NEW YORK - More than 1,000 northern Manhattan residents held a unity rally on Saturday to mobilize against drastic budget cuts proposed by the mayor and governor that will have a devastating effect on this predominantly Latino and black working class community.
Ydonis Rodriguez, newly elected city councilman from the 10th District, initiated the rally, which was a kick off to a massive grassroots fightback campaign to stop the devastation.
Councilman Rodriguez, a long-term Washington Heights resident and community organizer, was elected last year with over 90 percent of the vote, with a promise to give his all to improve the lives of the people in the district. The largest group of the district's residents have roots in the Dominican Republic, but it reaches down into Harlem and has a large number of African Americans and whites. Ydonis himself comes from a large Dominican family, graduated from CCNY (based in Harlem), lived in and taught school in the district and has very deep roots in the community.
The cuts proposed will affect hospitals, schools, recreation facilities and libraries as well as housing subsidies. The community is already suffering from one of the highest unemployment rates in the city. The councilman pointed out that when unemployment is 9.7 percent overall it's 50 percent in his district. So when considering cutbacks, he argued, special consideration should be made to ease the devastation in area like District 10.
One of the worst proposed cuts is the plan by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to eliminate free school transit passes. That proposal was temporarily postponed after huge community protest. Of the 40,000 signatures collected on a petition to save the school passes, 10,000 came from the efforts of Councilman Rodriguez's office, according to Scott Stringer, president of the Borough of Manhattan, who spoke at the rally.
Also speaking was Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., who pledged the support of the Obama administration on education grants. A range of city and state legislators was there, along with newly elected City Comptroller John Liu, the first Asian American elected citywide in New York, and a host of labor and community leaders.
Ydonis said an immediate priority should be to stop the possible closure of the popular Riverbank State Park located on the Hudson River in West Harlem. Riverbank is very heavily used by the community with its large pool, skating rink and many basketball and handball courts.
The Dominican community was well represented at the meeting with participants from school and community service groups, unions, church groups and hundreds of youth.
A call for all-out participation in the upcoming May Day Rally for Labor, Immigrant Rights and Jobs for All was greeted with enthusiastic applause.
Ydonis and a number of other speakers made the point that the meeting was the beginning of a new grassroots movement to work for real change. Borough President Stringer said it was a part of an effort to build a Manhattan-wide coalition to stop the cuts and improve the lives of the working people of the borough.