ALBANY - More than 100 protesters chanting opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to cut program funding for the poor while giving tax breaks to the rich blocked central stairs and hallways in the Capitol for an hour Wednesday afternoon.
State police said they arrested 17 people who would be charged with disorderly conduct, arraigned before a judge and released later Wednesday. Handfuls of demonstrators held long banners across the stairways and escalator leading to Empire State Plaza and to three Capitol corridors.
That forced state workers and visitors to struggle past or step over, sometimes with troopers’ help, or seek another route.
Dozens of other protesters streamed around the Capitol lobby carrying signs calling for jobs, housing and higher taxes on the rich. One carried an American flag. They chanted, changing phrases every few minutes.
“Show me what democracy looks like; this is what democracy looks like.”
“Hey you millionaire; pay your fair share.”
“You say Cuomo; we say hell no.”
Protest organizer Wanda Hernandez, a board member from the activist group VOCAL New York, said the group opposes cutting social programs and closing hospitals and schools while letting an income tax surcharge on the wealthiest New Yorkers expire after this year.
Gloria Wilson, a demonstrator from Community Voices Heard, said protesters want Cuomo to stand strong and resist special interests.
In Albany, grassroots protest is big business. The groups flood Albany on legislative session days, boxed lunches in hand, after fully alerting the media. They can operate on tax-deductible donations, government or pork-barrel grants, some gifts from like-minded unions and charitable or political action groups.
On Wednesday, the effort came in three chartered buses, with those who face the real cuts in services and aid led by full-time staffers who know how to play to the TV cameras to maximize the impact of a couple dozen or 100 protesters and steering reporters to heart-wrenching personal profiles for which they prep their clients. Wednesday’s organizers, for example, alerted all reporters of the planned arrests, giving a 15-minute time frame for the spontaneous events.
Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto declined to comment on the protest.
“Today we are taking over the Capitol,” Hernandez told the cheering crowd. She said if they couldn’t succeed Wednesday they would return.
Jennifer Flynn, an AIDS activist from Brooklyn, held one end of the banner blocking the stairs. She kept talking even as a trooper took her out in handcuffs. “It’s unfair for Gov. Cuomo to target the most vulnerable New Yorkers,” she said.