Standing at the Occupy Albany May 1 rally yesterday near some new green grass, NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta was asked by a local reporter what drew him to the event.
The Occupy movement, he said, focuses on economic and social justice. “These are our issues, too.”
More than 30,000 teachers, bus drivers, and teaching assistants have lost jobs in budget cuts during the past few years, Pallotta said earnestly. Even State Education Department Commissioner John King testified during a budget hearing that “‘We have a fourth R. We’ve Run out of money,’” Pallotta recalled.
“We want to be competitive globally and we don’t fund schools?” he asked, grimacing. Students across the state, in rural, urban and suburban schools, have lost opportunities. When he went to public school in Brooklyn, Pallotta said, “I had great opportunities. I played cello and trumpet. I took art and used kilns. I played on teams. They’re gone.”
These programs spark interest. For students who are marginalized, it is usually programs like art, theater or music that keep them in school, he said. Instead languages, art, music, business, library programs and Advanced Placement classes are pushed out the door to stay within a tax cap or because the state keeps aid levels below what it provided in from 2008-20010.
When he took the microphone, Pallotta said he was at the rally to represent labor and working people and the many who have lost opportunities in this economy where too much wealth is in the hands of too few people.
“”We know the 1% has no problems making opportunity for themselves,” he said.
He encouraged participants to stand together for change, noting that “little ships get pushed around on high seas.”
Sophia Smart of the Graduate Student Employees Union at University of Albany said repeated budget cuts to SUNY mean few full-time faculty and “campuses run like corporations.” Students have more loans, face tuition increases and double-digit interest rates.
Victorio Reyes, executive director of the Social Justice Center, said the Occupy movements “highlight a possibility.”