Budget Cuts Draw Ire, Protests at City Hall

Sarah Laskow | May 13th, 2011

A crowd gathers Downtown to protest budget cuts.

Yesterday, in Downtown New York, inside and outside of City Hall, advocates for struggling New Yorkers, strapped by budget cuts, pushed to change those realities.

Inside City Hall, the council held a hearing on the bill that would require developers who receive city grants worth more than $100,000 to pay employees a minimum of $10 per hour, with benefits, or $11.50 per hour, without. The majority of the council members at the hearing favored the bill, in spite of a study the Bloomberg administration released this week saying it would kill jobs. Lawmakers like the bill’s sponsor, Oliver Koppell, disagreed with that analysis and insisted that taxpayer money should not be used to fund jobs that paid “poverty wages.”

Speaker Christie Quinn did not attend the hearing. Quinn could block the bill from coming to a vote and has not revealed whether or not she supports the effort.

Outside City Hall and other points downtown, union members, teachers, housing advocates, gay rights and thousands of other activists gathered to protest budget cuts and push for tax cuts for the wealthiest New Yorkers. A coalition of community groups and unions organized the march under the banner of “On May 12.” Their message: “Make the Banks Pay!”

“If you’re not a millionaire, you might be interested in this,” one protestor, flush with flyers, called to passers-by. She stood on the edge of a small column of protestors, who were practicing falling silent. At a signal, they stopped chanting and held up their fists.

Confusion is characteristic of protests, but there is something to be said for gathering at one starting point, following a set-route and reconvening in a large open space to listen to well-mic’ed speakers. This one followed a different model. Protestors gathered a eight different points and gradually merged together. Bringing up the rear of the last line to join was a phalanx of police officers as numerous as any of the dissatisfied contingents participating in the protest.

Midway through the march, on a stretch of Water St., on either side of its intersection with Wall St., the march paused as people filled the sidewalks. At this point, marchers were meant to spread out along the street and attend teach-ins, each 15 minutes long and focusing on an issue like housing or immigration rights. But most of the people holding teach-in signs were unsure when they should begin the teach-ins, and it was difficult to find a place where issue advocates had gathered a group of fellow protestors around in order to share the information they’d prepared.

Many of the suited men watching the march — leaning against buildings, on cigarette breaks, or squeezing passed the protestors –wore slight, bemused grins. If the protest had any immediate impact on them, it was probably more along the lines of blocking the legions of black, chauffeured town cars stalled in traffic.