Ricardo Aca, on the left in blue, before he speaks to the crowd outside the Federal Building in downtown New York City. Photo by Farnoush Amiri
Ricardo Aca swayed nervously behind a cluster of microphones before he disclosed to the group of protesters, counter-protesters and press that he was a DREAMer, a status that he could lose in 10 months if congressional action isn’t taken. Aca was speaking at a rally in downtown New York City today in support of a clean DREAM Act, as the third and ultimately final day of the government shutdown began.
Six years ago, Aca was an undocumented immigrant working as a busboy at the Trump SoHo Hotel. Today, he has legal status and an associates degree in commercial photography. He is working towards a bachelors in international affairs at Baruch College. But with less than a year of certainty left and with Congress using DACA recipients as a leverage between party lines, Aca has decided to use his voice as his defense.
“We are here today because we condemn Donald Trump and congressional Republican leaders who have forced a government shutdown by insisting on Trump’s racist border wall and other anti-immigration policies,” Aca said.
Approximately nine hours after the rally, President Trump signed a bill that would reopen the government, funding it for the next three weeks and simultaneously putting a delay on legislative action for the DREAMers. This uncertainty has created a limbo for most recipients of the program and also puts those who are close to their renewal period ending at risk for deportation, which is why many of them have laid low in recent months. But not Aca, who interns at Make the Road New York, a public advocacy group for immigrant communities.
“Because if I don’t fight for myself then nobody is going to do it for me. I need to fight not only for myself but also for my parents who have fought for me my entire life,” Aca said. “They deserve dignity and justice and so do those 11 million undocumented immigrants, and if I don’t do that nobody else is going to do it for me.”
Aca is one of the nearly 800,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program that was devised by the Obama administration in 2012 to allow for undocumented immigrants who entered the country as minors to defer deportation.
Under the current administration, the program has been used as leverage against the Democrats in exchange for reinforcing stricter immigration laws, ultimately leading to the government shutting down on Jan. 19.
“This is where I consider my home. I pay taxes over here,” Aca said. “This is where I go to school. This is where my family and my friends are and so for congress not to be able to come up with a fix that is more permanent is very upsetting.”
The 27-year-old came to the U.S. from Puebla, Mexico, when he was 14 years old. Aca’s mom had pursued legal routes to come to the country but when those failed she found a job as a seamstress in a factory in New York and later arranged for Aca and his younger sister to cross the border through Arizona.
“(Congress) doesn’t care about people of color or immigrants who come to this country to work hard,” said LaShonda Lawson, a speaker at the rally who works as a security guard at the Statue of Liberty. “America should stand for freedom and inclusiveness. That is what I think about every day when I go to work. I see hundreds of people come to the Statue of Liberty because she is a symbol of freedom.”
Most DACA recipients file for their renewal every two years in pursuit of that freedom. And at Monday’s rally, Aca shared what he and his fellow DREAMers have been doing since President Trump rescinded the program in September 2017.
“Instead of enjoying my life I have been constantly in the streets having to have my voice be heard because I know I deserve to be here,” Aca said. “This (amendment in the Senate) is only a temporary fix on a larger issue.”
Currently, the state of New York contains the third largest population of DREAMers, which has created a need for public officials and advocates to hold rallies, hearings and conferences in light of the recent attacks to the program. One of those officials leading the fight for young people like Aca is Carlos Menchaca, who serves as the city’s Chair of the Committee on Immigration.
“We are in front of Federal Plaza in New York City where New Yorkers from every corner of this city, like Ricardo, are saying one thing clearly: we want a DREAM Act now,” Menchaca said.
Green Party candidate Jill Stein rails against ‘greater’ and ‘lesser’ evil political parties at rally
Around 150 people rallied for the Green Party in the South Bronx Wednesday night where nominee Jill Stein pitched herself as an alternative to the “greater evil and the lesser evil” candidates in the 2016 presidential election.
“We’re looking at Hillary Clinton, who wants to start an air war with Russia over Syria, said Stein at the Hostos Community College Arts Center in the South Bronx. “We are looking at a climate which is in meltdown. One candidate believes in climate change, the other one doesn’t, but both of their policies will destroy the planet, so it doesn’t matter so much what you believe, it matters what you do.”
Stein’s running mate and human rights activist Ajamu Baraka and New York Senate candidate Robin Laverne Wilson were also at the rally.
Faye Gotlieb, 27, of St. George, Staten Island, said she had mainly been a Democrat supporter over the years, but felt she could no longer support the party when Bernie Sanders conceded the primary election.
“I feel like I can’t support Hillary Clinton based on her history and her policies,” she said. “I would like a better alternative—at this point, I think Jill Stein is actually the strongest candidate running, and the most progressive candidate running.”
Stein was not included in the debates because her national polling average of roughly 3 percent did not meet the 15 percent threshold set by the Commission on Presidential Debates.
Political cartoonist Eliot Crown, of the East Village, said he believed the Republican and Democratic parties were conspiring to keep Stein from having a legitimate shot at winning the election, pointing to the fact that Stein was not included in the presidential debates.
Crown said Stein was a needed alternative to the other parties, which he alleged are driven by corporate interests.
Stein said the Democrats have been disingenuous in their support of the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We’re looking at a crisis of racism,” Stein said. “The Democrats told their candidates, ‘Just pat Black Lives Matter on their heads and send them on their way. Don’t make any concessions.’
“That’s not how we’re going to solve this problem,” Stein said.
The Stein/Baraka ticket is on the ballot in 44 states, and the District of Columbia. The candidates qualified for write-in status in three additional states, which brings the number of states where voters can cast their ballot in support of the Green Party to 47.
“We’re looking at a crisis of immigration,” she said. “Donald Trump has said bar the gates to Muslims, but Hillary Clinton supported that policy towards Latinos. And the Democrats have been the party of deportation, detention and night raids.”
Paul Gilman, 57, of the South Bronx, is a spokesman for the New York Green Party on drug policy and was outside of the Hostos arts center demonstrating for the legalization of marijuana prior to the start of the rally.
Gilman said drug policy was one issue that was connected to other social and racial problems.
“As as the drug war itself, we’re totally aware of Black Lives Matter and what I call “the Michelle Alexander paradigm” of slavery to Jim Crow to the drug war,” Gilman said. “Once Jim Crow was collapsing, they reinvested in the drug war as a way of disenfranchising blacks, and some Latinos, but mostly blacks. They can’t vote; they lose their gun rights”
Asked how she responded to those who called her campaign a spoiler for the major progressive candidate in the race, Stein said abolitionist parties that stood up against slavery were also called spoiler parties.
“The establishment uses that name for anything they don’t like.” she said. “Right now we are looking at a race to the bottom between the greater evil and the lesser evil political parties.”
Allison Julien and Linda Vargehse represented Hand-in-Hand, an organization helping employers of domestic workers establish best practices. Photo by Amina Srna
Victoria Ascension, 27, works as the lead line cook at a new restaurant in Brooklyn. Her job description includes everything from prepping food, to expediting orders for a team of four male line cooks, and managing the kitchen staff’s payroll.
But she offered less pay then her male co-workers and had to fight for equal pay.
“I was initially offered two dollars less than the other cooks on the line,” said Ascension. “I know how much everyone makes and I had leverage to negotiate. My boss knows this, he just maybe thought that’s what I expected, to be paid less.”
Ascension’s story is way too common for working women, who nationally make 77 cents to every dollar that men make. It’s called the gender wage gap,. Yesterday was Equal Pay Day and nearly 40 organizations, along with unions, councilmembers, and elected officials, met on the steps of City Hall in New York City as a call for action.
A day before the rally, Public Advocate Letitia James released a report highlighting the wage gap for women who work in government agencies, citing that it is three times wider than those who work in the private sector.
“The very government that is supposed to protect our equal rights is the worst culprit of them all,” said James.
James outlined solutions to the wage gap in government, stating that employers shouldn’t ask about an applicants previous salary, since it’s bound to be lower, and that a task force should be put in place to comb through each government agency to ensure equitable pay and opportunities. A big part of that would mean creating a family friendly workplace.
“We no longer work nine to five, we need non-traditional childcare 24 hours a day,” said James.
This echoes the presidential nominees’ stump speeches, which put focus on the need for protecting families. In light of Equal Pay Day, Hillary Clinton addressed the issue of paycheck inequity head on at a Glassdoor Roundtable Discussion on the topic.
“Other countries have made it easier for women to be mothers and have careers, to be caretakers, especially of their parents, and have careers,” said Clinton. “Not out of altruism but because they know it’s foolish to let half the population’s talent and energy go unused.”
Compared to national averages, women working in New York City fair better than average, earning 91 cents to every dollar men make in the private sector. According to Comptroller Scott Stringer, that’s largely a façade created by city’s booming economy.
“Here’s the undercurrent of our homeless crisis,” said Stringer in a speech at the rally. “The women who struggle raising children because often times the men are not around, when you have a 20 percent pay gap, you’re ending up in a homeless shelter with your family and you can’t get out. This is as much a financial issues as it is a civil rights issue. “
Despite recent unanimous support from politicians, some think that the wage gap continues to persist because women choose fields that pay less than men, such as early childhood-education and psychology versus STEM fields.
Public Advocate James’s report shows that while women make 18% less than men, they are also concentrated in low-paying government sectors such as the Department of Education. This is compared to their male counterparts, who are found in the higher paying fields such as the Fire and Sanitation Departments. Despite this, women who work in historically female dominated jobs, such as teachers, are required to attain higher levels of educations for their careers.
“People used to call us daycare centers but we want people to know that we are all certified teachers,” said Lois Lee, the Vice President of the Council of Supervisors and Administrators.
Lee refers to the fact that preschool and daycare teachers are required to obtain levels of higher education in order to cover a range of instruction. This includes STEM, literacy, sports, and music in addition to social and emotional development. Yet these educators are undervalued and underpaid, Lee said, often earning as little as $9 per hour.
“Forty-five years of service, all my masters degrees and I’m still making 50,000 a year,” she said. “We work from seven-thirty in the morning to seven-thirty at night to provide for all the families but what do we sacrifice? Our own families.”
Dressed in blue T-shirts with bold, white writing that read “NYUnited,” and armed with homemade signs that boasted, “Big Brother is Watching” and “NYU is Against Profiling,” more than 100 students sat for a peaceful student address on the grand stairs at New York University’s Kimmel Hall this afternoon.
“Every time I go outside or I go to use to send a text message, I feel that I am being watched,” said Tabbassum Rahman, 21, a soft-spoken senior and Islamic Student Association board member. “No student should have to feel like this.”
NYU’s Islamic Student Association (ISA) organized the town hall event, which invited students and the NYU administration to unite and publicly respond to the recent AP report that unveiled details of NYPD surveillance of Muslim groups on college campuses throughout the Northeast. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has defended the surveillance as legal.
“We want a public apology from the NYPD to NYU students,” said Ahmad Raza, 22, the undergraduate chapter ISA president. “We have done nothing wrong.”
Moderated by student leaders Raza and Saaniya Contractor, 22, the event aimed to unify the campus body, bring awareness of NYPD surveillance on NYU campus, and address concerns regarding the impact of student life on campus.
The 12 guest speakers at the ISA unity event included staff and students from NYU School of Law, the College of Arts Sciences, as well as Imam Khalid Latif, executive director of the Islamic Center and a University/NYPD Chaplain, and Dr. Gabrielle Starr, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences.
“I speak on behalf of the university and President Sexton,” Dr. Starr said. “We stand in fellowship – shoulder to shoulder with our Muslim students.”
Also in attendance were campus clubs including Queer Union, Bridges Muslim-Jewish Interfaith Dialogue, Hindu Students Council, and Latinos Unidos Con Honor Y Amistad.
Several Muslim students who attended the event said that they now feel scared and uncomfortable when on campus.
“Some people, my friends, stopped coming to (ISA) meetings,” said Raza. “They said their parents don’t want them to come now that police are watching them.”
NYU’s President John Sexton sent a letter to Police Commissioner Ray Kelly on Thursday and expressed “dismay” over the police monitoring. He also addressed the universal feeling of unease on campus within the university’s Muslim community.
“Parents and students now wonder whether continued participation in the University’s Islamic community of worship is a risk; whether an opinion expressed at a student group meeting will end up in a government report; whether testing an argument or challenging conventional wisdom will cause one to become a suspect of some sort,” he wrote.
Immediately following the student address at Kimmel Hall, President Sexton held a town hall meeting to hear the ISA and students concerns.
“The letter was a great first step, but we need the NYPD to discontinue its surveillance and know that we aren’t just going to remain silent,” said Raza.
About 2,000 Occupy Wall Street protestors marched and drummed to Washington Square Park yesterday, filling the park to the brim in another demonstration of the growing movement.
No one was arrested, even though the conditions were so cramped in the center of the park that there was literally no room to move.
The focus of the rally was growth. Various members of the OWS working groups – including medical, food and sanitation workers – were present to introduce themselves, explain their roles in the movement and outline the practical tasks needed to keep the movement going, such as the opening and storing of donations that are coming in from around the world.
One by one organizers spoke to the massive crowd using “People’s Mic,” a communication tactic that doesn’t use illegal bullhorns or amplifiers. Instead, voices boomed in unison echoing each speaker’s short sentences so everyone could hear.
“The 99 percent have heard our call and they are supporting us,” a representative from the shipping and inventory working group said. “Our economy is strong and as we progress. Let’s show Wall Street the right way to handle stock.”
The crowd was also urged to start occupations in their own neighborhoods.
“You must start your own General Assembly in your community and occupy your own spaces,” speakers shouted. “Occupy Wall Street is a call to action. The future of this movement lies in our commitment to create the world we want to live in.”
The audience reacted with fingers wiggling up in approval.
Jaclynn Chiodini, 22, of Amherst, Mass., was in the crowd listening carefully for ways to support the homegrown revolution on her college campus. She started the Occupy University at Massachusetts chapter with friends and held a student walkout last week with nearly 200 participants.
“The inspiring thing about Occupy Wall Street is that it spreads to every single city,” Chiodins said. “We wanted to do something in our town and we realized as students, the only place we have direct power is at our university.”
Chiodini is staying the rest of the weekend at the overcrowded Liberty Plaza.
The movement is growing after four weeks of protest. There are “Occupy Together” events scheduled in 1,040 U.S. cities.
The media working group at Liberty Square is currently compiling contact information from sister occupations worldwide.
“We want a General Assembly in every backyard,” said Kira Annika, 19, of Portland, Ore.
Annika was one of the first protestors to arrive a few days before Sept. 17, the official start date of the movement. She is now with the public relations working group as an OWS spokesperson.
Annika believes the OWS General Assembly that occur twice a day is an essential part of the movement. It is part information session, part decision-making body and open forum. It breeds the idea that everyone gets heard, no matter what is said, and everyone gets to use the “People’s Mic.”
“The whole idea is that we can support each other,” she said.
She disagrees with critics who say the movement lacks direction. The end goal of all these occupations sprouting up is the rebuilding the American dream, Annika said.
“They are missing the point,” Annika said. “The demands right now are not the point. We don’t need concrete, specific, legislative goals and amendments. We need this process. This process is our demand right now. And we are winning, it’s coming up all over the place.”
She points to the solidarity of the movement and the elements of the camp that people are failing to see.
“Here we have healthcare, food, and shelter, if they would let us, air to breathe,” Annika said. “We have all of the basic human needs, and they are provided for anyone that comes through.”
As thousands continue to stream through Zuccotti Park daily, organizers said they are currently thinking about starting a second location locally. Occupy Brooklyn and Occupy Washington Square Park are ideas that have been thrown around.
Nicole Carty, 23, of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, who has been following the movement from the beginning, agrees that the overarching goals are what make it revolutionary and beautiful.
“The way it is constructed, it really is inclusive and very much different in that,” Carty said. “People can come and talk about their grievances. We are united on corporate greed that’s the bottom line issue, how we all approach it is different and this movement has the space for that, which is really important.”
Times Square was engulfed in protest Friday, as hundreds assembled to garner support for Georgia death row inmate Troy Davis.
It has been nearly 20 years since his conviction for the 1991 murder of off-duty Savannah, Ga., police officer Mark MacPhail in 1989. If carried out as planned, Davis’ execution would take place next Wednesday, his fourth scheduled execution in four years. The fight to save Davis has gone global with rallies and social media campaigns launched to stop the execution.
But Davis’ conviction has come under recent fire. With a lack of physical evidence, Davis’ conviction rested on the testimony of nine witnesses, seven of whom have recanted or altered their testimony, some even doing so under sworn affidavits.
With so much controversy swirling around the case, protestor Ferix Navarro, 22, of the Bronx, insisted that the protests were needed in order to put political pressure on the key decision makers in the Davis case.
“We’re in the middle of New York City,” Navarro said. “We’re trying to create pressure so that the Georgia board of paroles can understand that this is no joke. They are going to see us here. The entire city is going to see us here. This is Times Square, if you don’t see us here, you won’t see us anywhere.”
With the Georgia Board of Pardons and Paroles set to hear the case for possibly the last time on Monday, protestor Muriel Tellinghast of Brooklyn remained hopeful that the protests would have an impact on the board’s decision.
“I don’t know what it takes to move the board of pardons and paroles,” Tellinghast said. “We’re asking for them to reach inside of themselves and try to find the basis of American justice. To prove that justice does exist and does prevail in the state of Georgia, and they are willing to at least give a new trial.”
Crowds gathered to observe the large group of protestors as they attempted to increase awareness of Davis’ case.
King Tuck, 27, of Brooklyn, watched the protests from across 7th Avenue. He said the protestors made him more aware of Davis’ case.
“I feel good that people are coming together to save a life,” Tuck said. “Whether a man was wrong or right, I feel life is more important than death. There is a better way to do something to somebody than killing them. You can’t penalize a man for murder by killing him. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
The protests were sponsored by Amnesty International, which has been following the Davis case since it began, and according to CNN, has collected over 663,000 signatures on a petition opposing the death penalty for Davis.
Caesar Taylor, 30, another bystander from Brookyln said after listening to the protests he was skeptical about Davis’ case.
“There is some funky business going on down there,” Taylor said. “Many innocent people are in jail, not everyone in jail is guilty.”
Muhammad Tahir stood tall over the sea of umbrellas and patterned headscarves, his face solemn as he held a soggy sign high above the crowd.
Hundreds of others flashed similar posters, all with the same six words printed in bold, black and white letters: “Today, I am a Muslim Too.”
Nearly 1,000 protesters gathered yesterday in Times Square to rally against the upcoming congressional hearings on “radicalization” of Muslims in America. The hearings, proposed by Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) last year, are slated to begin this Thursday.
Tahir, 35, of Queens, who has lived in New York for 16 years, said it was only recently that he told his son—who was born four days after Sept. 11, 2001— about the World Trade Center attacks.
Still, Tahir said it did not prevent his son from feeling their effects.
“There was graffiti on the subway that said, ‘kill all Muslims,’” he said. “I was walking with my son and he said, “Dad, but I’m an American Muslim. It’s almost impossible to explain something like that to a child.”
According to a February Public Religion Research Institute survey, 56 percent of Americans consider the hearings “a good idea.”
Yet Cyrus McGoldrick, civil rights manager at the Council on American-Islamic Relations in New York (CAIR), said the hearings have also prompted a backlash from Muslims and other religious groups calling for King to reconsider.
McGoldrick added that so far, the senator plans to proceed as scheduled.
“We don’t expect our pressure will change his mind,” he said. “What we’re most concerned about is how the rhetoric will spread and perpetuate hate on the ground. By offsetting that rhetoric with a display of positive energy, our voice will be heard more clearly no matter what Peter King does in congress.”
The senator did not respond to requests for comment.
Ciara Ulloa, 19, of Queens, said she has been “harassed on the streets” for adorning a hijab, the traditional head covering worn by Muslim women.
“People have actually cursed me out when I wear these clothes,” she said, pointing at the purple paisley scarf wrapped around her hair.
Ulloa said that many times, it is her peers who launch the verbal attacks.
“At a tutoring center two years ago a kid called me a terrorist,” she said. “He told me Arabs weren’t welcomed there, that I probably had bombs in my backpack. I was born and raised in this country as were my parents I shouldn’t be treated any differently than any other non-Muslim American.”