Tuesday afternoon saw several education groups, two city council candidates and a State Senator gather at 740 Park Ave. on Upper East Side to help launch the “Protect Students, Not Billionaires” campaign, started by the Alliance for Quality Education (AQE). The co-op where the protest took place is one of the city’s “Tower of Power” because of its ultra-wealthy residents.
With megaphones and large signs demanding how much money can be used towards public education, about 40 people from various progressive organizations including AQE, New York Communities for Change, Make the Road New York, Citizen Action of New York, and the Democratic Socialists of America rallied for about two hours. State Senator Robert Jackson (D-Washington Heights, Inwood) spoke at the rally, as did city council candidates Johanna Garcia (D) for Manhattan’s District 10 and Adolfo Abreu (D) for the Bronx’s District 14.
Amidst chants of “Education is a right! Corporate greed we must fight!” and “Tax the Rich! Fund Our Schools!” in both English and Spanish, several speakers spoke to those gathered, with hopes that those inside of the luxury apartment building would hear them. Many voiced their dismay and anguish towards Governor Andrew Cuomo (D), saying the governor was cozying up to billionaires too much.
“I know how important education is,” said Jackson. “And I know that it takes us out in the streets to communicate to our leaders, our legislators, and all of the individuals that support education, that we need money!”
With the crowd cheering, Jackson continued to say, “If you don’t believe it, tell the rich to switch with us! And let me tell you, they won’t do it.”
Before Jackson spoke, both Garcia and Abreu took their turns in speaking during the rally, first in Spanish and then in English.
“Do we deserve better than what we’ve been getting from the governor?” Garcia asked into the megaphone. “It is a crime that we have been dealing with generations of injustices. And still in a pandemic, the dark souls and dark hearts that have denied us the justice of funding our schools, still deny us! When you don’t have a strong school, it means that someone has disinvested and turned their back on that community.”
Abreu concurred, taking a direct shot at Cuomo for not making the 1 percent pay their fair share.
“The last 10 years, we’ve had a governor who has coddled to the millionaires and the billionaires,” Abreu said. “Instead of going back to us and our communities.”
Other speakers included Tanesha Grant, CEO of Parents Supporting Parents, who wept as she spoke about the lack of laptops and WiFi services for the nearly 70,000 public school students without those resources.
“No one wants to come here,” she cried. “And see all the resources that you take from our babies.”
Another speaker, Jose Vilson, a former math teacher in Upper Manhattan, who now is a board member of the National Board of Professional Teaching Standards, went over a graph on a poster, which displayed how much billionaires make compared to the average person. He wondered aloud about how Governor Cuomo could be a Democrat while catering towards billionaires.
Zakiya Ansari, the Advocacy Director at AQE, opened and closed the rally, saying the hoarding of wealth was killing communities. She also criticized Governor Cuomo recently allowing low-income families to pay $15 per month for Internet access.
“It should be free!” Ansari said, adding how that $15 could pay for baby formula, diapers, and part of an electric bill. “He’d rather protect his billionaire buddies.”
At the end of the rally, Ansari said that while not everyone in the building was a bad person or knew about how public schools are funded, it was time they did know.
During the protest, many drivers waiting at the red light watched and listened with curiosity. One van driver beeped his horn in solidarity. At the beginning, while those in attendance said their chants, two young women giggled as they heard the crowd’s demands.
Tuesday’s protest was a second part of a campaign created by Alliance for Quality Education. Earlier in the day, there was a social media campaign with the hashtag #ProtectStudentsNotBillionaires being used. Elected officials, such as Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, State Senator Jabari Brisport and Assemblyman Harvey Epstein were among those using the hashtag to show their support.
740 Park Avenue is home to known billionaires such as Howard Marks of Oaktree Capital Management, Stephen Schwarzman of the private equity firm, Blackstone, and Kent Swig of Swig Equities. It is the former home of John D. Rockefeller and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis.
When the building’s property management firm, Brown Harris Stevens, was contacted via email to see if it had any comment regarding the protest and the demands of the protests, there was no response at press time.