September 02, 2014

'Vote Your Dreams' rally puts spotlight on inequality

Author: Liza Frenette
Source: NYSUT Communications
nysut vp paul pecorale
Caption: "New York is home to some of the wealthiest school districts in the nation - and some of the poorest," said NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale. "Yet, instead of helping those public schools - and their students, who have the least - New York imposed some of the deepest budget cuts on its poorest communities. It is an outrage." Photo by Marty Kerins.

A group of people, from clergy to barefoot children, banded together on the steps of the New York state Capitol to raise a hue and cry for solutions in jobs, taxation, public education and social safety programs.

Marking the 51st anniversary of the 1963 March on Washington, they urged onlookers to vote for elected leadership that takes action for the common good. They pronounced their rally: Vote Your Dreams, Not Your Fears.

New York, many speakers noted with outrage, is first in the nation in income inequality.

"The rich refuse to sweep the street, to work in the restaurant or to be in the classroom. It takes the poor to run the country," said Arvanetta Henry, a homeless woman with community organizers Picture the Homeless.

Workers are often underpaid, and resources they seek from social safety nets are often unavailable due to cuts to programs.

Taking care of people should come before profits, several ministers said.

"The problems we see in our communities, from low-wage jobs to underfunded schools to mass incarceration, are the result of a disconnect between politicians in Albany and the people they were elected to serve," said Sara Niccoli, executive director of the Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, which organized the rally. It was held as part of a national Moral Week of Action, put in motion by the North Carolina NAACP.

Vote Your Dreams Not Your Fears rallies took place at at least 12 state capitols across the country. Primary elections are this month.

The common appeal from among the speakers for religious groups, labor unions and community organizations was to close the income gap and put forward solutions.

"New York is home to some of the wealthiest school districts in the nation - and some of the poorest," said NYSUT Vice President Paul Pecorale. "Yet, instead of helping those public schools - and their students, who have the least - New York imposed some of the deepest budget cuts on its poorest communities. It is an outrage."

When the school year ended this past June, nearly 70 percent of districts were operating with less state aid than in 2008, he told the crowd.

"What do children in poverty need? They need small class sizes, expanded access to extra help, better health care, the support of social workers and guidance counselors, and greater exposure to the arts and music. These are the supports that work," Pecorale said. Public schools are charged with giving all people an education regardless of their socio-economic status.

"Change starts at the top," said Susan Kent, president of Public Employees Federation. "The climate of fear needs to go away."

"It's immoral to provide billions in tax cuts to big banks and the wealthiest residents while so many others are suffering, because our state's leaders are turning a blind eye to the record levels of child poverty, hunger and homelessness we are experiencing," said Ron Deutsch, executive director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness.

The "Golden Rule," he said, has been twisted to mean: "Those who have the gold make the rules."