Saturday, March 22, 2014

Hey Governor 1%, Who Do You Represent? #AllofUs Action in Albany March

Parents, Workers, Community Leaders Hold Sit-In at Gov. Cuomo's Office to Demand Focus on Needs of Everyday New Yorkers
Facing Growing Inequality and Neglect of NY's Working & Middle Classes, 59 Moved to Civil Disobedience in Effort to Change State's Priorities

Bottom photo by Justn Wedes. 

There are times when unions feel like they are part of  social movements.  And there are times we seem to stray away from larger ideas of social solidarity among struggles.   Movements ebb, flow, move toward a crescendo, and descend.  And sometimes, we all hunker into our silos.  Yet, there are special moments when movements come together and agendas converge.  That’s what it felt like when we get arrested in Albany three years ago before Occupy, as my Union connected with energy teeming from Madison to Cairo.   Through such actions we fought back narratives of austerity, re-framing discussions of scarcity into conversations about income inequality.

PSC knock on Cuomo's door 2011
This is what it felt like yesterday in Albany.  For years now, we’re been talking about inequality and income disparities impacting multiple communities, as well as democratic institutions.  Yet, politicians  seem to rarely take part these conversations, favoring the needs of their campaign contributors, rather than their constituencies. And the cycle of unresponsive institutions continues.  The beat goes on. Yet, every once in a while something else comes along to shake up the pattern.  Yesterday was one of those days, as a  coalition of activist groups from all over New York, including students, staff and faculty from the City University of New York descended on Albany.

My friend Ron, who has helped Moral Mondays sit inns at the Mayor’s office in Manhattan, sent me an email call to action. 

Moral Mondays at Cuomo's office in Manhattan,  March 10

Subject: Take Action to Stop Inequality--March 20th in Albany and Moral Mondays in NYC
Decent schools, fair wages, good jobs, and thriving communities for all New Yorkers have not been real priorities for Governor Cuomo. Instead he has put forward an agenda that favors corporations, hedge funds, and Wall Street banks and their interests above everyone else. His Executive Budget for fiscal year 2015 would leave public education (k-12 and the CUNY and SUNY systems) and critical public services vastly underfunded while providing huge tax breaks for the rich:
  • $750 million to the wealthiest 200 families in estate tax reduction for inheritances
  • $350 million to Wall Street Banks by eliminating the Bank Tax
  • $1 Billion to the wealthiest 10% of homeowners receiving proposed property tax reductions
Too many legislators are embracing these givebacks to the 1%. New Yorkers are pushing back, and PSC members are already very much involved. Here’s how you can help:

Get on the Bus Bound for Albany—Thursday, March 20
Buses are leaving early next Thursday morning for a Day of Action in the State Capitol to demand a more equitable State budget. Sponsored by a coalition of coalitions that includes Strong for All, New York Communities for Change, Alliance for Quality Higher Education and many others, the day will include big demonstrations, creative protests and opportunities for civil disobedience. Follow the action on Facebook and Twitter using the hash tag #NYInequality.

Put Moral Mondays protests on your calendar
Faith-based groups are opposing the injustice of the Governor’s proposed budget and are demanding that Albany stop providing “Alms for the Rich” when so many New Yorkers are struggling. They invite you to participate in a series of “Moral Mondays” actions at Governor Cuomo’s NYC office to protest his budget. The demonstrations are scheduled each Monday in March at 12:00 noon, opposite Governor Cuomo’s Manhattan Office, 633 3rd Ave (at 41st Street). That’s Mondays, March 17, March 24 and March 31.

The organizers of the actions outside the governor’s office have been inspired by people of faith leading Moral Mondays in North Carolina who have turned Monday into a consistent prophetic day of action in their state. New Yorkers surely have the resolve and commitment to do so here as well. Please join them. Follow the campaign online on Twitter (@MoralMondaysNYC) and Facebook (

Seeing this call to action, I decided to get on the bus.  Moral Mondays had been powerful, but sometimes we need direct action to help foster the creative tension needed for decision makers to rethink an issue.

Over the next week, I saw that more and more groups were getting on board.

A letter from the Occupy Network declared:

Dear Supporter,

Occupy continues to inspire a new kind of progressive vision for New York City, State, and our country at large.

Coming together under the umbrella of the 99% convinced many of us that “We Are Unstoppable” and “Another World is Possible.” Collaborating across issues of all kinds brought clarity to our collective struggle.

This ground-breaking broad-based model has been baked into the strategy for this major day of action March 20th. Dozens of groups, including the Occupy Network, have allied to amplify a call across issues by demanding a New York that works for #AllOfUs.

As Martin Luther King Jr. said, "Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue."
It is in this spirit that we will employ civil disobedience to expose the blatant quid pro quo that exists between Governor Cuomo and the 1%.

Andrew Cuomo actually has the audacity to propose tax cuts that are specifically for millionaires and billionaires, predominantly going to the 200 richest people in the state. At this time in history. In the state that is #1 in inequality in the country.

A better New York is possible. Spread the word and get on the bus to Albany to help make it so.
-- from your Occupy Network team

Thursday, the day of the action, my alarm began to ring at 6:00 AM.  With a cup of cup of coffee in hand I strolled through the darkness over to Borough Hall to catch the bus to Albany.  Over the years, I have taken these trips to fight for HIV/AIDS services, for fair budgets, and any number of other struggles.  This action would be another chapter in this larger story.   I did not know who would be on the bus.  But my friend Michael Tikili was there as were others who would soon become fast friends.  Maria and the folks from Alliance for Quality Education were there organizing everyone to get ready.

We talked about education and the state budget, AIDS activism and Occupy  as the bus made its way out of town and upstate.  HIV prevention and education overlap.  Everyone needs information to make critical choices.  This is what education for action is all about.  And this is probably why the powers that be sometimes waver about supporting public education. 

Arriving in Albany, groups from several buses starting meeting and rallying, planning for the civil disobedience.

Several organizers framed the conversation in our pre action meeting. “Thanks for being here.  We are here to send a message that we want an Albany that works for all of us,” one organizer explained.   No more tax breaks for the rich.  Our job is to stick together throughout the day.  We will march together through the Hall of Governors, where we will stop outside the governor’s office, chanting and at the right moment, we will sit down and everyone will have a chance to speak about why we are here.  Sooner or later, the state troopers will come tell us that if we do not move we will be arrested. They will give us a warning.  But if we stay we will get a violation for trespassing or disorderly conduct.  The point is to make a demand, not to get arrested.  We want the conversation to be about the demand.  And we are all in this together.  Hopefully, we will embarrass governor 1%.

The ever cheerful Justin Wedes from Occupy lead everyone, leading everyone in the song, “Have you ever been to jail for justice?” 

Was it Cesar Chavez or Rosa Parks that day?
Some say Dr. King or Ghandi
Set them on their way
No matter who your mentors are
It’s pretty plain to see
That if you’ve been to jail for justice
You’re in good company
Have you been to jail for justice?
I want to shake your hand
‘Cause sitting in and laying down
Are ways to take a stand

Have you sung a song for freedom
Or marched that picket line?
Have you been to jail for justice?
Then you’re a friend of mine
You law abiding citizens
Come listen to this song
Laws are made by people
And people can be wrong
Once unions were against the law
But slavery was fine
Women were denied the vote
While children worked the mine
The more you study history
The less you can deny it
A rotten law stays on the books
‘til folks with guts defy it!

Michael Kink, of the Strong Economy for All Coalition, welcomed everyone, asking everyone to circle up, arm in arm.  “We are all connected,” he started.  “You are leaders from your community.  We are all leaders.  You are connected with your communities.  You know what your families, your friends your communities need.  You know.  You are connected. The elected officials here are not connected in this way.”

It was inspiring moment.

“But what is the chant for us as we enter?”  I asked.

“Hey governor one percent, who do you represent?” we started chanting, filling corridors with noise. 

Clapping and chanting the noise grew louder and louder as we joined the other six hundred people standing on the steps of the mansion.  Governor Spitzer once said this building is like an Escher painting, with stair case after stair case winding into each other. 

Escher's Relativity, 1953. 

 As a group we walked over to the Hall of Governors office for the action, eventually sitting down in front of the Governor’s doors. The noise was everywhere. 

“I believe
“I believe that we can win.  I believe that we can win" we chanted. 

We repeated the phrase over and over, with others chiming in with their own chants. 

“Fight, fight, fight.  Education is a right.” 

“Governor Cuomo, come on out, face the people you sold out!”

Staffers from the Governor’s office stood watching.

Some of us sang the old Freedom Songs "This Little Light of Mine" and "We Shall Not Be Moved."

Gradually, everyone started mic checking, to explain why they were doing what they were doing, why they were taking  the risk they were taking. 

Some talked about the Dream Act.  Michael Tikili talked about GENDA.  Looking around at the parents, teachers, and rank and file folks, I was completely moved.  Its an incredible feeling, a sexy feeling to be with so many amazing people speaking up, disrupting the mechanisms of everyday life in this way. 
Every once in a while we have to stand up for what we believe in.  We have to.

“There are lies and there are big lies,” my friend Michael explained, during his mic check. 
The big lie here is that tax cuts for the rich actually trickle down and help everyone.
We hear it year after and year.  And year after year it does not work.  I don’t  want the people I care about to be living off of crumbs from the super rich.  I want them to be able to get a sound education, the same kind of education as those in more affluent communities.”

“I come from a devastated community called Williamsburg Brooklyn where developers are destroying the place,” explained a man from the Occupy network, calling for rent controls.

A dad mic checked about his kids not having science or art classes anymore, yet this is what everyone needs he explained. 

A teacher mic checked about kids not having books in schools, her righteous rage filling the room with urgency.

Others talked about fracking.  Don't Frack New York, we responded, screaming.

Education is a human right, I screamed in my mic check.  “Information is power.  Without it, we make stupid decisions.  We get into stupid wars.  Information is power.  We all need it.





We all screamed.





The room echoed with the words.

“They say that Albany does not work,” another woman screamed.  “But Albany works fine, for the affluent.  It works quite well for them.  But not for all of us.  We need an Albany that works for all of us.”

Soon more and more of us were getting arrested, each serenaded with cheers.

My friend Julie, an elder African American woman, got the loudest cheers.  She’s been in the movement, fighting for education for all, organizing for decades, still laughing, smiling and never suffering fools.

Countless elders joined us, supporting and cheering for us, several others also getting arrested with the Dream Act folks, the living wage activists, the Occupiers, AIDS activists, and educators – all of us together!

They grabbed me after Julie was arrested.

This writer being taken away.  Photo by M Kink

Gradually we were all processed and journeyed back to the city, proud to have brought an urgent perspective to the conversation about education and economic justice in New York state. 

A Strong Economy for All press release summarized the reasons for being there. 

Intending to shift Governor Cuomo's policy priorities away from the needs of big banks and the wealthy, and instead focus on the needs of everyday New Yorkers, more than 400 protested at the state Capitol on Thursday, with 59 arrested in an act of civil disobedience.

Specifically, the protesters demanded that Governor Cuomo ensure fair funding for public education, prevention of billions in tax breaks for big banks and the rich, passage of the DREAM Act, a ban on hydrofracking, passage of GENDA, and focus on other human rights and environmental issues.

Pointing to New York State's #1-in-inequality status, the multi-issue coalition sought to push legislators to reject budget proposals that give away billions in tax breaks to the rich, underfund education, ignore the needs of immigrants, and avoid protecting the environment.

"I have children in both public and charter schools and a 4 year old about to start school. I want what is best for all my kids. Our traditional public schools are not getting enough funding to provide quality education. Governor Cuomo needs to focus on 100% of children in the New York school system, not just the 3% of students in Charters," said
 Cinthia Macias, parent leader with New York Communities for Change.

"While working at a restaurant in Queens, I regularly worked 10 - 14 hours every day, seven days a week, but I was never paid for most of the hours I worked. In April 2013, I filed a wage theft case with the New York State Department of Labor. I have been waiting now for over 11 months for my wages to be recovered. On Thursday, I will stand up for all low-wage workers who can't afford to have one more dollar stolen," said
 Celina Alvarez, a member of Make the Road New York.

“I desperately want my children to get out of poverty, and I know that a high quality education is the only way out. However, my children’s schools have seen cuts that left them without music, extracurricular activities, supports for teachers and other basic classroom necessities. I’m disrupting business as usual in Albany for my children, whose public schools are being neglected and underfunded by Governor Cuomo,” said
 DeJohn Joan, a parent leader with the Alliance for Quality Education.

"I really want my grandson to follow in my footsteps and become a teacher, but it seems like his opportunities are slipping away. When my children went to public school they got a good education, but now my grandson's school has cut art, music and sports, and the class sizes are huge. I won't just sit by and watch while Gov. Cuomo and the legislature refuse to fund my grandson's education," said
 Providencia Carrion, a member of Citizen Action of New York.

Organizations participating include: 350 NYC, ACT NOW, ALIGN Alliance for a Greater New York, Alliance for Quality Education, Bronx Defenders, Chelsea, West Village for Change, Citizen Action of New York, Community Voices Heard, Effective NY, Environmental Advocates of NY ,Greater NYC For Change, Hand in Hand: The Domestic Employers Network, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Judson Memorial Church, Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, Long Island Progressive Coalition, Make the Road New York, Metro Justice, Minkwon Center for Community Action, NARAL Pro-Choice New York, National Domestic Workers Alliance, New York Communities for Change, New York Immigration Coalition, New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, Picture the Homeless, Professional Staff Congress- CUNY, Strong Economy for All Coalition, United for Action, United NY

A few hours later, we were back on the streets of New York City. 

Arriving home, I received the following email from some of the organizers.

Today, you sent Albany a message: When politicians ignore the voices of 99% of their constituents, we will take action.

Over 600 people crowded the halls of the Capitol building, blocking the entrance to Governor Cuomo’s office while in close budget negotiations.  59 people were arrested in the process.

Your voices resonated throughout the building, and you can be sure Governor Cuomo heard you loud and clear: “Hey Governor 1 percent, who do you represent?”

Cuomo’s budget proposes billions of dollars in tax breaks to the biggest, most profitable Wall Street banks, but fails to restore much needed education funding, or address the New York’s first-in-the-nation level of inequality.

But the fight isn’t over yet. The budget deadline isn’t until April 1, which means we have 12 days to write, call, tweet and protest our state leaders.

Take a moment now to send a message to Governor Cuomo.

Our schools need more funding. DREAMers need access to higher education. Our environment needs to be protected from fracking. And everyone needs to be treated equally, regardless of their gender expression.

Our communities are depending on it.



Media Coverage of the action was extensive.

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