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New York: People's State of the State calls for living wage, universal health care
Legislative Gazette
Brandon Quinn

January 3, 2012
View the Original Article

The 22nd annual People's State of the State rally, sponsored by the Hunger Action Network of New York State, took place in Academy Park outside the Capitol on Jan. 3rd, with members of the New York State United Teachers, the Public Employee's Federation, and participants of Occupy Albany alike all calling for Gov. Andrew Cuomo to address their concerns in his State of the State address.

This year's event was moved from State Street to the "hallowed ground of Occupy Albany" in a show of solidarity with the movement, according to Mark Dunlea, associate director of Hunger Action Network, and saw about 85 people turn out despite freezing 19-degree weather.

The main theme that all speakers seemed to key in on was correcting what they called New York's income inequality, whereby Dunlea said, "the richest 1 percent get 34 percent of the income."

The rally was kicked off with a sing-a-long by Mary Nell Morgan, backed by about 25 members of PEF donning yellow hats and scarves, adapting songs like "Kumbaya" and "We Shall Overcome" to include lyrics such as "tax the rich my lord, Kumbaya."

Andrew Pallotta, executive vice president of NYSUT, spoke to the "record budget cuts New York State public education" has undergone in the past year alone, asking those in the crowd, "how will New York compete in our knowledge based economy?"

Next came Dan Lyles, an Occupy participant, who warned the crowd to be skeptical of Cuomo's impending State of the State speech, saying "the State of the State is rotten, the State of the State is corrupt."

He went on to address an unnamed opposition by saying, "we are not upset you are rich, we just do not like that you've bought our government."

Other priorities discussed were a raise in the state's minimum wage to $10 an hour, the implementation of a single payer health care program similar to that of Vermont's, creation of jobs, more funding for emergency food programs, rectifying the state's budget deficit by cutting military spending, and reforming Medicaid.

Representatives of New York's Food Pantry addressed the crowd, saying that "12 percent of the employed population of New York doesn't have the means to meet basic nutritional needs."

Referencing the crowd's willingness to brave the harsh conditions in order to get their message across, Robb Smith, executive director of NYS Interfaith Impact, said "we have alot of cold hearts up there in that building," pointing to the Capitol. "A whole lot colder than our feet right now."

The rally ended with a unified chant of "tear down that Wall Street America! Tear down that Wall Street," a play on words from Ronald Reagan's famous challenge to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev.