Thousands March in NYC During March 4th Day of Action

Thousands marched through midtown Manhattan yesterday as part of the March 4th Day to Defend Education, to protest the latest round of budget cuts being imposed by New York City and State. The crowd was remarkably diverse – university students who faced tuition hikes, high school students whose free Metrocards were being revoked, teachers arguing against school privatization and transit workers enraged at the firing of 1,000 of their fellow workers. Different perspectives, but one demand – stop cutting the budget and start taxing the rich.

My day began at Brooklyn College, a part of the City University of New York. Students and faculty there organized a day-long teach-in about the cuts. About 150 students participated and most seemed to be engaging in their first political act. The spirit that you can make a political struggle and win had yet to develop, but participants were engaged.

CUNY has a rich tradition of student activism to draw upon. Three moments stand out. The first came in the 1930s when students created a vibrant free speech movement to secure the right to make politics openly on campus. This was followed by the 1969 student strike at City College by the Black and Puerto Rican Student Organization, which forced the opening of the CUNY system to all New Yorkers who wished to receive a college education. Next up were the tuition and open admissions struggles from 1989 until 1997, where another diverse student movement exploded onto the scene to defend the right to higher education for all.

From the history of struggle offered at Brooklyn College, I moved to the office of embattled Governor David Paterson in midtown Manhattan. Paterson may be dogged by scandals in Albany, but today he faced a vibrant crowd united by a total rejection of his budget proposals. Sure the speakers droned on for hours and most in the crowd had tuned them out after 20 minutes, but the clear message offered by the mere presence of people from so many parts of the city and so many causes, was that Paterson’s hustle about everyone “pitching-in” during a fiscal crisis was being exposed as a farce. There is plenty of money in New York City – you could feel it oozing from the businessmen in expensive suits who hurled insults at the demonstrators while continuing their journeys back home to Long Island. Protestors wanted to get at this wealth, not for individual self-aggrandizement, but to ensure that our city provides the services poor and working class people need.

Once we were liberated from the short-term of oppression of speechifying, we hit the streets. It is good to march in the streets. There is a sense of freedom it offers that is punctured only by the ever-present squadrons of police. And there were plenty of police – on horses, motorcycles, hanging off the side of buildings, inspecting, watching, directing. Today, though, there were more of us than them and there was a level of outrage to the protest that kept the police at bay, fearful that a provocation might grow into something they would have trouble controlling. So we marched and chanted and spoke with each other united together by a sense that this could be the first round of a longer struggle to reclaim our city.

Is a new movement being born? Hard to say this early. If there is something brewing, it might be very interesting. The pressure of the cuts are coming down so hard,  they are affecting so many different parts of our city and they are throwing so many people into politics, that any new movement might have a very broad base. We might not just have a student movement here, a community movement to defend schools there and a workers movement to defend public sector jobs. What may emerge, what many of us hope will emerge, is a broad movement that aims at democratizing New York City. This road, as they say, will be made by walking.

Billy Wharton is a writer, activist and co-chair of the Socialist Party USA. He can be reached at: Read other articles by Billy, or visit Billy's website.

7 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. rosemarie jackowski said on March 7th, 2010 at 1:32pm #

    The problem of financing education is a bit like financing health care. Too much money goes to the top administrators. Everyone needs to check and see how much the CEO/President of their college gets paid. An obscene salary is not any more acceptable in education than it is in the banking industry.

    And another point – why is a college diploma necessary. The value of that piece of paper has been used to justify prejudice and discrimination in the work place. Education is necessary, but the diploma??? Many of the most intelligent people I know have been self-educated. Education has become a BIG business. If you needed brain surgery would you rather have the operation performed by someone who had a lot of on-the-job experience as an apprentice with an excellent success record, or someone who had the piece of paper on the wall.

  2. Don Hawkins said on March 7th, 2010 at 1:51pm #

    And movie stars want to be policy makers and policy makers want to be stars.

    “The nearest star, Proxima Centauri, is 4.3 light-years away” or about 26 trillion miles far far away.

  3. Deadbeat said on March 7th, 2010 at 1:53pm #

    We hear people say all the time the “we need to get money out of politics”. We need to get money out of everything otherwise these problems will remain perpetual. Those at the top will always benefit disproportionally because that is how capitalism is meant to work.

  4. rosemarie jackowski said on March 7th, 2010 at 2:06pm #

    That is exactly the point. We must put an end to Capitalism.

  5. Don Hawkins said on March 7th, 2010 at 2:52pm #

    We either put an end to Capitalism in it’s present form or it will put an end to us and that is already well under way.

  6. Don Hawkins said on March 7th, 2010 at 3:54pm #

    In it’s present form as we are out of time. Are we going to tax carbon and return the tax back to the people four years to get a permit to build a nuclear power plant a focus on what’s already to late to stop/slow do we see with our own eye’s any of those things? There still fighting over it’s real no it’s not real the fight is over the system called Capitalism as to make a try at this major changes are needed. Maybe if we stood up to the so called leaders but do we see that? The tea party now that was clever from the darkside you got to give them credit thinking two moves ahead and so far it’s working. They took the demonstration and made it there own clever. It’s still illusion of course we don’t need health care but the big one and they know it climate change and in just a few years as we see more changes changes that will be hard to keep up with then what. Boring this will not be. In many way’s the cat is out of the bag and when illusion doesn’t work then what? Again this last little economic downturn who got the help. Probably gated communities will take on a whole new meaning. This summer and then winter will tell us much more not if it’s real but just how fast the changes are coming. There maybe time not much just not on this path. Yes the awards are on tonight just what the World needs more of the same people bankers, policy makers, media stars getting more awards I think they just make this stuff up as they go along but that’s just the way it is we know. The money that was spent on just clothes tonight probably could have gone to better use. Shocking isn’t it. I no longer have a home or job or food but here in a shelter I see the stars and the world must be ok it’s just me oh no the world is not ok and illusion is not the answer. It will take a lot of us.

  7. bozh said on March 8th, 2010 at 7:50am #

    yes, don,
    how sisterly r the starry ‘stars’ wearing $5k gowns to to women wearing $10.oo hand-me-downs. Yes, i saw the ‘show’ for a few seconds because my wife had it on but i told her to change the channel.
    My wife agrees with me that that’s a shameful behavior.tnx