TRENTON — Tens of thousands of New Jersey citizens marched here in Trenton on May 22 to protest the unprecedented attack that the Republican Christie administration has launched against communities, low income people, senior citizens, public employees and basic social services, including police, fire and education.
As all of the press reported, it was the largest rally in New Jersey in history. State police figures placed the crowd at 35,000 and some rally organizers put the figure as high as 50,000.
And the rally used new media brilliantly. On large TV screens the rally speakers were interspersed with interviews of people in the crowd. Community organizations, trade unions, ordinary people, raised their angry voices and were heard.
Christie has assaulted the New Jersey body politic in both form and substance. No governor in anyone’s memory has acted in such a heavy-handed, bullying manner. No governor has treated the legislature and the judiciary with such visible contempt.
Words like “bully,” “arrogant,” even “thug” are used widely to describe his hate-filled attacks on anyone who opposes him. He has referred to the National Education Association as the “National Extortion Association,” for example. His public statements and governing style are more reminiscent of a “junta chief” than an elected governor. Although, he doesn’t have the power of junta chiefs to cancel elections, he ignores and threatens to cutoff state aid to bully elected officials who refuse to kowtow to him.
Speaker after speaker recounted Christie’s blitzkrieg against the people. The governor has cut over $800 million in state aid to education and over $500 million in state aid to communities
But it is more than just the money. He is threatening communities which do not cap property taxes and negotiated salary increases with public employees with a cutoff in state aid. He is, in effect, demanding union contracts be renegotiated, salaries either frozen or reduced, and employees laid off. State parks are being threatened with closing. Rebates to low-income renters are being taken away. State support for a wide variety of after-school, adult education and community recreation programs are being threatened with elimination.
Even moderates who work in Trenton, and are knowledgeable about Christie, say his goal is to divide public and private employees, and, if he is successful, in implementing these policies, turn New Jersey into a de facto anti-union, right-to-work (for less) state.
The slogan of the rally was “Stand Up” and that was its spirit.
“If our legislators remain silent, they are his accomplices,” NJEA President Barbara Keshishian said “they will share in the blame.”
William McNary, president of USAAction, who served as the rally’s master of ceremonies, called its message, “SOS, Save Our Schools, Save Our Students, Save Our State.”
Many spoke angrily about a governor who sends his children to private schools and attacks public education, and the fourth highest paid governor in the nation vetoing the continuation of a surcharge on incomes above $400,000.
Christie’s comments on the rally were predictable. He sneered that he hoped that the participants “had fun” and that their spending would help the Trenton economy.
The fiscal crisis is real, but its solution lies in rebuilding state and local infrastructures and social services, which have been undermined for 30 years, not pursuing policies that create islands of privilege for the wealthy and a wasteland for the people in states like New Jersey.
Its solution lies in reviving not destroying the public sector at the national, state, and local level, in policies that restructure, absorb, ameliorate the debt burden on states, communities and individuals.
Christie’s policies, like those associated with Herbert Hoover and Andrew Mellon in the great depression, intensify a downward spiral of less income, less jobs, less possibility of recovery from the crisis
In the months ahead, we will struggle to bring the “stand up” rally spirit inside the state legislature to make the Democratic majority stand up for the people.
Photo: New Jersey AFL-CIO/http://www.njaflcio.org/flickr_gallery.php