Rally reaches Cuomo’s door

“Occupy Albany” briefly occupied the “War Room” in the state Capitol around noon Thursday, as protes

“Occupy Albany” briefly occupied the “War Room” in the state Capitol around noon Thursday, as protesters pressed the idea of an extension of the “millionaire’s tax.”

In a scene resembling budget protests this spring, about a hundred protesters formed a circle in the second-floor room filled with murals depicting historic battles. The site is adjacent to the office of Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who was labeled “Governor 1 percent” by the crowd, which claims to represent the “99 percent.” During the entire protest, and for essentially the entirety of the local “Occupy” movement, the governor has been in New York City, so only the state police and reporters were there for the message.

A handful of speakers addressed the rowdy crowd, composed of campers from the nearby Academy Park and people who came to Albany for the event. They also challenged the country’s foreign policy, expressed solidarity with organized labor and touched on economic inequity. They argued that extending the state millionaire tax was a question of fairness.

Sharmin Hossain, a 19-year-old University at Albany student from Queens and veteran of “Occupy Wall Street,” highlighted all these causes as she mocked critics of the movement who say it lacks an agenda.

“Where are your demands?” she said. Then pointing to the room filled with signs advancing messages of peace, unity with Verizon workers and the millionaire’s tax, Hossain said, “I’m sorry, where aren’t our demands?”

Hossain expressed the crowd’s anger with Cuomo, even though she acknowledged his push for same-sex marriage. “I feel like if you balance it, his negatives definitely outweigh his positives,” she added.

Emphasizing the importance of the millionaire’s tax, Hossain said that should be the governor’s first priority for the next legislative session. The tax now is a surcharge on income above $200,000 imposed under David Paterson’s administration but due to expire at the end of this year. A new proposal in the Assembly would replace that with a surcharge on incomes of $1 million and above.

Echoing the tax focus was Schenectady resident Harold Miller, 30, of New York Communities for Change. He said the restoration of this surcharge would allow the state to avoid significant cuts to the budget. “We’re going to continue to put the pressure on the governor,” Miller said.

Recently Cuomo has reiterated his commitment to not renewing any version of the millionaire’s tax.

Included in the crowd were Verizon workers, who have been negotiating for better benefits with Verizon and in recent days have become linked with “Occupy Albany.”

Len Welcome, executive vice president of Communication Workers of America Local 1118, said, “We’re out here because we totally support the ‘Occupy Albany’ group.”

Specifically, he said they liked its message of taxing the rich.

“We are the 99 percent. [Occupy Albany is] spreading a message we’ve been trying to spread for years,” Welcome said. “We’re sitting at the bargaining table now with the 1 percent, being Verizon.”

While acknowledging that members of the public might have a negative view of organized labor, Welcome said the “Occupy” movement benefited from a clean slate. He added that his members were shedding their union labels to support this movement, which he argued was evidence that it had gone mainstream.

Differences remain. Welcome said, “Coming from a leader of a local union … it was a little different going and introducing myself to the group because there is no clear leader.”

After about an hour the speeches ended and the protesters peacefully exited the building into the rain. Some went to join nearby striking Verizon workers and other protesters returned to their encampment in Academy Park. During the protest at least a dozen uniformed state troopers looked on.

A ‘statewide’ general assembly will occur at 3 p.m. Saturday and it will be followed by a regional coordination working group meeting at 5 p.m.

Categories: Schenectady County

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