March 28, 2015

Fighting 'til the very end: Thousands rally in Manhattan to 'protect our schools'

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source:  NYSUT Communications
nyc rally
Caption: The mass of activists stretched for several blocks down Third Avenue. Photo by Jonathan Fickies.

Enough is enough! Hands off our schools, Gov. Cuomo!

Sparse, tiny snowflakes tickled eyeballs as a couple thousand protesters gazed up toward Gov. Cuomo's high-rise office building at 633 Third Ave. in midtown Manhattan Saturday afternoon.

NYSUT President Karen Magee, one of several inspirational speakers, told the crowd that, with their continued support and activism, the worst-of-the-worst of the governor's so-called education reforms would be turned back.

Pointing across the street, UFT President Michael Mulgrew added: "The man who has an office right here has declared war on us!" But the turnout today and at dozens of forums held all over the state over the past two months show we are ready for this fight.

"These are our schools!" Mulgrew said, as the crowd echoed him. "Our kids! Our city! Our state!"

He said, we're all here to tell Cuomo, "Hands off! Knock it off! Take your billionaire friends and take a walk! Hands off our schools; we'll take care of the kids!... In the end, if you continue to push policies that will hurt our children, we're going to push you into oblivion."

Usually by the state budget deadline, the weather is more conducive to standing outside for a few hours, but these working-class heroes were bundled up and fired up to send an urgent message to the governor: You owe us money!

And NOBODY was thinking it's too late to get a fair state budget done on time this year. Lawmakers were to print budget bills by midnight tonight to be able to vote on them by the Tuesday deadline, barring special action from the governor to skip the three-day aging requirement.

Kicking off the "ProtectOurSchools" rally, public-school parents from all over the five boroughs lined up to take the microphone and testify - in Creole, Arabic, Mandarin, English, Spanish - to the amount of money the state owes to their schools: $1.6 million, $1.4 million, $2 million and more.

"We're here to send a message to the governor to fund OUR schools!" said Anthony Harmon, a NYSUT board member from the UFT. "People are here from all over the state of New York to send another message: They are OUR schools, and OUR kids!... Gov. Cuomo, can you hear us in Chappaqua?"

Thirty coalition partners co-sponsored the event, including NYSUT. Dozens of speakers, many of them parents with their kids, spoke out against the governor's renege on CFE funding, over-reliance on testing and fetish for charter schools.

AFT President Randi Weingarten has been fighting similar battles all over the country, and as often as possible, it seems, in her home state of New York this year.

"Gov. Cuomo, you've got it all wrong!" she said. Wrong on state funding, wrong on testing, wrong on teacher evaluations, wrong on charter schools and wrong on higher education disinvestment.

"Dozens have invited him to visit schools and campuses, to attend public forums, to simply show up, but not once has he even replied.

"So, on this unusually cold spring day, we've brought the community to you, governor, to say, 'Enough is enough!'...

"We are winning this fight across the country because communities are standing up for our kids," she said. And it's far from over. "This fight must continue!" she said.

NYSUT's Magee continued the solidarity theme, "Sisters and brothers... we are all here together because we are united in one fight" - parents, students, union members, SRPs, nurses, higher ed.

"The policies proposed by Gov. Cuomo are harmful to our children and our students and that is unacceptable," she said, "and we are not going to let him do that!"

Magee then turned to introduce a woman who someday "will take the corruption out of our state government, Zephyr Teachout!"

Teachout, who made a historic run at the incumbent governor in an epic democratic primary, said, "Public schools are the foundation of our democracy." When leaders in government let a handful of hedge-fund billionaires call the shots on education policy and reform, "this is a fight in this country for what our democracy is!"

State AFL-CIO President Mario Cilento told the crowd he was there to make one point. "You are not alone in this fight! Two-and-a-half million union members from the public and private sector are in this fight with you. Your fight is our fight!"

Denise Verde, a UFT member who teaches in Queens, said, "I'm proud to speak for our teachers in telling Gov. Cuomo ... we are not the problem. You are!"

From the Frederick Douglass Academy, teacher Marquis Harrison said, "My students in Harlem are young and gifted, and I know what they need because I stand in front of them every day." We have to continue to battle for needed resources, he said, and he shared the motto of the Douglass Academy: "Without struggle, there is no progress."

Beverly Roberts, representing the city NAACP, said, "We are only going forward, we will not take one step back."


call your state reps

It's important to keep calling your state representatives and urge them to stand strong against the governor's education proposals.

It only takes a few minutes: you can look up phone numbers and find more information and guidance at the Member Action Center.

Make the call and tell a friend!

Thank you.

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