Bloombergville: Students Camping in to Fight NYC Mayor's Austerity Plans
On day 10 at Bloombergville: The rain has dampened the signs and the protester’s spirits a bit. “We didn’t envision how gruelling it would be,” says Teresa Stern an older Hunter college student and member of Social Workers For A Free CUNY. It was 3 o’clock in the afternoon and protesters were eating, discussing topics ranging from Greece’s sure demise to the final plans for tonight’s public assembly meeting that’s supposed to have drummers and live entertainment. Wednesday night there was a teach-in by famed Professor and activist Frances Fox Piven. She encouraged the protesters by reminding them that the Civil Rights movement started out with a handful and became one of the greatest forces for change in the nation. She encouraged them to form alliances and never give up.
The story about how it all began is as cloudy as understanding who’s still involved. Students at CUNY seem to be the main players in all of this and activists that participated in the March 24th, Day of Rage protest against the budget cuts. Alliances were made and ideas of doing a sleep-in were formalized and Bloombergville, inspired by Walkerville the satirized sleep in camp outside of City Hall in Madison, Wisconsin, was coronated. New Yorkers Against Budget Cuts, the coalition formed out of the CUNY Mobilization Network, is comprised of some union members, student organizations and activists affiliated with the Union Square Speakout. Union members from Trade Worker's Union (TWU) and the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) have shown support by sending members, providing meals and giving the protesters supplies for making posters. Some of the most surprising participants are high school students who stop by to show their support and some have even slept overnight.
The different agendas and political affiliations of the Bloombergvillers aren’t lost on the individual participants. Stern believes that their common bond is that they all agree that there’s something wrong with the way the city is governed and that subversive and purposely shocking action is needed to shake people out of their jaded apathy. “The more innovative the resistance, the protest, the more impact we could make on the public and New York City, “ says Emily Turonis, who Stern dubbed the ‘Culture Queen’ of Bloombergville. Turonis is part of the Organization For A Free Society and co-ordinates the creative action and some events at B-ville. During the day she goes with other protesters through the subways to talk about the budget cuts and hand out flyers.
At noon and 6pm everyday they have a public rallies where events take place and momentum is built. Both Turonis and Stern credit these planned daily events with keeping Bloombergville alive and boosting the morale among the participants. The idea for the daily events came from a Walkerville protester that’s now involved with B-ville. In fact, the both ‘villes’ have maintained communication. Gilbert Johnson, the President of AFSCME Local 82 at the University of Wisconsin Milwaukee sent a letter in solidarity to the protesters saying, “From Walkerville to Bloombergville, the demands of justice by the people will be seen, heard, and tasted. With so many foreign countries calling for freedom and democracy, how can America and Americans turn a deaf ear to the pleas of their citizens to that which is suppose to be native to our country.”
Harriet Rowan was a protester at Walkerville ran the “Information Station” inside City Hall during the Madison occupation. Although she hasn’t had direct contact with the protesters, she’s followed the developments and supports their efforts. Walkerville continues with a sing-along everyday at lunch with self written songs and other well known protest songs. We know that Governor Walker passed his union busting bill, but Rowan credits their efforts with simply raising awareness. Her advice to her counterparts in New York, “build a strong sense of community, meet with the people and go to town hall meetings.”
B-villers have already followed the advice. They have a civility pledge that they go over daily for new members. They’ve set up various committees to take specific responsibilities and carry out daily duties. Ashley Straw is a part of the Tactical committee where she overseas police negotiation and resolves internal conflict among protesters and outsiders. The unassuming young woman has had to chase out drunks and sometimes homeless people that come into the camp. This again is where Walkerville differs. The Madison police were protective and respectful of the protesters and they in turn felt safe from outsiders. New York police, according to Stern have been mellow enough, but haven’t been proactive in protecting them from unwanted campers. Also, this being their sixth location, the camp has had to struggle with instability and changing venues. They have to be as close to the building and keep the sidewalks clear as much as possible. “They never want us to obstruct anything which defeats the purpose,“ Stern said of the police. She added that they comply because none of the protesters made commitments to getting arrested.
Tudonis, who is on the Cultural Committee, believes that the longevity of camp will be a result of the youth’s involvement. Withstanding the physical toll that sleeping on New York City’s concrete should be left mainly to the younger ones of the coalition she said. The 23 year old came back from Madrid and was eager to recreate the actions here. The “Indignados” or "Outraged" ones have been protesting in Madrid’s famed square for the similar austerity measures that are occurring in Spain. Bloombergvillers received a standing ovation and cheers all around in Puerta del Solwhen news of their efforts reached Spain.
But one doesn’t have to look to Spain to see the effects of Tahir Square and Wisconsin spreading. There’s talk of similar action beginning in Trenton New Jersey, Boston and Chicago. The seemingly loose alliances and slow building momentum are strengthened each day with visits from the like of Piven, City Council member Charles Barron, and with signatures on their declaration from Noam Chomsky.
Even media coverage is improving. Russia Today, an English language Russian news site reported on the lack of mainstream American coverage, but that no longer is the case. Slow and steady seems to be the motto of Bloombergvillers and they plan to continue to endure until Wednesday 29th June when the city is expected to vote on a final budget. Stern outlines the victory for the B-villers as such, “Reconstruct the budget, return the millionaires tax, restore and rebuild public service.” But like Walkerville, they may have already succeeded in what all of these efforts have all achieved worldwide: shake youth out of the status quo inertia that until now has defined the generation.
**Update: City Council is voting on a Budget deal today and theBloombergvillers are protesting today at 8pm.