Protest voices roar at Capitol

From Lafayette Park to the state Business Council offices to New York’s Capitol, there was no silenc

From Lafayette Park to the state Business Council offices to New York’s Capitol, there was no silencing the message roaring from the Occupy Albany movement.

Bolstered by bus loads of protesters from western New York and aided by a strong labor union presence, organizers on Thursday led a peaceful group of roughly 500 people on a two-block loop through the city on the two-month anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. The day culminated with the group flooding into all three entrances of the Capitol to demand the Legislature extend the so-called millionaire’s tax before it expires on Jan. 1.

Deafening chants from the protesters filled the Capitol as state police watched. Four troopers stood sentry outside Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s second-floor office. The protesters asked to meet with the governor or his staff but were rebuffed. Cuomo, who was in Albany, did not respond.

“For him to not meet with us is empowering us more,” said Eyad Alkurabi of Clifton Park, who led chants among the protesters throughout the day.

Eventually, the group marched to the third floor Senate offices to drop off a proclamation, shouting, “the people, united, will never be defeated.” Outside the Senate offices, Rosemary Rivera of Rochester read a resolution to enact an extension of the income tax surcharge.

“This is our moment,” she said to uproarious cheers.

Two protesters were allowed to enter the chambers and hand the proclamation to the staff. The offices were largely empty, but Citizen Action of New York campaign director Jessica Wisneski said that it didn’t matter — the group’s message was resonating.

“This is just in case Senator [Dean] Skelos needs an idea of what to do at the end of the year,” she said outside the Senate majority leader’s office.

National effort

The protest was among dozens that occurred from coast to coast as part of a national day of action. Massive protests inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement swept through New York City and Los Angeles on Thursday, prompting hundreds of arrests.

In Albany, City Police stayed on the periphery. An Albany Police spokesman said there were no arrests during the protest and the demonstration in the Capitol appeared orderly.

Demonstrators also surrounded the offices of the Business Council of New York on Washington Avenue. Bob Cook, an organizer from Buffalo, said the group was voicing its displeasure with the council because it supports ending the millionaire’s tax, which will save the wealthiest New Yorkers an estimated $5 billion.

“Listen up, business council — it’s time to put the people first,” he shouted to the crowd gathered outside.

Earlier in the day, the Occupy Albany encampment in Academy Park marched to the center fountain at the state-owned Lafayette Park, where state police have been regularly arresting protesters for violating curfew. Protesters were joined by union leaders, who gave speeches decrying inequities, including the seemingly diminishing tax burden on the affluent.

“We want economic fairness for all,” shouted Ken Brynian, the president of the Public Employees Federation, as the crowd repeated his words. “We want good jobs for all. We want health care for all. And we want the rich to pay their fair share.”

Andy Pallotta, the executive vice president of the New York State United Teachers, blasted Cuomo for insisting education across the state take cuts, while the governor refuses to support extending the millionaire’s tax. He described Cuomo as being “the 1 percent” of wealthy Americans.

“They tell us to share the sacrifice and lay off 10,000 teachers,” he shouted to the crowd through a megaphone. “Well, how are our children supposed to learn without teachers?”

28 days

The protest in Albany Thursday marked the 28th day and the encampment in Academy Park has maintained a steady presence of more than three dozen tents. Like its now-defunct predecessor in Zuccotti Park, Manhattan, the Occupy Albany encampment has established amenities including a makeshift kitchen with sink and grill, a mess hall, a library, and a sanitation area.

The group has caused friction between the Cuomo Administration and Albany officials. Albany County District Attorney David Soares has so far refused to prosecute protestors arrested for violating the 11 p.m. curfew in Lafayette Park, but state police continue to issue citations.

Occupy Albany is organizing another rally for Lafayette Park on Saturday in defiance of the governor. Andrew Kenefick of Albany, one of the organizers who was among the first arrested in the park, said the curfew is yet another example of Cuomo trying to suppress a popular movement.

“It’s nonsense,” he said. “The Constitution protects our right to air our grievances whether it’s day or night.”

Thursday’s protest extended beyond the diehard campers and visitors. Some workers from around Albany drifted into the midst of the movement to offer support, even if it was only for their lunch break.

Mary Woods of Schenectady, who works as a clerk downtown, skipped lunch to voice her disappointment over the expiration of the millionaire’s tax. She said the struggling middle class can’t bear any more.

“I’ve had to pitch in and everyone else has pitched in,” she said. “It’s time for the millionaires to pay their fair share.”

Bev Alves, a retired teacher from Ephratah, said the protest movement is about showing the widespread and growing discontent for the state of the nation. She said corporate greed is undermining society and giving steam to the growing protests.

“This is just the beginning,” she said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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