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May 12 protest against layoffs, cuts
Thousands rally for a city that works for everyone
by Micah Landau, Michael Hirsch and Cara Metz | May 26, 2011 New York Teacher issue
Elected officials who participated
Citywide and boroughwide elected officials
Public Advocate Bill de Blasio
City Comptroller John Liu
Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer
City Council Members
James Sanders Jr.
Jimmy Van Bramer
Sen. Tony Avella
Sen. Adriano Espaillat
Assemblyman Karim Camara
Assemblyman Alan Maisel
Assemblyman Jose Rivera
It was a sight to see as tens of thousands of educators, students, parents, community advocates, other unionized workers and New Yorkers of all stripes flooded lower Manhattan on May 12 to protest budget cuts and layoffs and call for a fundamental reordering of the city’s priorities.
“This city is upside down,” said UFT President Michael Mulgrew to the huge crowd of UFT members, students and parents who gathered outside City Hall in opposition to the mayor’s plan to lay off more than 4,000 teachers. “It’s not working for all of us and that’s why we are out here today. We want a city that works for everyone.”
Norman Seabrook, the president of the Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association, was met with a roar of approval from the protestors as he denounced the mayor’s proposed budget cuts.
“We are the middle-class workers who built this city and we deserve to be treated with dignity,” he said “This city belongs to us — not the rich, not the powerful.”
The UFT protesters, who marched en masse to Wall Street after the City Hall rally, were united in their outrage at Mayor Bloomberg’s insistence on teacher layoffs when the city has a $3.2 billion budget surplus.
“They’re using the kids as political footballs,” said Suzanne O’Brien from IS 51 in Staten Island. “Wall Street gets away with murder and the most vulnerable pay the price.”
Among the protesters was a spirited group of fifth-graders from PS 156 in Brownsville, waving handmade signs opposing the layoffs.
“We need our teachers or class sizes will become bigger,” said Tiyanna, who was exuberantly chanting “King Mike! Take a hike!”
The crowd was filled with teachers with disturbing tales of how layoffs would devastate their schools.
Dena Schwartz from PS 189 in the Bronx said her four-year-old school would lose 17 teachers — 47 percent of its entire teaching staff. Maria Herrera and Damaras Solis Padilla from Columbia Secondary School in Harlem said their school was slated to lose 79 percent of its faculty.
Math teacher Judith Glazer, the chapter leader at IS 125 in Woodside, said her school had been notified that five teachers would be laid off and 31 were in danger of being bumped to other schools.
“I am here to fight for the children, our staff and our rights,” said Glazer, who brought 45 of her colleagues to the rally. “If Bloomberg is the education mayor, he shouldn’t be looking for layoffs. Enough is enough. We are not going back to 1975.”
Victoria Mulligan, a science teacher at PS 78 in Long Island City, said she felt compelled to stand up for the children. “What the mayor is doing is not in support of the children, it is in support of his agenda,” she said.
Laura Daigen-Ayala, at the rally with her colleagues from PS 48 in Manhattan, blasted the mayor for balancing the city budget on the backs of kids and teachers.
“This is a city with a budget surplus and millionaires and billionaires are getting tax breaks,” she said. “The DOE website says ‘Children First;’ well, we’ve been devoting our lives to children while the mayor has been devoting his life to making money.”
Among the other speakers at the rally were AFT President Randi Weingarten, the Rev. Al Sharpton, state NAACP President Hazel Dukes, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, City Comptroller John Liu and Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer.
The UFT marchers met up in the Water Street area with thousands of other protesters, including transit workers, CUNY faculty and students, housing advocates and advocates for people with AIDS and the homeless.
Michael Richardson, a tower operator for New York City Transit subways, said the teachers’ fight with Bloomberg hit close to home for him.
“What happens to city workers like school teachers happens to us,” Richardson said. “If teachers get laid off arbitrarily, and if seniority means nothing, we could be next. It’s a slippery slope.”