns to work in New Haven, knocking on doors and interviewing residents about their top concerns. In the fall, we continued our door knocking campaign in New Haven and expanded into Hartford, with a focus on voting. Through this work we identified hundreds of potential new leaders.
One of our main projects, the New Haven Economic Blueprint Project (EBP) became the vehicle through which we were able not only to transmit the importance of civic participation, but also to go back to the doors of our neighborhoods and talk to working families about their concerns and their hopes. The Economic Blueprint is a participatory organizing and research project, developed through the authentic engagement of local neighborhood residents to formulate public policy recommendations and the establishment of priorities. When completed, the Blueprint report will contain specific policy proposals that can serve as the long-term agenda for our coalition’s organizing and advocacy work.
To date, CCNE community organizers have had more than 1,000 meetings with community members. During our organizing work we have realized that people in the community are eager to participate, eager to be heard and become part of the movement to improve their lives. Our organizers heard heartbreaking stories from the working families in our communities. At the end of every single story there is the will to move forward, to get organized and fix the roots of the problems that affect our communities.
The heartbreaking story of Stanly Goodrum, a Newhallville resident and ex-felon, is one of many that we heard. After completing his sentence, Goodrum not only found himself unemployed and hopeless, but also realized that even though he thought he paid his debt to society, society was not ready to accept him back. When the volunteer for our Community Voter Project knocked on his door, Goodrum, like many other residents, was too busy trying to survive to get involved in his community or even think that his ideas mattered. During this visit he said to us “when you are an ex-felon you realize that a crack house would open its doors to you faster than your own community.” People like Stanly Goodrum are the reason why CCNE continues fighting to make Connecticut a better place to live and work.
Another key part of our work in 2008 was the organizing work around Universal Healthcare. Working in collaboration with multiple allied organizations in our core urban areas and surrounding suburbs, we continued our fight toward a more affordable and less systemically racist health care system for every single resident in our state.
In 2008 we focused on leadership development, working with religious and community organizations to identify new leaders. A major accomplishment was working with the Interfaith Fellowship for Universal Healthcare, a statewide group of over 50 religious leaders of varying theologies and ethnicities dedicated to establishing health care as a human right and leading efforts to make health care reform a reality. Among their many achievements, the members of the fellowship collaborated with the Connecticut Chapters of the NAACP to successfully advocate for a state Commission on Health Equity.
By far, our most pleasant surprise of 2008 was witnessing the level of community engagement reached through our community organizing efforts, exceeding all of our expectations. The mounting anticipation developing around the Economic Blueprint, the level of engagement of our religious allies working for healthcare reform and the commitment of our community volunteers has shown us the importance for CCNE to continue to take a lead role towards social change in our region.