PSC CUNY’s Brooklyn Bridge Budget March draws crowd of hundreds

Alexandra Adelina Nita, Graphics Editor

Hundreds of CUNY and SUNY staff, students and supporters blocked traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge in support of increased public education funding on March 6.

The Brooklyn Bridge Budget March, organized by the Professional Staff Congress of CUNY, began with speeches at Brooklyn Borough Hall by union presidents and legislators and finished with a second round of speeches at Foley Square that featured student speakers, including current student representatives.

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“We are saying that our students deserve the best,” James Davis, PSC’s president, said. “They deserve safe, clean buildings with excellent facilities. They deserve more academic advisement, more mental health counseling to support their progress toward their degrees. They deserve access to full-time faculty, professors with decent wages and job security who don’t have to rush off to the subway to their next gig.”

The union’s demands included providing an additional $250 million for each CUNY and SUNY in the state budget.

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The New York State Senate and Assembly are expected to release their one-house budgets in the upcoming days in response to Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget proposal. The final state budget is set to be finalized by April 1.

The union also supported the New Deal for CUNY legislation, sponsored by Democrats Andrew Gounardes in the Senate and Karines Reyes in the Assembly, both of whom spoke at the march.

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If passed, the legislation would provide $1.7 billion in funding to CUNY over the course of five years and make CUNY tuition-free, for which there exists historic precedent. CUNY was free for qualifying city students from its foundation in 1847 to 1976.

The New York City Council called for the bill to be passed with a resolution on March 10.

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The bill is currently in committee and the next steps would be for it to be placed on the floor and voted on. If approved by both houses, it then would need to be voted for by the governor.

For the New Yorkers present at the Brooklyn Bridge March, part of the urgency felt towards the passage of the bill was because it was seen as a move towards social justice, including economic and racial justice.

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“We need this funding, it’s dire need right now because of the pandemic’s negative impacts,” University Student Senate delegate and Undergraduate Student Government Vice Chair of Legislative Affairs Ashley Chen said.

Chen, who is on the mental health and disabilities committee on USS, referred to a 2019 CUNY Graduate School of Public Health and Policy report on the barriers to education students with mental health problems face.

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She also discussed her work as a policy fellow at the Chinese-American Planning Council when criticizing how “once marginalized communities came in [to CUNY] they decided to charge students.”

She emphasized that “to allow every immigrant, low-income community of color student to be able to access education is super important.”

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Tatiana Mercer, a speaker at the march who is a political science major and member of the Young Democratic Socialists of America at Hunter College, said that “building a new deal for CUNY is anti-racism, it’s against antisemitism, it is pro-Palestinian, it is pro-immigrant.”

While CUNY has not yet issued a statement on PSC’s demands, Mercer said she does not think that CUNY can ignore them.

“I think we’re at a time where pressure is being applied in all different areas and angles.”