Poughkeepsie Activists Demand Youth Programs, End to Jail Expansion

by Schuyler K.

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On June 2, I joined a group of around 20 activists to rally outside of the abandoned YMCA building in the City of Poughkeepsie. It was the second rally in as many months outside of the abandoned Y. Nearly everyone at the rally spoke, primarily highlighting the disconnect between the county’s persistent effort to fund jail expansion and its intransigent refusal to spend nearly any money on community programs.

At the rally, young people noted the lack of any after-school programs or activities in their community, affirming that they had seen folks turn to crime upon being unable to find any productive things to do. One mother said that her child asked her, “What happened to the YMCA?” She was forced to say, “I don’t know.”

Yet, there is in fact a striking logic behind Dutchess County’s refusal to fund things like after-school programs and community centers (the YMCA itself was a private project, and the money evidently just dried up). Like elsewhere in the United States, whenever there’s a budget crunch, services benefiting hard-hit communities are always the first on the chopping block. However, the campaign for social programs in Poughkeepsie has been buoyed by a promise made by none other than County Executive Marc Molinaro and County Legislator Rob Rollison to fund such programs. Longtime community activist Mae Parker-Harris and I spoke during today’s County Legislature meeting to remind them of their pledge.

The imagery of the abandoned YMCA building as the backdrop to our rallies has proven very powerful, clearly underlining Poughkeepsie’s abandonment by the powers that be, both locally and nationally. The jury’s still out on whether those in the legislature will follow through and cash a check, and it’s essential that activists keep up the pressure.

But whatever the legislature approves will certainly not be nearly enough, and some residents are ready to take matters into their own hands. At yesterday’s rally, one speaker appealed to the crowd to make the renovation of the YMCA building into a community project:

“Let’s put ourselves together, people! It takes one mind, one soul, not just me—all of us! We can come out here and get some lawnmowers, get some wrenches, and put it back to where we want it, to where we want to have. We deserve this! It’s ours—take it!”

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