Each breakout group discussed its members’ concerns for about 20 minutes and selected someone to report back to the general assembly.
The education group planned to coordinate an effort to promote education as a basic human right, in anticipation of the United Nations’ Human Rights Day, on December 10.
The group’s spokeswoman said lack of school choice was the biggest education issue facing West Harlem. Getting parents involved in education issues, curriculum reform and attracting qualified teachers to West Harlem would be future topics of discussion.
Stop-and-frisk procedures and whether or not police should be trusted were the primary issues raised by the police issues group. The facilitator for the group suggested organizing workshops to educate young people about their legal rights. Another man went further, insisting that police should not be trusted and that a “militant response” is warranted. The facilitator objected to demonizing individual police officers, and most of the group of 12 agreed with her.
The economic justice group said that community control of resources and preventing the privatization of public housing would be the group’s central focus going forward. Members also discussed organizing job fairs and other forms of outreach to the unemployed, including teacher’s aides who had recently been laid off from neighborhood schools. All of the groups should seek to build coalitions with like-minded community organizations, they said.
St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is a temporary location for the West Harlem General Assembly’s meetings, while the group searches for a permanent space for teaching and organizing.
TJ McGann, a 26-year-old black man, participated in the economic justice discussion. McGann said he has been unemployed for almost a year since he lost his job as a carpenter’s apprentice. He said he felt that the meeting had gone well, considering it was the first one.
“It’s only the first,” McGann said. “It can only get better.”