On Thursday, March 24, several thousand union members, students and community activists rallied outside City Hall and marched through the financial district. Their message was clear: stop threatened budget cuts that would cause schools to close, tuition to rise, severely cut social services and force thousands more layoffs of municipal workers.
Oliver Gray, associate director of District Council 37, said public sector workers will not allow Gov. Andrew Cuomo to blame them for the so-called deficit. “How are we to blame,” he asked, “when the governor wants to cut the taxes of the richest people in New York and gives back to Wall St. investors $15 billion a year in stock transfer taxes?”
City Council Member Charles Barron contradicted the governor’s and Mayor Bloomberg’s claims that cuts are necessary because the state and city are broke. If they are so broke, he questioned, why are taxes being cut for the richest 1 percent of the population that share more than 35 percent of the state’s income and 44 percent of the city’s?
“You want to cut something?” Barron challenged Cuomo and Bloomberg. “Cut tax breaks to the rich!”
That sentiment was echoed by the rally’s co-chair Larry Hales of the CUNY Mobilization Network. He stated: “All the budget cuts could be avoided simply by making the banks and investors pay their fair share of taxes. The banks and Wall St. investors have looted the public treasury while giving nothing back. We are organizing to reclaim public funds for workers, communities and students.”
Soon the protesters were on the march, their numbers stretching for blocks. They brandished placards and banners demanding an extension of the millionaires’ tax, an end to job cuts, and funding for education and housing. The canyon-like walls of the financial district reverberated with chants such as “Today’s the day; the rich must pay!” and “What’s outrageous? Sweatshop wages!”
The mood throughout was spirited yet peaceful. The demonstrators were highly organized yet free to express their opposition with originality. For instance, one young man who passed the Charging Bull – the icon of Wall Street’s aggressive financial prosperity – was moved to mount the bull in his own symbolic show of defiance of all it stands for.
Another protestor claimed a spot near the Stock Exchange. Like a police officer rounding up crooks, he exhorted those within to, “Come out with your hands up!”
Yet another demonstrator emphasized the criminality of Wall St. by going up to individuals watching the march and warning them gently but seriously to “Be very careful when you’re near Wall St. It is a high crime district.”
The newly-formed coalition that organized this march and rally is building toward a national day of solidarity with the workers of Wisconsin on April 4 and an anti-war and anti-racism protest in New York on April 9. They are also planning for a large, united workers and immigrants rally on May 1, International Workers Day. For further information about the coalition and its plans, visit march24ny.wordpress.com.