Among the thousands who marched to “Liberty Plaza” last night were many students and teachers demanding drastic change. I spoke to some of them about why they came, what they want, and how they see each other. What follow are edited transcripts of conversations that took place at the October 5 march from Foley Square.
Beverly Segers, 29-year math teacher for adult students:
I have a son who’s been out of work for three years. He had one job for 14 years, and now he cannot find a job here in the United States. I’m sick of it. He’s qualified to do so many things, and he’s even reeducated himself. What does he have to do to get a job in this country?
I’m marching for the young people, the students who graduated from college but can’t get a job. I’m marching because every time we turn around it’s more budget cuts, more budget cuts. While those rich fat cats, they go to the spa.
We’re suffering in this country, and somebody has to do something. Congress won’t do anything, the Senate won’t do anything, the President won’t do anything, but we’ve got to do like we did in the ‘70s. I got arrested in the ‘70s during the Vietnam war. I’m willing to get arrested again. Because it’s worse than it was then, understand? I’m 69 years old. I’m not going to live forever.
If my students even get their GED or certificate, where are they gonna work? They ask me for job advice and it’s very frustrating. I have nothing to tell them. We used to have a job counselor a few years ago, but they were laid off too.
The students started the revolution in the ‘60s and the ‘70s with Kent State—that’s when the country woke up. This changed the world before. It’ll work again.
Tianna Strickland, college student at Manhattan School of Visual Arts:
I really love this, I’m really proud of everyone getting together for a unified cause.
I’m already 80,000 thousand dollars in debt from school, so I’m really wary about whether or not I’m going to find a job after college, and how to pay off my debt.
I really hope that this sparks a change in the government, and a change in the people. And I really hope that it sparks a revolution, that people realize that we can do something as a collective without the government’s approval, without anyone’s real approval.
I’m a fulltime student. I work four days out of the week. I pay my own rent. I pay my own school, everything by myself, and I am worried about how I’m going to pay. I’m in my last year of college and I haven’t even paid for it yet. And I’m worried about whether or not I can even graduate.
It looks really grim. It looks really sad, like I already know a bunch of my friends that have had to drop out of college because they can’t afford it anymore. I think unions being involved here is really good, because it shows that it’s not just kids or students that are being affected—it’s everyone that’s being affected. A lot of the time students don’t get taken too seriously. And so when you get students and workers involved it gets taken more seriously, and it heightens the situation in a good way.
Maria Ortiz, bilingual education teacher:
Public schools really under Bloomberg have become a dictatorship—they dictate to us what to say, they dictate how to say it, and they dictate what to teach. When in reality we are the ones who know each child, and we know what each child needs. There are a lot of jobs that have been lost among teachers everywhere, so right now the class sizes are getting huge.
I think the reason we are in this position—that they are firing so many middle class and low income people—is because Wall Street has the most money, they have taken over all our resources, and that goes for schools. That’s why the public school systems been cut, and that’s why our classes are overcrowded.
We are all into this, and there is a sisterhood and a brotherhood to this, because we all see what Wall Street is doing to the whole economy.
Nick Fiora, Manchester Community College Student:
We were pretty upset with the way the mainstream media was covering this, so me and my friend, we slapped together some money and came down from Connecticut to participate in this. We believe in the cause. A lot of my friends, they have jobs and they have to support their families and they couldn’t make it. They wanted me to go down to represent them.
I was overwhelmed by the number of people here. We met some people that were here from day one, and they were like in tears, they were so happy. They were like, “We did this. And there were only 30 or 40 of them, and now they’re looking at a crowd in the thousands."
We have funded two wars that we can’t get out of. That’s a lot of money every day that could be going back to the American public and back into the economic system, but it’s going overseas to fund wars that aren’t really going anywhere. Politicians should start by creating jobs for America, and that in turn is going to get rid of that deficit.
Occupy Wall Street isn’t unfocused, it’s just that there’s a lot of problems.
Mary Alice Boyle, fourth grade teacher and local union president:
Where I teach in Peekskill, my school has a 68% poverty rate. I see a lot more homelessness now, a lot more hungry children. We’re up to 30 kids in a class. We lost 45 of our 300 union members already. We’re struggling, we’re suffering. We just don’t have any staff to meet the needs of these children. So they’re not going to have the education they need so they can live any kind of a decent life. I just see the American dream isn’t going to be there for the next generation.
We already had 40 layoffs, and I’d say next year with Governor Cuomo’s property tax cap we’re going to lose even more. I don’t know how we’re going to do it. We just don’t have anybody left. We’re bare bones. Even with no raises at all, we’re going to have to continue to cut staff. We’ll have 50 in a class I guess. Or more “virtual learning”—they’re saying we won’t use teachers, we’ll just put kids on the computers. And you have Bill Gates trying to privatize education, just like they’re trying to privatize everything else.
I think it’s great that somebody’s standing up. I’ve been waiting for this generation to stand up and say: “Hey wait a minute, what’s going to happen to us? Where’s our American Dream? I got the college education, I did what you told me to do, and there are no jobs for us.” Because the corporations want them working for 10 dollars an hour with no benefits, so there’ll just be the haves and the have-nots.
Kyle Carraro, CUNY law student:
People are upset, our economy is not doing so well, and the people who were put in charge of running society are only watching out for themselves. Part of coming out here is just seeing how many people feel the same way, seeing how many people recognize that it’s so few Americans that have taken just about everything. I don’t know if they didn’t learn their lesson in pre-school: Sharing is caring.
Every problem here goes back to the money. Where I live used to be a public co-op. But now they’ve gone private. We’re fortunate to have been grandfathered in, but now people have to pay about 3500 dollars a month to live there, which is ridiculous. Who can afford that? You see malls being built, all this new luxury housing being built, and a lot of people don’t realize that the city’s actually giving them tax breaks to build that. Meanwhile, the city tells the people in public housing, “Sorry, you know we have no money to repair your apartment.” And there’s people that every time it rains, they have a substantial amount of water in their apartment. They have mold on the walls. It looks like something out of a science fiction movie, it’s really disturbing. It’s really disrespectful and the city tells them that they have to wait until 2014 to have things repaired that are really unacceptable and actually illegal. The city says, “Yeah we have this responsibility, we just don’t have the money right now.”
It’s not sustainable. You screw over enough people and look what happens: everyone’s out here.
It just feels good to be out here. I have no idea where it’s going, and I don’t think people should look to something like this as a solution. It’s just another step in what will hopefully be genuine long term change that’s long overdue.