Chen keeps an eye on community
Green alder runs on 2-year record.
by Rebecca L. Weber, D.C. Statehood Green Party†
GreenPages, Vol 7, No.3
At age 24, Joyce Chen is completing her first term as city alder in New Haven, Connecticut.
A native of New York City, Chen moved to New Haven to study chemistry at Yale. While a student, she was active in community service projects, but did not envision holding public office until a friend suggested she run in her district.
“My main motivation for running,” she explains, “was to get to know the people in my neighborhood. Even if I didn’t win, I would get to talk to all these people. For me, it was a win-win situation.”
Indeed, Chen knocked on many a door in Dwight to find out what her future constituents thought their alder should be dealing with ó and to get to know them as individuals.†
Shortly before the election, Chen was at a Block Watch meeting when she heard a machine gun attack that left half a dozen youth injured or dead. A television news interview after the incident allowed Chen to speak about the need to focus on the problems the young people involved face ó both the perpetrators and the victims.
Her call for outreach for those who are sometimes perceived just as “criminals” struck a chord with a number of people from her neighborhood, and Chen defeated an appointed incumbent in the 2001 election.
More recently, several gang-related shootings ó including the suicide of a teenager who felt he would die soon ó shook the community deeply. Again, Chen spoke out through local media venues.
Directly after one of the funerals, she organized a brainstorming session to address violence in the neighborhood, with an expressed agenda not to just talk, but to make things happen. Before long, a bereavement group meeting was initiated.
Many young people who typically “stand on the corner,” rather than participate in civic activities, repeatedly attended the meetings to discuss their grief.
Chen speaks passionately about the multiple dimensions people in her neighborhood face in the midst of loss: “People are currently grieving, but we also need to help ex-cons find jobs, and figure out how to reach out to young people. Kids here can buy guns from anyone on the street.”
One of two elected Greens in a sea of Democrats, Chen authored a resolution to examine opportunities for reparations (renamed the New Haven Slavery Task Force to make it more politically palatable) and was elected as a board member to the Charter Commission, which convenes every ten years to make decisions about the length of term for city alders. (She voted to keep terms at two rather than four years to ensure better representation.)
A one-time Democrat herself, Chen found an easy transition to the Green Party: “I liked the politics, but also the people in the party.”
She acknowledges it is hard to be a minority party member when trying to submit resolutions, but her commitment to Green values runs deep.
Chen is running for re-election this November. Her campaign strategy? Rather than going out to tell people what she’s going to do ó “there’s so much to do now,” she emphasizes ó she offers up what she has been doing for the past few years. The people she represents know who and what she stands for.
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