On Thursday, July 21, Newark activists and residents held a small rally that nonetheless hit home in front of the Prudential Center Arena to demand new jobs and justice for citizens.
The event was co-organized by the office of Southward Councilman Ras Baraka, the People’s Organization for Progress (POP), District 1199J, the Newark Anti-Violence Coalition, and several other civic groups.
The rally’s theme was “Jobs, Justice, Peace, and Unity,” and included several speakers, each addressing social issues that they felt the city, state and federal governments were neglecting.
Despite near unbearable heat, organizers and participants began the rally by marching from Lincoln Park, located on Broad Street, straight to the Prudential Center less than a mile away. Marchers carried signs displaying demands for jobs, better education and fair housing.
The list of demands included ending all union-busting attempts and attacks on workers’ rights, leaving the civil service and public education alone, no college tuition hikes, no more cuts to health care, more summer jobs for youth, the rehiring of laid-off city workers (i.e., police officers, fire fighters and sanitation workers), an end to all bailouts for corporations and fair and decent housing. Each of the speakers addressed these concerns in precise detail.
Although the program was held primarily to address the concerns of local residents, the speakers made it very clear that the federal government also bore responsibility for combating these social problems.
During his remarks, Baraka said, “It should be obvious how retrograde this society has become.” He said that lack of public funding was diminishing community fabrics and pitting “Black versus Latino versus white” and “women versus men.”
“It’s a recession for us,” the councilman continued. “It’s not a recession for Prudential.” Several protesters at the rally mentioned that the Prudential Center was occupying its space at 165 Mulberry St. rent-free and that the rent money from the building could be used to financially help the city.
Addressing this concern, Baraka told the Amsterdam News, “We’re just trying to make these corporations and big businesses pay their fair share…Reverse the trend of putting all of the pressure on workers around America to pay the bills for these businessmen.”
He asserted how workers were being exploited in order for businessmen to “make as much money as they want…to be unregulated.” “Meanwhile, we’re laying off sanitation workers, public workers and school employees,” he added. “Everybody is bearing the brunt of these businesses and corporations so that they [businesses and corporations] can live rich and wealthy.”
Also in attendance was long-time activist and journalist Felipe Luciano. During his address, he spoke about union busting, a term that was mentioned quite often at the rally and at jobs rallies in general. He told the Amsterdam News, “The purpose of union busting is to destroy the will, inspiration and faith in the working man. If you can destroy the working class in the country, then the rich have won.”
Luciano then described the “rich versus poor” scenario by saying, “The dichotomy between rich and poor at this point is so gargantuan as to almost defy description.” He attributed this to “record-breaking profits on the part of oil companies and record-breaking bonuses on the part of hedge fund companies,” then pointed out that “the working salaries of men and women in this country are at an all-time low.” He added that, currently, the poverty and unemployment rate is “worse than during Reagan and Nixon.”
Luciano mentioned that the secretaries of major Fortune 500 companies are, in many cases, paying more taxes than these companies’ CEOs. He noted how President Barack Obama “is simply asking, ‘Can we close the loopholes?’ And they’re saying no to that.”
Luciano ended by describing the current treatment of poor and working-class Americans as “a form of corporate bullying.”
“Either Black people, Latinos and working-class people punch the bully in the face through demonstration and legislation that promotes tax increases on the rich or we will suffer the fate of most third-world countries that end up becoming a failed state. It sounds impossible, but it’s very possible that America can become a failed state. We’re reaching that point now.”
Although rally organizers called for 5,000 to participate, only about 200 people participated. Organizers made clear that a series of other such rallies is being planned for the immediate future.