Sunday, June 26, 2011

Bloombergville: New Yorkers Occupy Streets to Protest Budget Cuts

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New Yorkers Occupy Streets to Protest Budget Cuts
By Elizabeth Whitman
Bloombergville organisers hold assembly meetings twice daily to discuss
concerns and plan events.

Credit:Elizabeth Whitman/IPS_ (
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NEW YORK, Jun 25, 2011 (IPS) - They have taken over a strip of the
sidewalk at Park Place and Broadway, handing out flyers to passersby and taping
posters to the ground and to the metal crossbars of the scaffolding that
shelters them from the rain.

They sleep here too, on the sidewalk, and hold assembly meetings twice
daily for people to raise concerns and plan events. Their bottom line: no
budget cuts.

Calling their takeover and sleep-in _Bloombergville_
( - an allusion to the infamous shanty towns known as Hoovervilles
that sprung up during the Great Depression - they are _New Yorkers Against
the Budget Cuts _ ( (NYABC), a coalition of
different groups and individuals united by their opposition to Mayor
Michael Bloomberg's proposed budget for next year and their determination to
press the City Council not to adopt it.

Bloomberg, citing debt and decreases in state and federal aid, proposed to
cut funding for public services including higher education, libraries, and
child care as part of his approximately 65- billion-dollar budget for the
fiscal year 2012 (Jul. 1, 2011 through Jun. 30, 2012). He also wants to
eliminate jobs for over 6,000 teachers - 4,100 through lay-offs and 2,000
through attrition - and close 20 firehouses.

Negotiations on the mayor's proposal are ongoing in the City Council,
which must adopt a budget by Jun. 30, although it "may change budget priorities
and add 'terms and conditions' on the expenditure of appropriated city
funds," according to the City Council website.

Since Jun. 15, Bloombergville and NYABC have been staging their sleep-in
or, as several participants deemed it, "occupation", to protest the cuts and
lay-offs and are currently in their sixth location, having moved due to
rain and police.

Their assemblies usually average 30 to 50 people, and 70 people spent the
first night.

"Bloombergville is an encampment to intensify and strengthen the struggle
against austerity in New York City," reads the _Bloombergville Declaration_
( . "We are in active solidarity
with those refusing any and all cuts."

During the day, members participate in rallies, marches, and other forms
of public action to spread awareness of the budget issue and garner
attention to their cause. In the mornings and evenings, they gather in assembly
meetings to plan these events and to discuss issues that anyone might raise.

"Definitely not enough people" are aware of the circumstances surrounding
the budget cuts, Emily Turonis, the only member who has slept at the
encampment every night, told IPS. She says people's involvement and awareness
reflects how much they believe they'll be affected by the budget cuts.
Moreover, "people don't know the severity" of the cuts, she added.

"Every basic social service in this city is going to get hit," said Yotam
Marom, one of the leaders of the coalition.

Turonis suggested ending tax cuts for the wealthy as a source of possible
revenue, noting that the city has a three-billion-dollar surplus even as
Bloomberg plans to cut funding for essential public services.

However, Ronnie Lowenstein, director of the nonpartisan _Independent
Budget Office_ ( , said in an _interview with WNYC_
surplus/) that the term surplus was "misleading" because the amount has
already been taken into account for next year's budget.

"You could use that three billion dollars for something else - you could
use it for a tax cut - but you would have to do something else to bring next
year into balance, and it's as simple as that," he said.

Nevertheless, Bloombergville's short-term aim "isn't even radical",
Turonis said. Its participants simply want the city to "stop creating loopholes
that allow gross profits" for the wealthy and for large corporations.

The coalition aims to enforce this point and "draw more people" to the
cause, said Larry Hales, a founder of NYABC, by maintaining a "constant

"Bloombergville is yet another example of everyone approaching these
budget negotiations with a spirit of 'shared sacrifice' except for Mayor
Bloomberg," Laura Banish, coordinator for the City Council Progressive Caucus,
told IPS.

"We're facing some of the worst cuts in decades and being told that
there's no other choice. That's simply not true. We have options, and cutting
vital social services is not one of them," she added, calling those who
participated in the sleep-in inspiring.

A spokesperson for Council Member Jumaane Williams, a Brooklyn Democrat,
told IPS that Williams was "staunchly against" the budget cuts.

City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn and Finance Chair Domenic M.
Recchia Jr. wrote in the Council's response to the preliminary budget that
"further cuts in critical service areas endanger not only the progress we have
made in many areas… but also the welfare and safety of New York City

In a statement, they also said that the Council had presented several
alternate budget proposals that offered savings through cuts in contracts or
cuts in city agencies different from what Bloomberg proposed.

But Hales remained sceptical of the steps the Council said it has taken or
ideas it has put forward, dismissing it as political rhetoric and empty

Though NYABC members hail from a variety of groups and backgrounds, some
seem to share a common vision of what change needs to happen in New York and
the United States as a whole, beyond the immediacy of the Bloombergville
protests and the passing of next year's budget. They have infused the
structure of Bloombergville with this vision.

The coalition envisioned "democracy in a public space", said Turonis, and
it created that democratic space to reflect the vision that protesters were
demanding. The general assemblies provide that space - everyone gathers in
a circle and has the chance to voice his or her opinions and ideas, on any

Hales said, "What we need to do is build a people's movement" and
consolidate the organisations with a common aim but varying approaches, while Marom
offered a longer-term vision of a movement that would "reclaim space for
working people and oppressed people".

But even with these future visions and aims, ultimately, the budget that
the Council will adopt remains to be seen.

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