Yesterday, as college students were walking out, teaching in and rallying at universities citywide and nationwide, thousands of local high school students were streaming out of school gates and into the streets of New York.
It was by far the largest protest to hit the State or the MTA since the Authority's decision to eliminate the free Student MetroCard last December.
Joined by teachers, parents, transit workers, CUNY students and others, the students rallied at the office of embattled Governor Paterson and marched to the MTA hearings then taking place at the Fashion Institute of Technology. Rush-hour traffic was blocked from Third Avenue to Seventh Avenue.
The demonstrators are demanding that the MTA and the State commit to restoring the free Student MetroCard, which, many students say, is vitally important to their education. "No Fare, No Fair," read one of the more popular signs of the day. "No Free Metro, We Won't Go," was a frequent refrain.
Students, parents, and teachers are also opposing the closing of 19 public schools across the city and what they say is the "privatization of public education."
The protests met with a strong police presence. Tensions mounted as a line of police prevented students from getting within 2 blocks of the hearing. Thousands of transit workers from Local 100 of the Transport Workers Union rallied nearby, chanting in support of the students and against a planned wave of layoffs.
In the end, many of the students managed to make it into the hearings, which remained heated throughout. Outside, a giant inflatable rat, erected by the transit workers to represent the MTA, loomed over Seventh Avenue and menaced passing pedestrians throughout the evening.
Elsewhere, five New Yorkers were arrested Wednesday night at the MTA hearings in Brooklyn, after a teenage activist was hauled off when she took over the podium. Protests also broke out at hearings in the Bronx and in Queens.