They held signs shaped like gravestones, signs with hand-written messages, each protesting the congressional Republican tax plan almost certain to pass in a matter of hours.
Dozens of protesters gathered at the intersection of Wall and Broad streets on Tuesday, facing mild December weather and a perimeter of NYPD officers. A few attendees wore T-shirts representing the unions and community groups co-sponsoring the rally – some from the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY, some from District Council 37.
Overtures by some lawmakers in the New York congressional delegation – Republican and Democrat alike – to deter the plan had failed, as the bill marched inexorably to passage in Congress and President Donald Trump’s desk. Nevertheless, 300 miles from Capitol Hill, these protesters on Wall Street persisted.
New York City Public Advocate Letitia James spoke at the rally, leading the group in chants of “tax the rich and not the poor” and “kill this bill.”
“All of us will suffer as a result of those who care more about corporations than they do about the people,” James said, speaking into a megaphone. She called the bill a “disaster for all Americans.” James left the rally shortly after she spoke.
Protesters blocking the employee entrance to the New York Stock Exchange.
Other speakers included PSC CUNY President Barbara Bowen, Michael Kink from the Strong Economies for All Coalition, and the Rev. Brian Gibbs from the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. While Gibbs spoke, one organizer wearing an orange vest told an attendee where to sit if he wished to be arrested. According to Fran Clark, communications coordinator for PSC CUNY, these organizers in orange vests were from PSC and Rutgers University AAUP-AFT. Some participating unions also provided signs for the protesters.
After speakers concluded their megaphone-assisted remarks, attendees were led in a back-and-forth chant that led to a die-in in the street. Several lay down, holding signs above their heads and continuing to chant. According to a press release by the PSC, 60 people participated in the die-in.
“All of us will suffer as a result of those who care more about corporations than they do about the people.” – New York City Public Advocate Letitia James
Nova Felder, a member of DC 37 who described himself as an “educator technologist” for CUNY, held a sign shaped like a gravestone above his head as he lay on the ground, with the epitaph “RIP/tax scam helped the rich/not me.” He said that he was volunteering at the union when he decided to come down with a delegation for the protest.
“If we don’t stop this, we, the young people, are not going to have a future,” he said. “We have to let the world know that if America is going to continue to lead the world, America has to do what’s right within its own borders.”
Nova Felder (left), a member of DC 37, takes part in the "die-in" protest.
Felder said that he was participating in the die-in to raise awareness in the media, and to send the message that many people oppose the bill.
“People are upset and tired of things being taken away from us,” he said, citing issues such as racial inequality and the end of net neutrality as well as the tax plan. “Rich people are being left off the hook.”
After a few moments, the die-in ended, and protesters resumed standing in a mass. A few staged a sit-in in front of the entrance to the New York Stock Exchange, and were arrested by NYPD officers. One officer told an onlooker that it was “another day in New York.” Fifteen in total were arrested, according to Clark, including Bowen, PSC Vice President Michael Fabricant, and David Hughes, vice president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT.
A protester getting arrested for disorderly conduct.
Nivedita Majumdar, secretary of the PSC and an organizer of the event, said that it had been organized last week. She explained that the group was not simply protesting the tax aspects of the bill, but also provisions that included cuts to health care and public services.
“We feel that this tax bill – what we like to call a tax scam – is basically a war on ordinary, hard-working Americans,” she said. “We’re hoping to accomplish that the bill doesn’t get passed, but short of that, we want to make sure that something as monstrous as this does not get passed without the kind of protest that people should engage in.”
As police calmly carted away sitting protesters, some onlookers chanted “this is what a police state looks like.” Attendees and tourists alike pulled out their phones, snapping photos.
In Washington, minutes later, the tax bill passed in the House.
Correction: David Hughes is vice president of Rutgers AAUP-AFT. His title was incorrect in an earlier version of this story. Also, the Rev. Brian Gibbs is from the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. His organization was originally misidentified.