Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Progressive Education and Research Associates, Inc. d/b/a
New Haven Peoples Center
37 Howe Street, New Haven Connecticut 06511
April 29, 2012
Statement by Alfred L. Marder, president of Progressive Education and Research Associates, Inc.
regarding the request for state bonding funds to restore the New Haven Peoples Center

The New Haven Peoples Center is an historic brick building located at 37 Howe Street. It is admired as a rare example of Italianate architecture erected in 1851. It has become a necessity to re-point the bricks and restore the woodwork. As is standard practice for non-profit institutions in such circumstances, Sen. Toni Harp submitted a proposal for bonding funds to restore the structure.

The Peoples Center is not an empty building. It has been a vibrant, all-volunteer, community and labor center for education, cultural and social activities since 1937. This year marks the 75th anniversary of this remarkable institution that has contributed greatly to the life of New Haven and Connecticut.

Today it is the home to the youth group New Elm City Dream which has taken a lead in organizing for jobs and an end to violence in New Haven. It is the home to Unidad Latina en Accion which initiated the concept of a New Haven resident ID and is protecting the rights of immigrant workers to get paid by their employers for the work they do. It is the home to Free 2 Spit, a monthly poetry venue which has attracted hundreds of youth and area residents in the last few years. It is the home to the Greater New Haven Peace Council and many others. Today's activities at the Peoples Center continue the tradition started from its inception to open doors for working people and people in need to gather, educate, organize and socialize.

When a group of Jewish immigrant workers purchased the building in 1937, they wanted a place to enjoy their cultural heritage, but they also wanted a place that could be open to the surrounding community. They opened their doors to workers seeking to form unions, when few existed. In an era of deep segregation, the Peoples Center became the site of the first inter-racial theater group, the Unity Players, and the first inter-racial basketball team, the New Haven Redwings. Both groups distinguished themselves with many awards and trophies.

The Peoples Center was also the site of the first campaign to break down segregation in employment and open bus driver jobs to African Americans. It was the site of a successful campaign to open an evening college in New Haven, to allow local youth who were not able to attend Yale University a path to professional jobs. That college is now Southern Connecticut State University. For all these reasons and more, the Peoples Center is a proud site on the Connecticut Freedom Trail

The tradition of opening up the building to the needs of the community has continued through the decades. Some examples include: In the turbulent 1970's the Peoples Center hosted weekly potluck suppers where an exchange of information and ideas was popular. In the 1980's the Peoples Center was a center of community support for clerical workers at Yale who were organizing into Local 34. In the 1990's the Peoples Center opened its doors to the homeless organization We the People, and became the first homeless run daytime drop-in center in the country. After 9/11, when immigrants were being targeted, Unidad Latina en Accion was founded at the Peoples Center to represent the needs of the immigrant community.

The Peoples Center is truly a labor of love. The Center operates on a volunteer basis. The building has been maintained since 1937 by small contributions. Those who are involved in the Peoples Center are proud to be a part of such an outstanding institution that provides a vital service and continues to contribute to the well-being of the lives of those who live in the New Haven community and beyond.

Opposition to approval of bonding funds to restore an historic building carrying out a vital mission is disturbing. We understand that the request has been temporarily removed and will be renewed next month. It is reported that an e-mail letter was distributed, employing anti-Communist red-baiting and quoting the Yankee Institute. This diversionary scare tactic has been referred to by some in the media as a throwback to the ugly witch hunts of the 1950's which set back democracy in our country for many years. From its inception the Peoples Center has never employed discriminatory tactics or policies and gladly opens its doors in keeping with our mission statement for a better community and a better world.

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