Concerned Local Students “Occupy Proctor”
April 27th 2012 · 0 Comments
Over fifty Proctor students and supporters did not spend the first day of spring break sleeping in. They congregated at the Board of Education building to protest against the recent budget cuts at nine in the morning on Friday, April 6. Trinh Truong, a 14-year-old freshman at Proctor and Occupy Utica Activist was the main organizer of the demonstration.
Truong stated she was satisfied with the outcome of the protest. “We’re feeling like we’re actually doing something about the budget cuts instead of just complaining about the cuts,” Truong stated as she held a sign that read “I Feel Like a Child Left Behind.”
Truong had initially planned on organizing a walk-out during class on Thursday, but changed her mind after being called down to the Principal’s office. She was also confronted by a student who is the daughter of a School Administrator who warned her that everyone would be arrested for participating in the walk-out.
According to Truong, the student stated, “The administration is going to call the cops, and arrest you all for not being in school.” Although an attorney from the ACLU was contacted and verified that students could not legally be arrested for truancy, Truong decided to not take any risks and changed the date of the demonstration.
Occupy Utica assisted Truong and other students in planning the demonstration but stepped back to allow students to do the outreach, and lead the demonstration. Several students, a parent, and some Occupy activists met earlier in the week to make signs and print out flyers for the planned action. The picket line was buzzing with activity and enthusiastic students.
It drew a diverse crowd of mostly Proctor students, some parents, Occupy Activists, and at least two students from other school districts. State Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi was also present. Of the several politicians Truong contacted he was the only one who bothered to show up. He spoke to the press about legislation he supported to give more funding to education.
Many students donned their sports jackets and school colors. Students from the swimming team, baseball team, ROTC, and track team were present. Many motorists honked in support as they drove past the picket and a few of them were teachers. Students held signs that read “If you can read this, thank a teacher” and “Wall Street got bailed out! Schools got sold out!” among others.
Many of the students spoke of concerns of overcrowding of classrooms, not having any sports and therefore athletic scholarships, and were wary of threatened opportunities to go to college if these budget cuts go into effect. Students also spoke of fears they had of teachers losing their jobs. “We’re out here for them” was a view shared up and down the picket line.
“My brothers and sisters are coming in within a few years, and I want it fair for them because I’m leaving this year. I want them to have the same opportunities, and I don’t want cuts,” stated Alex Sourakakone, an 18-year-old senior at Proctor.
Cross country and track runner Melisa Ponjevic, 14 of Proctor, said that more money should be invested in schools, but lamented, “I guess big businesses are more important than kids’ education nowadays.” This brings up a question the School Administration, politicians, local officials, and even the teachers unions have not discussed publicly. That is the question of distribution of wealth and why the wealthiest nation that has ever existed is bailing out corrupt financial institutions and the excesses of Wall Street while school districts like Utica are having their funding slashed and teaching positions cut.
Joe Bepko, one of the original organizers of Occupy Utica and a father chimed in, “New York State could be rich if we just taxed Wall Street correctly with the NY Stock Exchange tax.” The tax is rarely mentioned by politicians. New York State presently collects a very small tax on each stock transfer on Wall Street, but later rebates the tax back to the same speculators on Wall Street that crashed the economy to begin with. The tax has surpassed over $16 billion annually, money that Bepko believes should go to funding education.
That was certainly a part of the message the students attempted to send. For most on the picket line it was the first demonstration they had ever attended. At least a few were heard saying, “This is the best day of my life!” Some wanted to stay the whole day demonstrating while others wanted to come back every week.
Before the students parted ways they huddled in front of the Board of Education building. Truong invited everyone to take part in the national day of action on May Day, the name given to the original Labor Day on May 1st. Millions of students are expected to not show up to school that day and millions of workers are expected to join a general strike in a day of actions, walk-outs and strikes that Occupy is organizing. Occupy Utica in planning a May Day demonstration at Liberty Bell Corner on May First at 3:00 p.m. so Truong encouraged her classmates to come to the rally after school was out.
Before leaving, Delvin Moody, 16, of Proctor and a NAACP member, parted ways by saying, “Ultimately this battle does not stop here. It does not stop here on the streets in front of the education building. What it takes is for us to keep fighting. If we do not come together as a community then things will get worse. They have gotten worse from previous years so we must continue to fight.”
Judging by the determination of the students on the picket line, many students will continue to fight for economic and social justice down the road. Some have even become involved with Occupy Utica as a result of the action. As a revised budget proposal that will save a number of teaching positions, albeit saddled with considerable sacrifices on the part of the Union, goes before a vote in May, perhaps teachers will join their students for the May Day labor rally and “Occupy” the School District.