Activists who joined the "One Voice United" rally made it perfectly clear: Schools are the community. Campuses are the community. Educators are the community.
"Public education is the most important thing New York can do," said the Rev. Charles Rogers of First Israel A.M.E. Church, who praised the thousands who came for "making the difference for our children."
More than a dozen community groups, along with other organizations, joined NYSUT in sponsoring the rally, evidence of the union's ongoing efforts to build lasting partnerships.
The Rev. Cornelius Clark of the Troy chapter of the New York NAACP vowed the civil rights group stands in solidarity with all of the rally sponsors fighting for school systems.
"Public education is so needed," Clark said. The fight is simple: "Let's make sure that every school has all of the resources required to provide the kind of education our children need to succeed in life."
Ivette Alfonso, president of Citizen Action, noted other events happening near the Empire State Plaza on June 8 - a soap box derby, an art festival, a 5K run and the ordination of new Catholic priests at the Immaculate Conception Cathedral.
"What did they all have in common? Who got them there?" Alfonso asked. "Teachers! Those artists wouldn't have been inspired, the tinkerers, inventors, runners and priests would not have been nurtured if not for them."
She held up a piece of artwork her 7-year-old daughter created, and declared: "We're in a crisis where education is not valued, and I am petrified of all the budget cuts."
Perhaps the worst part about the cuts to public education is how unnecessary they are, said Ron Deutsch, executive director of New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness.
He noted how unfair the burden on schools is right now. "You can't lay off 30,000 teachers in three years and expect to improve educational outcomes. You can't keep squeezing our schools with tax caps and state spending caps and expect things to improve."
Thanking teachers for doing the best they can in the wake of budget cuts, he blamed mortgage and insurance companies for causing the nation's financial meltdown: "Wall Street deserves a detention and teachers deserve the bonuses.
"Considering corporations in the state receive $7 billion in tax giveaways, we should create some APPRs for some CEOs," he said.
Deutsch questioned a plan by Gov. Cuomo to create tax-free zones around State University of New York campuses. Companies in the proposed zones and their employees would not pay state or local taxes - including income taxes, business taxes, property taxes and Metropolitan Transportation payroll taxes - for 10 years. After five years, those making $200,000 or more would pay some taxes.
Instead, Deutsch said, "How about tuition-free zones around our campuses? We need to give more of our kids a chance for an excellent education. You want to know what really creates jobs? You do! An educated workforce is what companies want and that's why they are coming to New York," he said.
The rally, organized by NYSUT, was supported by almost two dozen organizations, including parent, student and religious groups, education professionals, public and private sector unions and good government advocates: Alliance for Quality Education, American Federation of Teachers, BALCONY (Business and Labor Coalition of New York), Citizen Action, Class Size Matters, Educate NY Now, First Israel A.M.E. Church, Long Island Jobs with Justice, Long Island Progressive Coalition, National Education Association, New York Immigration Coalition, New York State AFL-CIO, Labor-Religion Coalition of New York State, New York State NAACP, New York State School Counselor Association, New York Students Rising, New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, Occupy Albany, Save Our SUNY, Strong Economy for All and Student Assembly of the State University of New York.