Allison Kilkenny | The Nation

Allison Kilkenny

Allison Kilkenny

Budget wars, activism, uprising, dissent and general rabble-rousing.

Give a Penny, Save a Teacher

A “sea of public school teachers” descended upon North Carolina’s Capitol Tuesday, which was also National Teacher Appreciation Day, to fight back against their state’s budget cuts. Governor Perdue was in attendance to lend her support.

She pulled several surprised schoolchildren on stage with her and said to the crowd: "I need to ask you, do you feel appreciated?"

 "No!" was the resounding response from several thousand teachers whose homemade signs bobbed with messages such as "Education cuts never heal" and "Kids are worth a penny!"

In order to prevent event deeper cuts in education, Democrats wants to keep a 1-cent sales tax increase, but Republicans have pledged to end it.

Teachers passed buckets at the rally, collecting pennies in a symbolic gesture. The coins will be sent to the state Department of Revenue, according to the N.C. Association of Educators, the state teachers group that held the rally.

The House budget proposes cutting public schools by 8.8 percent, community colleges by 10 percent, and the 17-cmapus UNC system by more than 15 percent.

Protesters said the combination of education cuts and tuition hikes can only result in long-term disaster for North Carolina.

Debbie Johns, who teachers [sic] career and technical education at Southwestern High School in Randolph County, said the gathering inspired her. "I think it's a morale booster for teachers who desperately need it right now," she said.

The state risks doing long-term damage, Johns said.

 "My biggest fear is the economy in our state," she said. "Companies are not going to want to come here and stay here if the state doesn't care about education. That's my biggest fear. This is a snowball effect. This is not temporary."


 Leah Josephson, a UNC-Chapel Hill senior, said she has noticed a decline in her student experience in the past four years. One course she planned to take this year was canceled. 

"Our classes are getting bigger, it's harder and harder to graduate on time, and our education is getting more expensive," she said. "We think that has to stop."

More than a thousand union members turned out to protest Gov. Corbett’s massive budget cuts. The PSEA, SEIU, and AFSME were all represented at the gathering on the Capitol steps to oppose the cuts, but specifically the whopping billion dollars Corbett plans to slash from education.

Speakers repeated the familiar clarions of ending tax loopholes for corporations and implementing a drilling tax on gas companies.

At the beginning of the rally, AFSME Council 13 Executive Director Dave Fillman warned against the impact of Corbett’s proposed spending reductions. “We don’t want our kids on over-crowded classrooms. We don’t want health care cuts for our seniors. We don’t want huge increases in tuition. And we don’t want to see our property taxes skyrocket,” he said, as the crowd cheered. “A budget with devastating cuts for working families is wrong. A budget without a drilling tax on Marcellus Shale is wrong. A budget that allows tax loopholes for big corporations is wrong.”

While these types of large demonstrations understandably snag the spotlight, small resistances are also breaking out across the country every day. Take the example of Douglas Mason, a junior from Forest Grove High in Oregon, who made the local district’s budget cuts the centerpiece of his spoken-word performance at the school’s annual talent show.

Mason’s presentation, which lasted more than five minutes, drew loud applause. 

“They wanna suppress the arts but require careers and advisory class for four years?” Mason said onstage. “Man, talk about time being wasted, it’s no exaggeration ... these decisions are made in the best interest of who?”

Mason, 17, who described himself as “passionate about poetry,” said he was motivated to speak out as a representative for his fellow students.

“I felt the student body was not considered in any of the administration’s proposals,” he said. “If they’re bothered by anything I said, then of course they’re meditating on it. Maybe I’ll change something.” 

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Eighty-Nine Arrested Protesting Paul Ryan's Medicaid Cuts

Capitol Police arrested eighty-nine disability rights activists on Monday following the group’s occupation of the Cannon House Office Building rotunda.

The disability rights group ADAPT staged the event to protest Representative Paul Ryan’s Medicaid cuts, which would force people with disabilities to live in nursing homes rather than in their own houses.

Additionally, the House-passed budget resolution would turn Medicaid into block grants and reduce the program’s spending by more than $700 billion over ten years.

Combined with other Medicaid cuts at the state level, the protesters said, the block grant plan could restrict funding so much that people with disabilities would not have enough public support to be able to live independently.

The activists were charged with “unlawful conduct,” a misdemeanour offense. Sgt. Kimberly Schneider, a spokeswoman for the Capitol Police, said most of the protesters will “probably be released unless they have other outstanding offenses on their records,” Politico reports.

Nursing home residents in Illinois also turned out to protest proposed Medicaid cuts. Governor Pat Quinn’s budget reduces Lee Manor’s funding by $500,000, a crushing blow that would cut staff and services at the nursing center.

“This is a family community,” said Julia Conkin, 39, a wheelchair-bound resident at the center who spoke to a crowd of more than 150 people at a rally Monday. If the cuts are passed “it’s going to feel like I’m at a cold, business place instead of my home.”

Quinn’s plans include cutting Medicaid by 6 percent, or $70 million in state funds, which would result in a federal match of an additional $70 million also being wiped out. Nearly 7,000 healthcare jobs would be lost, according to Pat Cornstock, executive director of Health Care Council of Illinois.

“It doesn’t make sense to us that the cuts are made on the backs of the elderly,” Comstock shouted to the crowd, which held colorful signs and frequently chanted “Stop the cuts” as they residents, staff, and family members sat outside the rear of the nursing home.

New Jersey firefighters took to the streets Monday to protest budget cuts and a recent reduction in official fire department staff size.

Two weeks ago, Township Administrator Yoshi Manale ordered Fire Chief Joseph McCarthy to halt the rotational closures of fire stations, a safety system that was implemented after Manale cut the Table of Organization staff levels to seventy-eight men.

Steven Motzer, President of the Firemen’s Mutual Benevolent Association #219, accuses Manale of reckless behavior following his decision to shutter Engine 1 (the busiest engine in town) in order to reopen No. 3.

“The chief was doing the rotational closure to lessen the impact,” he said. “It’s all mathematics, it’s all risk. If you have a busy company, you don’t want to shut it 100 percent of the time. You do what you can to shut it minimally.”

Thousands of people are expected to rally in downtown Raleigh today in order to protest the proposed cuts in the House budget proposal.

The “One Voice: Rally for Education” event is being organized by The North Carolina Association of Educators to defend education and all public services. Organizers expect between 5,000 and 10,000 people from across North Carolina to participate.

“Declining investment in public schools, educators on the unemployment line and fewer resources for our students threaten the prosperity and future of our state,” said Sheri Strickland, NCAE president, in a press release.

Republicans have proposed spending $900 million less in public education and health care than what Governor Beverly Perdue (D) offered in her spending proposal to the legislature in February. These cuts are piled atop 15,000 education job cuts that have already occurred over the past two years, according to NCAE.

North Carolina’s budget also sets aside $230 million for corporate income tax breaks and private sector job creation.

Thousands more are expected to descend upon Pennsylvania’s State Capitol today to protest Governor Tom Corbett’s budget proposal, which calls for over a billion dollars in cuts to education and axing 1,500 state jobs.

The Coalition for Laboring Engagement and Accountable Revenues (CLEAR) organized the rally that is expected to draw over 4,000 people.

CLEAR represents a variety of different union groups from across the state that would like to see the governor spread around the social responsibility to include fairly taxing corporations and adding a tax to natural gas extraction.

Union leaders accuse neighboring Delaware of losing their state hundreds of millions of dollars each year by luring corporations into doing tax-free business within its borders. It’s estimated that Pennsylvania loses nearly half a billion dollars every year through these loopholes in addition to another $200 million in losses annually by not taxing natural gas extraction.

Governor Corbett has long been criticized for his cozy relationship with the gas industry. In 2010, Corbett accepted more in campaign donations ($700,000) from the industry than all other Pennsylvania governor candidates combined.

“We need to close the Delaware loopholes. We need to establish combined reporting. We need to make sure that people pay their fair share. We don’t want corporations to pay anymore then anyone else. We just want them to pay their fair share,” said Rick Bloomingdale, President of the PA AFL-CIO.

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Millions March for Labor Rights

On Sunday, millions of demonstrators around the globe marched for labor rights (KVAL.com has posted a gallery of photos from international workers’ day celebrations).

In the US, thousands of protesters turned out in Wisconsin where the battle over collective bargaining rights rages on.

Wisconsin demonstrators marched two miles through downtown Milwaukee, waving US and Mexican flags and holding signs showing a raised fist in the shape of the state. Similar scenes played out across the nation and around the world, as millions of workers from Havana to Berlin and Istanbul took to the streets.

The rally ended at a park nearby Lake Michigan, where AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka addressed the crowd about the importance of solidarity between immigrants and labor.

“It’s the same fight,” he said. “It’s the same people that are attacking immigrants’ rights, workers’ rights, student rights, voting rights.”

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, founder and executive director of Voces de la Frontera, accused Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker and other conservatives of “scapegoating immigrants, union workers, and poor people for rising unemployment, low wages and lack of benefits.”

Thousands of supporters marched through downtown Los Angeles to demand a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants living in the country. As the protesters moved through the streets, they chanted, “Legalization or no re-election!”

The Hispanic community is torn over the best approach to pressuring President Obama to support a path to citizenship. Pro-immigration reform leaders have mostly stopped asking Hispanic citizens to vote against the president and other Democrats in 2012 because the Republicans are the ones really blocking reform, says Javier Rodriguez of the March 25 Coalition.

But not everyone agrees with that approach.

Alfredo Gutierrez, a former Democratic state senator from Arizona, said Obama could not be counted on to enact the promised reforms.

“We should deny our votes to Obama, a man who clearly is not sincere about his intentions,” he told AFP.

“We will not get anything from Obama. We just need his to stop the systematic deportation of children, students and parents, because it is destroying our community.”

Thousands of protesters turned out in New York and Connecticut. In Hartford, more than 1,000 union members and their families gathered near the state Capitol to protest the growing assault on middle-class workers by the GOP and corporations.

“There is a class war going on and it’s against the middle class—they’re trying to exterminate us,” said John Olsen, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO.

A couple May Day demonstrators were detained in Louisville, Kentucky. Two people were cited for possession of graffiti materials and “desecration of venerated objects” after downtown Louisville buildings were graffitied.

Domestic and international protests alike centered on the same issues: economic inequality, job creation, better working conditions, higher wages and decent healthcare.

Hundreds of thousands of people marched in the streets of Istanbul this year. Members of a Turkey LGBT group joined the celebrations, along with many high school students. The mood of Istanbul’s celebrations was very different from previous years when protesters and police clashed violently.

People carried hundreds of different placards and banners and hung pictures of Marx, Engels and Lenin on the square. A large picture of a worker with chains on his hands was also hung on the Atatürk Cultural Center, or AKM—the same image hung on May Day 1977, when Taksim became the scene of a bloody massacre in which at least 34 people died.

A massive demonstration of 10,000 people took place in Britain’s Trafalgar Square in which labor organizers and their supporters protested government spending cuts. During the event, demonstrators called for a general strike to force the coalition to change its policies.

In other UK news, four people arrested during an anti-capitalist May Day protest in Brighton have been charged by Sussex Police.

Michael Cutting and Madeleine Hayes have been charged with refusing to remove their face masks when asked to do so by a police officers (Cutting was also charged with being in possession of “items used to destroy or damage property”) and Jorge Lagar and Owen Lewis were charged with assaulting police officers, according to the BBC.

Demonstrations also took place in France, Greece, Egypt, Gremany and Iraq, attracting hundreds of thousands of protesters. The Guardian reports that up to 120,000 people turned out for France’s marches in 200 locations. Protesters voiced their objection to high unemployment (9.6 percent) and jobs cuts in the public sector, while showcasing their support for the popular uprisings in the Arab world.

In Greece unions said around 12,000 workers took to the streets in central Athens. Cuts in public sector pay and pensions along with higher taxes were the main focus of protests.

Unemployment in Greece has also climbed to a record high of 15.1%. After the rallies there were minor scuffles between police and a small group of self-proclaimed anarchists in the bohemian district of Exarhia in central Athens.

Meanwhile in Iraq, hundreds of people, many of them members of the Iraqi Communist Party, demonstrated in the capital Baghdad to press for more jobs and equal labour rights for women. Thousands of Iraqis, inspired by uprisings elsewhere in the Arab region, have taken to the streets in recent months to press for better basic services and an end to corruption.

Demonstrators, many carrying red flags associated with Iraq’s communist party, marched peacefully in Baghdad’s central Firdous Square, chanting: “First of May is the day for workers.”

Moscow’s protest brought out 500 nationalists who rallied to protest against the government’s support of impoverished regions of Russia. Activists wore surgical facemasks and carried banners that read, “Russia for Russians!” and “Migrant workers get out!”

More Than 100 US May Day Protests Planned, International Activists Arrested

Most Americans are familiar with Labor Day, but they may not have heard of the international day of worker solidarity known as May Day. At the height of the Cold War, May Day parades were associated with socialism, and in a quest to distance itself from the dirty deeds of the Soviet Union, Congress instead designated May 1 as “Loyalty Day.” Today, we celebrate workers’ struggles on Labor Day, the first Monday in September. 

It’s unfortunate that many Americans lost the memory of May Day because in failing to celebrate the holiday, US workers are deprived of the spirit of solidarity they used to share with international workers. However, that doesn’t mean that May Day is completely forgotten within the United States.

The San Jose May 1 Coalition is hosting a march for immigration rights, while the protests of Governor Scott Walker continue in Wisconsin. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will speak at Milwaukee’s May Day march today in one of more than 100 marches and rallies that will be held across the country.

The AFL-CIO is live-blogging May Day actions and also tweeting updates under the hashtag #MayDay. In a written statement, the union’s blog reads: “These rallies and marches will show workers’ rights and immigrant rights are connected.”

Christine Neumann-Ortiz, founder and executive director of Voces de la Frontera, says that there is now “an unprecedented alliance” between labor and immigrant rights communities in the wake of Walker’s bill that eliminate bargaining rights for public workers. “We want to send a message to corporate America, politicians and others that working people will not be divided,” she says.

VDLF’s website features a video in Spanish advertising the Wisconsin solidarity May 1 march.

Sheila Cochran, secretary-treasurer of the Milwaukee Area Labor Council, AFL-CIO, and its chief operating officers tells the Journal Sentinel that instead of blaming immigrants for lack of employment opportunities, workers should hold their employers accountable for encouraging a race to the bottom in a frenzy to maximize profits. Cochran says it’s in labor’s interest to see comprehensive immigration reform so wages and working standards aren’t driven down further.

Internationally, May Day protests are garnering much attention. Eight people were arrested during a protest in Brighton, and massive marches occurred in Russia and Turkey. More than 3,000 blue-collar workers took to the streets of Taipei for their May Day protest over low incomes, long hours, and the widening wealth gap, and in Kuala Lumpur twenty protesters were arrested for failing to disperse from an “illegal assembly.”

Footage from the police crackdown in Brighton:

No Future, No Peace

New York City organizers from the anti-tax dodging movement US Uncut today staged two peaceful teach-ins at Bank of America branches. Carl Gibson, the founder of the original US Uncut chapter in Jackson, Mississippi, joined the NYC protesters. Gibson was in town after playing a major role in the Washington, DC Power Shift flash mob that successfully shut down a BP gas station, and the GE-oriented prank pulled on the media in tandem with the Yes Men.

The bank is a familiar target for the tax dodging movement, and has been an object of the group’s outrage since US Uncut’s inception. “Bank of America hasn’t paid taxes on earnings in the last two years,” Gibson explains. “While they’re getting away with not paying taxes, we’re getting budget cuts.”

For example, Mayor Bloomberg has warned that as many as 4,600 city teachers will receive pink slips this spring, while Congress has already cut $5.5 billion from education and related services in 2010 and threatens to cut another $13 billion (pdf) in 2011.

As the poor sacrifice their social services, Bank of America, which received $45 billion in taxpayer money during the bailout, and has spent $12 million on lobbying since 2008, paid no taxes at all in 2009 and even enjoyed a tax credit of $1.9 billion.

The hypocrisy of asking citizens to sacrifice while allowing corporations like the taxpayer-supported Bank of America to first write legislation with the help of their teams of lobbyists, and then undermine the communities that helped facilitate their survival and growth, is too much for some citizens to bear.

Brendan, a US Uncut protester, explains that he felt inspired by the visit of Ahmed Maher, co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, which catalyzed Egypt’s revolution early this year. Maher met with US Uncut earlier in the week to share his experiences of being on the frontlines of a massive social uprising. Afterwards, Brendan said he wanted to get more involved with US Uncut’s actions.

“I can strongly sympathize with [the budget cuts] because I plan on becoming a teacher. Unfortunately, I don’t see much of a future in that. They’re shutting down public schools left and right,” he says.

In order to pay his bills, Brendan is now working as a janitor at a private elementary school up in Jackson Heights, Queens. “It’s just a horror story there,” he says. “People don’t have health insurance, there’s no security, no benefits…. Where am I going to go? I have a BA, I’m $20,000 in debt, I went to two state schools and community college. There’s no future for me, I don’t think, as a teacher. My heart goes out [to teachers].”

US Uncut planned to stage a teach-in, which is a creative form of protest that entails an activist playing the part of a teacher, or professor, who then educates his class i.e. the other activists about the evil deeds of the target in question. Basically, a teach-in is an alternative to a traditional protest in which someone shouts helpful facts at pedestrians in an attempt to educate them.

The first teach-in took place in a Lower East Side BoA, and was extremely short-lived. The bank’s security called the police almost immediately, and the group was promptly kicked out. Several attempts to continue the protest outside were also broken up even though, as the US Uncut organizers pointed out, they were attempting to congregate on a public sidewalk.

Organizers decided to move the protest to a second BoA where they had better luck setting up the teach-in. The “lesson plan” centered on key figures like the fact that offshore tax havens cost the country $100 billion every year. BoA operates 371 tax-sheltered subsidiaries (204 in the Cayman Islands alone) according to its regulatory filings.

States are currently facing another $100 billion budget gap, and the president has proposed nearly $1 trillion in social program cuts. US Uncut says those slashes wouldn’t be necessary if corporations like BoA would simply start paying their fair share in taxes. 

Massive May Day Protests Planned to Campaign for Workers' Rights

In light of efforts to strip public employees of collective bargaining in Wisconsin and the anti-union bills introduced in at least twelve states, planned May Day protests have taken on a new, more significant meaning this year. Events will focus on the customary issues of workers’ and immigrants’ rights, but also collective bargaining, and budget and pension cuts that affect not just the working class but their families and communities, as well.

Downtown Los Angeles will be filled with protesters this Sunday in what has become an annual pro-immigration reform march. California is known for its legendary May Day protests. In 2006, a quarter of a million people poured into the streets of San Jose in what is known as the largest political demonstration in Northern California history. That year, the protest was centered on the Illegal Immigration Control Act, which would have criminalized undocumented immigrants. The protest effectively stopped the bill in is tracks, according to Mercury News.

This year, activists will be calling on President Obama to stop deportations and provide “legalization or no re-election,” says Celina Benitez of Southern California Immigration Coalition. SCIC is also protesting in solidarity of all workers’ rights to organize.

Wisconsin’s May Day march will of course be focused on union busting, but also keeping in-state tuition for immigrant students, opposing Arizona-type legislation that targets immigrants, and preventing budget cuts.

The event is sponsored by the immigrant rights organization Voces de la Frontera with support and mobilization efforts coming from a variety of unions, including: Wisconsin’s AFL-CIO, the American Federation of Teachers Local 212, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) in Wisconsin, the Painters and Allied Trades Local 781, Service Employees Local 1, and more unions.

In other Wisconsin news, the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee entered their eighth week of an occupation at their school’s theatre department, which faces virtual elimination under Walker’s 2011–13 budget proposal.

“We are here to get the message out to the students and the faculty that what Scott Walker wants to do to the university as far as privatization will raise our tuition and we can’t afford that,” says [Aaron] Luther, [a member of SDS]. “We are also here to get information out about what Walker wants to do to the city of Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin in general. We demand that UW-Milwaukee maintain a public status as a university, and that tuition and fees be frozen so that tuition no longer goes up. We’re going to use this space as long as we feel it’s necessary. We’re constantly rethinking, re-planning and reorganizing.”

Luther adds that Wisconsin unions have been showing enormous support for their protest.

“We’ve gotten quite a bit of incredibly positive responses. The unions take care of all the maintenance and all the cleaning. If it wasn’t for them, the university wouldn’t run.… And the Teaching Assistants union [members] are giving us their support and we’ve gotten support from other groups on campus such as SDS and Act Everywhere.

“Several of us have gone to Madison. We protested at Walmart the last two Sundays because Walmart gave money to Scott Walker’s campaign, and Walmart has a bad workers’ rights record. We are also setting up more protests for other companies that happen to be on the boycott list or are grossly anti-union,” concluded Luther.


In the past, labor and immigrant workers have experienced a tenuous relationship since immigrants are oftentimes blamed for “stealing jobs,” as opposed to, say, the corporations that outsource labor overseas to save money. Now, labor is extending a hand to immigrants, which it views as an ally against larger anti-union forces.

"Workers' rights and immigrant rights are connected," said James Parks, a spokesperson for the AFL-CIO. "CEO-backed politicians are targeting all working people—including immigrants—with their corporate-sponsored political agenda and continuing power grab." 

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Found: Liberal Outrage

Last week, Dave Weigel queried about where the liberal outrage was over the Paul Ryan plan to end Medicare as we know it. Of course, there had been isolated incidents of protest at town hall meetings, but Weigel was referring to a more sustained kind of backlash.

As I’ve been reporting in this blog, there have been hundreds of anti–budget cut protests that oftentimes included the mantra of protecting all social services with Medicare thrown into the mix. However, protests centering on thwarting Ryan’s proposal had yet to manifest.

Until now. The liberal outrage has finally bubbled to the surface in an eruption of town hall meltdowns so prevalent that Weigel has since updated his Slate blog to read, “FOUND: More Angry Liberals.”

The Don’t Make Us Work ’Til We Die campaign (I love that name so, so much) scheduled days of action for yesterday and today in thirty-five cities across the country. The group’s flyer reads, “Social Security belongs to us. Putting insurance companies in charge of Medicare is crazy. Slashing health care for American families is wrong. Tell politicians in Washington ‘We Will Not Work ‘Til We Die.’ Hands off our Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid!”

Additionally, MoveOn is mobilizing and prepping its members for town hall events in their districts, according to Brian Beutler. Although, it’s unlikely liberals will (or desire to) mirror the insane display of anger at town hall meetings during the health care debate.

"I don't think it's possible to do that over again," said Justin Ruben, executive director of MoveOn. "It's like SwiftBoats in 2004. Interesting things happened in August, but it's hard to repeat."

But things have changed since 2009. Those town hall disruptions convinced members of both parties to lower their profiles. The shooting of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ) reinforced that instinct.

In 2009, town hall events were publicized and scheduled well in advance. That's not true anymore.

On top of that, progressive, Democratic, and union groups across the country aren't fighting off one threat to their interests—they're swamped by state-level fights over collective bargaining, public pensions, voting rights, and other conservative onslaughts.

The state-level protests are what I’ve been covering in this blog. People are so desperate to stop the bleeding in their personal lives when it comes to things like education and pension cuts and anti-union legislation that shifting attention to a national fight over Medicare, while possible, understandably takes some time to get off the ground.

Citizens have fights coming at them from every angle, it seems, but the rejoinder most definitely has now begun. Polls show Americans are firmly opposed to Ryan’s budget proposal, including 70 percent of Republicans opposing cuts to Medicare, and 80 percent of all Americans disapproving of the cuts to the program.

Rep. Patrick Meehan (R-PA) was one of the first representatives at the receiving end of a town hall protest last week. Then came Representatives Robert Dold (R-IL), Charlie Bass (R-NH), Sean Duffy (R-WI), Lou Barletta (R-PA), Daniel Webster (R-FL), Chris Gibson (R-NY) and, of course, Paul Ryan himself.

During his town hall in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, the first six questions Bass faced from constituents were about his vote to privatize Medicare. At Duffy’s meeting, the congressman grew so flustered by the onslaught of questions that he told attendees, “When you have your town hall you can stand up and give your presentation.”

In Florida, Webster’s town hall became so raucous that police officers were forced to flank the congressman and tell the crowd to quiet down. Meanwhile, Representative Gibson faced an outburst in Salem, New York, when he said Americans pay high taxes because “there are people in the country that are not paying taxes because they’re illegal [immigrants].” At which point, a town hall attendee cried out, “You mean like GE?!”

GE is one of the main targets of US Uncut (the group calls the company “King of the Tax Dodgers”) because the company has made $26 billion in profits since 2006 and has not paid a penny of federal corporate income taxes. In fact, taxpayers paid GE over $4 billion in subsidies and tax breaks over the last five years. Due to the outburst, Gibson was forced to agree the company needs to pay its fair share.

And of course there was the little incident in Milton, Wisconsin, when a constituent who described himself as a “lifelong conservative” asked Ryan about the effects of growing income inequality in the United States. Ryan made the mistake of saying the government does tax the financial elite, which elicited a chorus of boos from the audience. He also faced chants of “Ryan stop lying!” at a town hall in Kenosha, which forced the congressman to flee the scene.

These kinds of protests occur against the backdrop of the budget rallies that have broken out across the country and which, unlike the Medicare movement, have already been going on for several weeks.

Liberal movements always operate with an inherent handicap because of the problem of fracturing. The budget cut protests are often parochial in nature (to save a certain school, local teachers, etc.), so the movement lacks a sexy unified banner to marry the pockets of outrage.

For example, resident in Rochester Wednesday night protested the laying off of fifty-seven firefighters and the closings of three libraries. Meanwhile, teachers in California demonstrated against proposed salary cuts, while 1,000 people gathered in Pennsylvania to oppose Governor Corbett’s proposed cuts.

All of these events have different names and slogans, but the spirits of the movements are the same. Their organizers reject the two-tier vision of America in which the poor endlessly sacrifice while the rich and well connected abscond with tax breaks and subsidies.

In the case of saving Medicare, the movement will need to be united, but as polls clearly indicate, Americans haven’t yet needed a coherent activist message to convince them that the program is worth saving.

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Governor Snyder's Emergency Manager Crushes Student Protest

Students at Detroit’s Catherine Ferguson Academy occupied their school for several hours after school in order to protest the proposed closure or charter school conversion of their school along with dozens of other Detroit public schools.

Agents of one of Governor Snyder’s emergency managers, Rob Bobb, appeared and gave the students a warning to leave. Snyder has authorized various “emergency managers” to reject, modify or terminate the terms of any existing contracts or collective bargaining agreements and dissolve local governing bodies of schools and cities, a move that has earned the governor accusations of seizing authoritarian-like power over his state. Bobb’s first move as an EM was to issue a layoff notice to all of Detroit’s 5,466 public school teachers.

The Catherine Ferguson protesters ignored the warning and secured themselves in the library and read their demands: no school closings, keep all Detroit schools public (no charters or privatization), reinstate all programs and services that have been eliminated, including art and music, as well as counselors and social workers, student control of curriculum and school character to assure that every Detroit school provides equal, quality education for all and no discipline or retaliation against any of the participants in the occupation.

The last demand holds particular timeliness given students in Central Islip School district were recently suspended for participating in a peaceful protest against proposed budget cuts.

As protesters marched outside in solidarity, the police arrived and arrested a dozen students. Witnesses say some protesters struggled and screamed before they were put in squad cars and hauled away.

“Police came and they’re like, ‘You’ve got to go. You’ve got to go,’ student Tiffany Baldwin said. “We just stood there and they just arrested us one by one.”

Her three-year-old daughter was there at the protest. Baldwin says she would do it all again if it meant saving the school that helped save her.

“I’m glad I took part in this. I’d do it a hundred times more to help the cause,” Baldwin said.

Some protesters claim the police brutally dragged and choked several of them. An activist named Ashley recounts her experience being choked and slammed against a police car.

All protesters were ticketed for being unauthorized persons on school property and released.

One of the teachers who participated in the protest wrote that she had never felt such solidarity as she did riding to the police station with two students who chanted for the entire ride, “Public education is a right!” By any means necessary, we will fight!” and hearing over the police radio that sixty of their supporters were on their way to meet them at the police station,

then walking out and seeing the crowd and being surrounded by students in a great group hug. It was especially encouraging to see how integrated the crowd was. As the chant goes “Black, Latino, Asian and white, for public education we will fight!” One supporter told me, “this is just the tip of the iceberg. We’re ready now.”

In townhall meltdown news, Paul Ryan was heckled by his own constituents yet again when he attempted to exit a listening session at Gateway Technical College in Kenosha. Seniors holding pre-printed signs that read “Hands Off My Medicare” greeted the congressman, chanting, “Ryan stop lying!”

“Do not renew the Bush tax credit for the wealthy,” one man said during the public comment period, even giving out his phone number in front of everyone. “I’ll debate these issues with you anytime, just call me.”

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Governor Christie Goes to War on Working Families

The Reverend Al Sharpton will join national union leaders in scheduled rallies today across New Jersey to draw attention to hardships facing working families. The adversities in question include budget cuts that squeeze the middle-class, according to labor leaders.

The American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten and Lee Saunders, the international secretary-treasurer of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, will join Sharpton.

The trio plan on leading a morning rally to protest the closing of a psychiatric facility in Vineland, followed by a panel discussion with state lawmakers at noon, culminating with an evening rally in Newark.

Governor Christie has proposed a 7 to 11 percent cut in the state’s general assistance program, while simultaneously vetoing 2010 legislation that would have temporarily raised taxes on those in the top income brackets. Overall, Christie slashed $820 million in state aid last year and $1 billion from school funding.

Christie is now being sued by the Education Law Center, which says the cuts violate the funding requirement set by courts. The governor’s education cuts were so deep they left New Jersey schools unable to provide “thorough and efficient” education to the state’s 1.4 million school children, according to a Superior Court judge.

The case is now being heard by the state Supreme Court, but Christie apparently believes the court’s ruling will be an adorable suggestion rather than official decree. During the “Ask the Governor” radio program on New Jersey 101.5, Christie said ignoring the Supreme Court ruling was “an option.”

During the hearing, Associate Supreme Court Justice Barry Albin asked twice about Christie’s decision not to renew a “millionaires tax” to raise revenue, according to NJ.com. Christie criticized this line of questioning, saying Albin was advocating to “put his hand in the pockets of the taxpayer of New Jersey, take money and determine himself how it should be spent.”

It was last year when Christie took a record two minutes to veto the extension of the millionaires tax certified by the state Senate. The move raised taxes on senior citizens while cutting them for the rich.

Christie and other conservatives argued that such a tax would stifle job growth and cause rich people to flee the state. Yet, that threat never manifested in reality after the tax’s implementation in 2004. A study by sociologists Cristobal Young at Stanford and Charles Varner at Princeton found the millionaire population actually grew over the period of the study, even through the recession.

The study found that the overall population of millionaires increased during the tax period. Some millionaires moved out, of course. But they were more than offset by the creation of new millionaires.

They found that the rate of out-migration among millionaires was in line with and [sic] rate of out-migration of submillionaires. The tax rate, they concluded, had no measurable impact.

This suggests that the policy effect is close to zero,” the study says.

The assault on education is but one of many complaints working families have against the governor. There’s also his attack of collective bargaining rights, women’s health care and issues of fair taxation.

Christie has made no secret of his intent to go to war on unions. One of his first acts in office last year was signing an executive order banning state worker unions from making political donations over $300 per campaign. Ultimately, an appeals court blocked that order from taking effect.

According to NJ.com, Christie mockingly says he “loves” collective bargaining, and yet he refuses to negotiate health or pension benefit reforms, and instead looks to reduce those programs through legislation.

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Students Suspended For Protesting Budget, Unions Plan Massive Rally Opposing Bloomberg's Cuts

The Central Islip School District recently decided to suspend students who participated in a peaceful protest against proposed budget cuts, a ruling that has drawn sharp condemnation from the New York American Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU).

Hundreds of students from Ralph G. Reed Middle School walked out of their classes April 1 to protest in front of the district’s administration offices. Central Islip officials issues layoff notices to 154 teachers last month and warned budget cuts could mean the elimination of all sports, after-school clubs, and kindergarten. The district is losing a total of $5.7 million in state aid.

NYCLU sent a letter to Central Islip stating the students were simply exercising their constitutional rights and “should be praised for their idealism,” and further stresses the suspensions send the message that free speech isn't important.

Superintendent Craig Carr told Newsday he hasn’t received the letter and declined further comment.

New York unions are planning what they hope will be a massive rally May 12 against potential budget cuts, Wall Street, and Mayor Bloomberg. The protest is being billed as “The Day We Made Wall Street Stand Still,” and includes participants such as the United Federation of Teachers and 1199/SEIU.

"The big banks wrecked our economy and are back to making billions in profits and lavish bonuses, while the rest of us are still cleaning up the mess," said Mary Brosnahan of the Coalition for the Homeless.

She says the mayor should "ask Wall Street bankers to contribute their fair share to fixing New York City, rather than enacting devastating cuts."

Stu Loeser, a Bloomberg spokesman, countered with a familiar refrain when he griped that the protesters were nowhere to be found when Washington and Albany slashed billions in funding for New York City—an attack that is blatantly untrue.

Either Loesner and Company weren’t paying attention, the media failed to obsessively cover those protests as they did, say, the comparably smaller Tea Party movement, or Loesner knows there were protests, but scapegoating liberals is easier than taking the blame for cuts.

UFT chief Michael Mulgrew begs to differ: "We were up in Albany trying to get the millionaire's tax put back. It was a shame that City Hall would not join us." 

He says the unions are saying, "Look, why are we being made to pay for what the financial institutions did?"

In California, a few hundred protesters rallied to counter a No-Tax focused Republican Party event in order to promote a fair budget. The crowd included students, children, seniors, people with disabilities, and public safety representatives.

The event was organized by California Partnership, a statewide coalition of community-based organizations that work together to protest and preserve health and human service programs and fight poverty.

The main purpose of the rally was to urge Republican Legislators to pass a "budget that includes sources of revenue" because "California can't live with an ‘all-cuts' budget," said Nancy Berlin, Director of California Partnership.

 "We represent working families, seniors, students, and the working people of California" and by extending the existing taxes, "we keep our people at work, students in school, and seniors at home," she said.

Chris Agrella, a Montclair resident, said that "the purpose of [the] rally is to show them [Republican Legislators] that we don't want any tax raises, we just want to maintain the status quo of the taxes now" and to push California to generate "revenue from other sources, especially corporate loopholes."

 Agrella is an in-home caretaker for his wife and is paid monthly by the In-Home Special Services program, which would likely be hurt by deep cuts without the tax extensions.

 "California should find other ways to raise revenue besides attacking the needy," stated Agrella. 


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