They may not be able to count up to 99, but the children who picketed outside Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Midtown office today were chanting “We are the 99 percent!” Approximately 300 protesters–-a good hundred of whom were between 5 and 10 years old–delivered the governor pro-“Millionaire’s Tax” petitions with several thousand signatures from New Yorkers attending Occupy Wall Street.
Governor Cuomo has remained steadfastly opposed to extending the tax, which affects New Yorkers who make over $200,000 a year, despite its popularity with voters. He has faced several adult protests in support of the tax over the past few months. The “Millionaire’s Tax” is currently set to expire December 31.
“We wanted a new set of voices to add to the chorus,” Adam Grumbach, a high school social studies teacher from Park Slope who organized the demonstration, said.
His daughter Isabel, 6, who attends P.S. 10, held a cardboard tray of Hostess cupcakes she was selling for a dollar each, as part of a symbolic drive to raise $1.4bn that would compensate for cuts to the education budget. A picture of Gov. Cuomo–whom Mr. Grumbach referred to as “Governor Cupcake” was attached to the tray, with the caption, “Gov. Cuomo says, ‘Let them sell cupcakes!’”
“As we saw her class size growing every year, we said, ‘We’ve got to do something,” Mr. Grumbach, said. His children handed out copies of an essay he wrote in which he claimed Governor Cuomo’s supposed ambitions blinded him to the needs of ordinary New Yorkers.
With the day off from school thanks to Election Day, the found a way to engage in the political process despite being too young to vote. They drew dollar bills in colored chalk on the sidewalk and made signs with slogans like “Don’t Take Away Our Music Class,” “P.S. 29 Thinks Millionaire Rhymes With Fair And Share,” and “We Need Education More Than You Need Fancy Stuff.” Though unaware of the finer points of New York’s tax code, several of them were quick to voice their concerns about budget cuts to their schools.
“Some rooms are getting very, very big,” Stella Lapidus, 7, said of her second-grade class at P.S. 10. “The teacher has to yell a lot and say, ‘1,2,3, I want all eyes on me’ to get everyone’s attention. It’s nice and annoying at the same time.”
“I think kids are actually pretty smart,” said Democratic City Council member Brad Lander. “They know it doesn’t make any sense to give a nearly $5 billion tax break to millionaires and billionaires while defunding our schools. This is simple enough for elementary kids to understand – that everyone’s got to pay their fair share.”
Mr. Grumbach had succeeded in bringing families from all boroughs except Staten Island, though residents of Brooklyn’s gentrified areas heavily predominated.
The protesters marched around the block twice before parents delivered a series of speeches about the impact of cuts to their children’s schools. They bemoaned class sizes in the high 20s, cuts to gym classes and extracurricular programs, and a shortfall in school supplies.
“Our school is horribly overcrowded – we are about 200 students over the DOE number that’s written on the building,” Vicky Sell, was there with her six-year-old daughter Katherine, who attends P.S. 107 in Brooklyn and made a sign imploring Governor Cuomo not to “take any more money from my school.” “And we’re one of the lucky public schools. This is the 99 percent – the people trying to get an education through the public system – and the governor is not on their side. And I think people are going to remember that next time,” Ms. Sell said.
Supervised by a dozen policemen or so, the protesters made their way around the block once more before dropping yes/no ballots on renewing the millionaire’s tax into orange cardboard boxes. To loud cheers, Mr. Grumbach declared an overwhelming victory for the tax, at which point the protesters quickly dispersed.
“Look at these parents,” Noah Gotbaum, a father of three from the Upper West Side and member of Manhattan District 3’s Community Education Council, said. “Do you see any anarchists? Freaks? Anti-Semites? Ninety-five percent of them are from the brownstones and they’ve never been out to protest school cuts before. This is the start of something big.”