A crowd gathers for the “Rally Against Hate” at Tompkins Square Park yesterday. Photo by Rebeca Corleto.
On the 10th day of President Donald Trump’s administration, a protest in New York City was nothing new. But in light of several executive orders signed by the president in under two weeks, a renewed sense of urgency ignited the protest at Tompkins Square Park in the East Village yesterday.
The scene was covered with homemade signs supporting immigrants, refugees, women, and equality.
“No hate, no fear, everyone is welcome here,” chanted the crowd.
President Trump’s opposition has a lot to protest about. No less than 15 executive orders have been signed so far. Cristina Montanez of the Lower East Side, couldn’t decide which was the most upsetting to her.
“It’s really hard to single one out,” said Montanez. “It’s just all so disappointing, what’s happening right now. Everything is just terrible. The immigration ban, abortion, the wall.”
Montanez came to the rally with her husband and two young children. The family is originally from Queens and now lives on the Lower East Side. After hearing about the “Rally Against Hate” from her daughter’s school, the family decided to show support.
“We are going to support full throttle and we are going to stand behind the organizers because we have no other choice right now,” she said.
Like millions of Americans, Montanez is the daughter of immigrants. Her parents came to the U.S. from Colombia in the 1960s. When President Kennedy was assassinated, her mother cried. On the night of the election, Montanez herself cried.
“It touches home,” she said. “My parents are immigrants. And I’m a woman. I can’t believe that this is happening. I’m feeling confused, anger, shock. I’m scared for my kids. There’s going to be a revolution or something. This is the land of immigrants.”
Seth Tobocman took his personal protest a step further. Tobocman is a New Yorker since 1976, and a resident of the Lower East Side. Find a protest in NYC in the past two weeks and you’d likely see Tobocman there—handing out his paper, “How Do We Fight Back? “The paper features contact information of many organizations leading the Trump resistance movement, illustrated with political cartoons. The paper answered the question asked by many protestors: What can I do next?
“We got together a list of organizations—people want to figure out how to get involved,” said Tobocman. “Beyond going out to something once. People look into things long-term and they get involved in organizations. This paper is just one to help people organize.”
Melody Estevez, 22, joined her fellow members of the Lower East Side Girls Club at the rally. The group also attended the Women’s March on NYC on January 21st.
“The ban is the most concerning issue to me,” said Estevez. “He’s marginalizing the wrong people, and not really getting to the root of the issue. And he’s avoiding the real issues here—like gun rights.”
As immigrants or children of immigrants, many of the girls that Estevez works with at the Lower East Side Girls Club were worried about their futures after hearing the recent executive orders.
“[The girls] are freaking out and they come to the club and we just tell them that we are fighting for you,” she said. “We are trying to spread the word about knowing your rights. Know what you can do if someone comes to your door.”
Estevez hoped that with enough physical support at rallies like this one, the message would reach the administration.
“We’re coming out in great numbers, and it’s not violent. We are peaceful. We are pro-people. And we are here to show him [Trump] that if he keeps doing these types of things, we’re just going to keep coming out. That’s the fight ahead.”
Hundreds of protesters gathered Monday at Tompkins Square Park Rally Against Hate, and many carried creative signs including this unofficial quote from Lady Liberty herself. Photo Credit: Cassidy Morrison
Hundreds gathered at Tompkins Square Park tonight for the Rally Against Hate, displaying signs that supported an end to racism, the ban on Muslim refugees, the proposed building of a border wall, and women’s reproductive rights. This was just the latest in a week fraught with protests and marches against the new Trump Administration’s executive actions.
The recent proliferation of protests and grassroots movements points to increased public discourse on politics and human rights. The Rally Against Hate was one example of an energized city eager to invoke change in Washington.
“This is a school night, and look how many people are here,” Sheryl Nelson, 41 of the West Village said, pointing to her 12-year-old son. “There have been protests in D.C. in the past about pro-choice, against nuclear war, what have you, and I feel like I’ve never seen so many people out protesting.. I think that elected officials will see that people are showing up and protesting and chanting, and hopefully that will inspire them to do the right thing,” Nelson said.
Rather than dwelling on the fear that permeates throughout the country, protesters expressed their optimism that public demonstrations would inspire the public at large to get involved with a cause that they care about.
“I wish we didn’t have to do it this way, but the good side is that we have a lot of people active,” said Tamira Wyndham, 48 of the East Village. “My purpose here is to encourage people to do more than just attend protests, but also to get involved with an organization and work on specific things, whether they want to change a law or whatever they want to do.”
Wyndham stressed the need for protesters to go further than attending a demonstration.
“I think protests are really important, but I don’t think they’re enough by themselves,” Wyndham said. “A one-time protest is great, but it doesn’t do anything by itself. You have to keep the pressure. These are great, but there needs to be more.”
Amid loud chants of “Dump Trump”, protesters chatted excitedly with their neighbors. They complimented each other’s signs. They munched side by side on free vegan donuts being passed around.
“I think this woke something up in people, it got people off the couch and on the streets instead of complaining,” said Joy Lau, 32 of the East Village. “When I came here and saw that there are so many people actually protesting, putting in their time, standing in the cold, I see that we all need this support.”
Lau, among others, expressed the importance of carrying on widespread movements and protests like this one, in order to give people a new outlet for expressing themselves while remaining in solidarity with one another. This was not, in her view, sore losers commiserating but rather hopeful citizens showing strength.
“I don’t know if this is the new normal because it’s not normal at all,” Lau said.” I think it’s actually good that all of us came out in the first week. It’s like a frog being put in slowly boiling water. If this came out slowly, we might not notice it. We know that we have to take action. The feeling is that we have to do something right now.”
Lau’s urgency has been echoed across the country and will, in her view and in that of many, continue throughout the next four years as more people feel the need to let their voices be heard.
For one week, 11 art students at Cooper Union turned the top floor of the Foundation building into a media command center. They boarded themselves in with homemade wood and steel barricades, a hot plate, laptops, and cell phones; they issued communiqués, coordinated with students organizing on the outside via Skype, and talked with reporters. The move was an escalation in a series of salvos between students and the administration over the future of the school.
Free tuition for every student seems like a foreign notion, but for the students at Cooper Union, it is considered a right, because every accepted student, regardless of citizenship status or income level, receives a full scholarship. In order to manage the school’s precarious financial situation, which was exacerbated during the recent financial crisis, President Jamshed Bharucha announced the school would begin charging tuition to graduate students and more recently has hinted at the possibility of charging undergraduates tuition triggering a firestorm of dissent from students, alumni, and faculty.
“This was always in our minds as the next step,” said Tyler Berrier, a 21-year-old art student, and one of the eleven students who participated in the lock-in.
While initially the occupiers declared they wouldn’t leave the room until their demands had been met, including public affirmation of the value of free tuition and President Bharucha’s resignation, they left because they said they had accomplished what they had set out to do: spark a larger conversation around the value of higher education.
The occupying students worked in concert with other students who organized teach-ins, rallies, and hosted a series of lectures with academics, artists, and activists speaking about the burden of student debt. They worked in tandem with activists at Occupy Wall Street and broadened their scope to include students from CUNY and other schools.
“It was more of a catalytic action that would bring people together,” said Berrier.
The prospect of student debt is not far from Cooper Union students’ minds. According to a study by the Institute for College Access & Success, student loans average $25,600 per student for the class of 2011, up 5% from the previous year. Tuition at Cooper Union is valued at $38,550.
“It’s not something that I have to think about, having been able to go to Cooper, and being able to afford my living expenses,” said Casey Gollan, a senior in the school of art and another one of the occupiers talking about student debt. “But all of my friends deal with it.”
“It doesn’t seem like a sustainable solution for the world where students are given so much debt and they have to spend most of their lives paying it off,” he said.
Cooper Union is one of only a handful of schools that still offers its students a full scholarship. Founded by Peter Cooper, a member of the working class who eventually became a wealthy industrialist during the Industrial Revolution, free tuition for all has been a guiding principle of the school. Despite his eventual wealth, Cooper always considered himself part of the working class.
“He did not think of himself as a capitalist because he had come up from the trade and was largely uneducated,” said Peter Buckley, a historian in the humanities department at Cooper Union, who is currently working on a book about the history of the school. “It was supposed to be a free education for the working classes .” Cooper began the school as a night school so that working men and women “who wished to improve their chances in life” would be able to attend.
In order to cover operating costs, Cooper had a system where a small class of about 15 students, who could afford it, paid tuition to defray the costs for the rest of the students. This model continued until the early 1880s until the Cooper family rented out two floors of the Foundation Building that sits on Cooper Square and eradicated the amateur program. In its first capital campaign the Cooper family, along with a generous donation from Andrew Carnegie, established the school’s endowment.
In the August letter, President Bharucha tasked each of the three degree-granting institutions—Arts, Architecture, and Engineering—with the unenviable job of coming up with a solvency plan for their department, resulting in outcries from students, alumni, and faculty—many of whom believe that it was an underhanded move to force faculty to make the uncomfortable demand for undergraduate tuition.
“At the moment, they are outsourcing the decision, because even the trustees don’t want to be the ones getting rid of 100 years of tradition,” said Buckley.
“They are doing this work that is fundamentally against the mission of the school, their personal beliefs as educators and they are being intimidated into it,” said Kristi Cavataro, a junior in the art school, and one of the occupiers. “I know those of us in this room have a lot of faculty support in what we’re doing.”
Other groups have offered alternative financial plans, chief among them is Friends of Cooper Union, a coalition of alumni, faculty, and students dedicated to keeping the school financially solvent while protecting its centerpiece of free tuition for all.
“They’re building out these hybrid programs,” said Henry Chapman, a spokesperson for Friends of Cooper Union and a 2010 alumnus of the art program referring to establishing new graduate programs as a means to generate revenue. “It’s an extremely questionable path.”
Rather than pursue these revenue-generating graduate programs, which would require startup costs and which would not surmount the shortfall for the foreseeable future, Chapman argues that the school should focus on expense reduction while remaining a tuition-free institution. Friends of Cooper Union believes that implementing a tuition charge would ultimately work against the school because it would lose its main selling point, and ultimately make it less competitive.
“Tuition would certainly influence who applies and who elects to accept Cooper’s enrollment offers,”he said. “It would also diminish Cooper’s prestige and ability to attract leaders in the field of each discipline.”
Many students, faculty, and alumni believe that what is at stake is more than mere tradition, but rather an educational philosophy that has become endangered.
“Even a small embodiment of 19th century idealism can seem so unexplainable to a lot of people today,” said Professor Buckley. “These dreams were alive that anyone with talent could have a free higher education.”
“A lot of people want to look at Peter Cooper and the history of this place, but to me the stronger argument is the state of higher education today,” said Gollan. “It doesn’t make sense to give the next generation chains from the get-go.”
According to Buckley, Cooper himself would be horrified by the burden of student debt. “Debt was for his class a form of enslavement,” said Buckley. “I do think that if he were alive today he would see that college tuition loans were making a new form of enslavement for the American middle class.”
For now, students and faculty will have to wait to see what happens. The school has announced that it won’t make any plans until the new year.
“I’m just not willing to give in to that’s the way the world works,” said Gollan. “If we can stand up for it here and other places too like CUNY, it’s not going to have to be that way. Higher education is really worth it. But that cost can’t be passed to students over the course of the rest of their life.”