Educators and residents join occupy New Paltz rally

New Paltz occupier and SUNY graduate Amanda Sisenstein speaks about the student debt crisis at last Saturday’s Occupy education rally in New Paltz. (Photo by Lauren Thomas)

More than 50 people participated in a march and rally last Saturday, organized by Occupy New Paltz. The group marched symbolically — armed with signs, drums, tambourines and penny whistles — demanding that state and federal funding for schools receive higher priority in government budgets. The group marched down Huguenot Street, through the SUNY New Paltz campus and ended up outside the Elting Memorial Library on Main and North Front streets.

The Occupiers lined the street corner with signs emblazoned with short bold statements such as: “Out Of Your House, Into The Street,” and “Would You Fund My School If They Found Oil In It?” People driving by slowed down to shout words of support or honk their horns.

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“The message today is occupy education,” said Billy Easton, executive director of Alliance for Quality Education and just one of the many speakers at the rally.

Amanda Sisenstein, a member of the Occupy movement, said that the group chose education as the theme because it is something that affects everyone and is easily relatable.

The first speaker was writer and activist Alexandria Wojcik, who shared a story about losing her passion for gaining higher education with the worry of how she would pay for college when budgets for public education keep getting cut.

A sixth-grade middle school teacher from Hyde Park also spoke at the rally, saying that she has been teaching for 30 years and has seen a lot of changes in the education system. She described a chain reaction of schools being closed, people losing jobs, having more people on unemployment and larger class sizes. She started a letter-writing campaign and had the pre-made, letter-writing packets available for her audience.

Julie Gorlewski of Educators United brought up standardized testing and how it is an unfair form of evaluation for both the students and teachers. “Students are more than test scores,” she said.

When Easton spoke, he talked about how some schools are forced to have a half-day kindergarten program or can only offer one or two foreign languages. He compared them to schools that had money for more resources and how much more their programs had to offer.

Sisenstein closed out the rally and reminisced about standing out in the snow with her picket sign at age 19 in Albany for the same reasons she was standing at a rally in New Paltz at age 30.

According to Sisenstein, the Occupy New Paltz group is working towards more events and goals and are planning additional protests outside of banks and corporations in town. They are also trying to organize more events with the Occupy Hudson Valley movement.

For additional information about Occupy New Paltz, e-mail newpaltzoccupy@gmail.com. ++