Former ERR Reporter is School Board Rep, Community Leader!

Former ERR Reporter is School Board Rep, Community Leader!

Dave John Cruz-Bustamante, a former East Rock Record reporter and a junior at Wilbur Cross High School, was elected as a student representative to the New Haven Board of Education in June 2022 on “an explicitly socialist platform emphasizing movement power and restorative justice.” Mr. Cruz-Bustamante is a New Haven native and activist for issues from youth concerns to climate change and LGBTQ+ and worker’s rights. Growing up as “a queer, working-class, child of Ecuadorian immigrants has motivated me to live up to the historical task of our times: building and sustaining organized communities through parties, unions, and movements,” he said. He created the Socialist Scholars Party along with 20 other high school students, and has worked with the Connecticut Democratic Socialists of America as a political literacy teacher. In 2022, Cruz-Bustamante received the “Rising Star” Dorothy Award from The New Haven Pride Center.

  • You have been extremely active in the New Haven community. What motivates you? How did you discover your voice?

Like many people, I got involved in 2020 during the Black Lives Matter uprising. I initially joined the Sunrise Movement [which focuses on climate change activism] and grew my skills in writing, public speaking, coordination, and advocacy work. My motivations are a mix of things: an intrinsic sense of duty, commitment to the ideals of justice, worker democracy, community actualization, the pursuit of joy and harmony, and the constant reminder of the beautiful humanity that all of us have. We often forget that we really do owe each other everything. My family and culture have instilled in me to value and nurture life, community, and joy. When I look at my sister, Sophia, with her sweet and tender face that speaks love so naturally, I feel compelled to do everything I can to create a better world with my comrades. Not just for her, but for all the children of today and tomorrow. 

  • As a student representative to the Board of Education you are in tune with issues across the district:  What are students most concerned about? 

Sadly, the same issues always come up with every generation of students: improper facilities, lack of funding, irrelevant classes, inadequate staffing. The list goes on. It’s hard to convey the seriousness of these issues on paper or through speech. But adults and people in power must realize that things cannot continue this way forever, that problems cannot continue to be thrown onto the backs of teachers and students. The sense of despair and discontent is growing. and reaching a fever pitch. New Haven students are met with constant deficit: substandard facilities, shortages of supplies (teachers oftentimes pay from their own pockets). We need and demand desks, pencils, books — and care. Students and teachers alike are in communion with each other in organizing and mobilizing to achieve these demands, and I am more than eager to assist in doing so.

  • Those of us at East Rock Record have long known how driven and deep-thinking you are. How have you grown most since leaving East Rock School? 

I’ve grown tremendously since leaving East Rock School and I continue to grow every single day! I have learned to make time for personal leisure. Sometimes this looks like prioritizing getting a coffee with my friends over doing a homework assignment. I’ve had to learn that that is okay! I am grateful to the people around me, including my family, my comrades and the educators and guides at East Rock School and Wilbur Cross. I continue to grow my skills in critical thought. That includes developing and writing principled arguments and working with others to find solutions. I could go on! The biggest change has definitely been personal. 

  • Students often feel their voices don’t matter. You seem never to have been afraid to speak out or speak up. Is this true? 

It’s funny when people tell me that, because in reality, I am always afraid. It’s very scary. It’s about making a choice. You can choose to be comfortable in your oppression, to not risk the uptick in heart rate or the rapid breathing or the dozens of eyes on you as you speak; or you can choose the fight. Fight for something different, for the things you need and want. One thing is for sure, you cannot do it alone. Nothing changes by doing things alone. The cornerstone of change and power comes from discipline, militancy, unity, organization, and persistence. I am willing to speak out because I have a movement to back me up. I don’t do my work alone and I definitely don’t want to give the impression that I’m this stoic stone of a person. I’m always anxious and afraid, but it has to get done! There’s a place for everyone in the movement. We need public speakers, coordinators, researchers, medics, teachers, and artists. Protests and strikes are 1% of what is needed to make change. The background work is incredibly important. 

  • What are your top three concerns for youth right now? 

My top three concerns for youth right now are (1) building sustained student power institutions so that we have a loud and potent say in how our schools and society are run. (2) demilitarizing our schools and implementing new systems of care, violence prevention, and restorative justice that keep students and teachers safe. And (3) ensuring that all young people have the ability to exercise their rights. All young people, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or class, should not have to worry about where their next meal will come from or where they will lay their heads to rest. This is a shamefully overlooked part of our society. How can poverty happen in the wealthiest, most opulent country in the world? All children and all people deserve harmony and peace, clean land and air and abundant bread and water.

  • Lastly, what do we need MORE of today?

We need more hope! More joy! More time and space for laughter and comfort! Everywhere we go, there’s a surplus of despair and fear. What good will it do to indulge in that? What good will it do to merely complain and throw up your hands when confronted with the conflicts of the world? We need more time to be young, to grieve, cry till our eyes dry out, laugh till our belly hurts, to slow down, and to join the movement for a better world—together.