Fed up with years of multiple budgetary onslaughts by city and state administrators to CUNY funding, about 1,000 CUNY high school, undergraduates, graduate students and supporters, organized by the CUNY 4 All coalition, staged a lively rally and march from Union Square to City Hall, despite an unsympathetic rainstorm.
Although protestors emphasized the threat posed on their education by budget cuts, the demonstration expressed a broader predominant theme—the injustice and peril of downsizing public education in favor of militaristic measures, such as the building of youth prisons, racial profiling and funding war. “Education Not Bombs” read one sign in the colorful and spirited crowd.
The purported “war on terror” held additional significance for many CUNY students, who also demanded an end to the tuition hike levied on undocumented students at CUNY, who are now charged the out-of-state rate of $3,400, rather than the in-state rate of $1,700.
Daniel, a Hunter College computer science student and an organizer with Jobs with Justice, attended the rally and spoke of how he has had to reduce his full-time course load from five classes to one class because of the immigrant tuition increase. Garcia, who is depending heavily on three bills currently being deliberated in the State Assembly to restore the in-state tuition rate to immigrant students, said, “If nothing works out, it will take me something like eight to ten years to graduate.”
Another Hunter College student, “John,” who studies political science and did not wish to be identified by his real name, felt that his ability to perform academically has been compromised by budget reductions, and said, “It’s gonna bring my GPA down… it’s going to be harder to graduate without TAP.”
The CUNY marchers gained enthusiastic support from NYU students who waved from the windows of their tall, brick dormitories high above Broadway as demonstrators passed by 8th Street.
Perhaps the most remarkable presence at the demonstration, however, was made by CUNY high school students, who comprised at least half of all protestors. In opposition to a proposed $358 million, or 7 to 10 percent reduction in city funding to the Board of Education, according to the Board’s web site, the high school students staged a city-wide walk-out earlier Tuesday morning before the main rally in Union Square.
According to students, walk-outs were staged at Stuyvesant High School, where about half of its 3,000 students left class, Beacon High School, LaGuardia High School, Martin Luther King High School, as well as the High School for Environmental Studies, all occurring shortly after 11 a.m. Hundreds of students from the various high schools then congregated in Herald Square, including 400-500 from Stuyvesant, and rallied there for about an hour. About 500-600 students from the different schools later joined the larger CUNY rally in Union Square.
Teachers and school officials did not encourage the walk-out, but neither did they interfere with it, according to Stuyvesant student Tim Reilly, “My teachers said that even though they don’t encourage us to cut classes, [they told us]… they will not penalize us if we go to the walk-out. Teachers are receiving the short end of the stick as well, not just students.”
Reilly’s Stuyvesant peer Stephanie Lo told, however, of one teacher’s attempt to deter students from walking out, “Mr. Sand was guarding the door [of the school] and he told students that were filing past as I went out, ‘We’re taking photographs of everyone who’s going out and it’s going to be held against you.’”
At the High School for Environmental Studies, where about 300 of 1,300 students also walked out of class, and, according to student Jennifer Lipschitz, “three of the girls that were promoting it [the walk-out] the most were threatened with suspension.”
At Environmental Stu-dies, students’ electives, which include many environmentally-oriented courses such as AP (Advanced Placement) Environ-mental Science, are slated to be axed from the budget. Environmental Studies student Lipschitz attested, “Teachers wanted to start an AP Philosophy and they had a large backing… but we are losing these new electives, half our old electives and probably our sports teams.”
Several non-CUNY students also attended the demonstration in a statement of solidarity with their CUNY peers and large immigrant and minority population. “As a minority in New York City,” said Joliz, a high school student, “I feel I should have the same right … to be able to have an education and even though I am not an immigrant, I support the rights of other people to get an education also.”
As has become the norm at New York City protests which challenge local or national governmental policies, police presence was heavy, with at least a hundred patrolmen on foot, cars and bikes around Union Square. A long chain of about fifty officers walked alongside the demonstrators strictly confining them to the sidewalk along Broadway, while a group of about fifteen patrolmen followed directly behind the crowd. At least twenty NYPD vehicles, by eyewitness estimates, similarly sought to keep the crowd in check.
Although the march’s concluding rally at City Hall had to be abbreviated due to heavy rain, and musical performers Dead Prez were unable to perform to many students’ disappointment, Tuesday’s rally provided an opportunity for city-wide alliances to be formed and strengthened.
The demonstration also highlighted, however, the gravity
of the threats to public education in New York City. As Hunter student,
John, asked, “How is New York City going to rebuild if you don’t
invest in education?”