Protesting a plan to make students pay

January 4, 2010

NEW YORK--Tempers were as short as the daylight here December 21 as a group of 200 to 300 high school students and supporters protested the Metropolitan Transportation Authority's (MTA) plan to take away student MetroCards for discounted use of the bus and subway system.

The demonstrators gathered outside MTA headquarters chanted, "They say cut back, we say fight back" and "Bailout the students, not the banks."

The rally was organized primarily through Facebook after Bronx high school student Jordan Orvam created a group called "Protest the MTA getting rid of Student MetroCards," and invited friends to join. Orvam said that when he returned to his computer a few hours later, the group already had more than 7,000 members. Community organizers signed on for plans for a demonstration, and News 12, a local news channel, picked up the story.

The mood at the protest was both angry and festive, with students chanting and dancing to Jay-Z's "Empire State of Mind" and Michael Jackson's "They Don't Care About Us." For most students, this was their first time at a demonstration. State Assembly member Inez Barron compared the student-led mobilization to the role students played in the 1960s civil rights movement in the U.S. South.

Barron wasn't the only connection to the 1960s. Monifa Gattis, from the Sugar Hill section of the Bronx, said that when she heard about the demonstration, "I knew I had to be here. I'm a part of the '60s. I've been demonstrating since I was in high school...I'm so proud of these young people. We have to fight for our rights."

The students who came out to the march were in a defiant mood, chanting themselves hoarse. "This is a human rights violation," said Ted Young, an Oberlin College student and alumni of Bronx Science. "Everyone is guaranteed a free public education."

What would happen if student MetroCards were cut? "Dropout rates would go through the roof, petty crime would increase, like robbery and turnstile-hopping," said Maurcio Torres, another graduate of New York City schools and now a college student. "Kids are going to depressed schools already, and something like this is not going to encourage them to go."

Juanita, a mother of two New York City high school students, both with hour-long commutes, said, "It's ridiculous that they're funding the war and bailing out banks--education is our future. I only make $10 an hour. It's not enough." Chi Inhwan, a New York University student, came out in solidarity. "I went to public high school, and I relied on my student MetroCard to get there," Inhwan said.

Kiyante, a sophomore at Clara Barton High School, voiced the same feelings. "If they take away student MetroCards, there will be fewer and fewer education options," she said. "Who will lead us in the future?" As her friend Kadesha, also a Clara Barton sophomore, added, "No MetroCard, no future."

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