New Yorkers Speak Out Against European Austerity

by Lauren Davidson

Days after Greece approved new austerity measures, New Yorkers took to the streets to protest poverty and racism — in the U.S. and Europe.

Demonstrators in New York joined hundreds of thousands of marchers across Europe on Wednesday who decried austerity and fascism in Greece — issues which they believe threaten the United States as well as the debt-racked countries of southern Europe.

Protestors in New York held banners saying, “We stand together against austerity and fascism,” and, “We are all Greek.” CREDIT: LAUREN DAVIDSON

About 100 protesters gathered at Dag Hammarskjold Plaza in front of the Greek Mission to the United Nations in east Manhattan. Pickets clutched by gloved hands read, “Europe and USA — same fight for working people,” and, “Stop austerity from Athens to New York.” Held high by a group of students, a blue-and-white banner read, “We are all Greeks.”

The demonstrators said they want to show solidarity with the people of Greece and draw attention to the continuing affects of the worldwide financial crisis, which they say started just a few miles south on Wall Street and afflicts the United States, too.

“Today is an historic day in Europe,” said Nicholas Levis, a member of Occupy Astoria and one of the organizers of the rally. “We are mounting the first attempt at a pan-European strike against austerity.”

But although the Greek government had said it would run out of money this Friday if these measures were not put in place, thousands of angry citizens across Europe took to the streets to protest the pension cuts, wage reductions and soaring unemployment that are expected to result from the government’s action.

In a statement, the organizers of the New York rally said Greece is afflicted with “a huge humanitarian crisis as hunger, social dislocation, mass poverty [and] shortages of medicine and fuel are now commonplace.” And they fear the impact won’t be limited to Greece alone.

“Europe and the global financial crisis — it’s really all one,” said Levis, a native New Yorker born to Greek parents. “This is not a Greek crisis. It is an international crisis.”

And they say the risks, in Europe and the U.S., are more than just economic; the resulting social and cultural crises have created an opening for the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party to gain a foothold of support. The extreme-right political party represents six percent of the Greek government as of this summer’s general election and has recently begun operating in Astoria.

“They are involved in street violence [in Greece] and they are not prosecuted,” said Levis, citing reports that allege Golden Dawn is enabled by the government and protected by the police. “This creates a narrative of extremes. Golden Dawn is being used as a wedge — [the party] would not have the power it has today without the help of the Greek police.”

Slogans on pickets emphasized the similarities between the Greek and American situations. Credit: LAUREN DAVIDSON

Speaking at the rally in New York, Gabriel Engel, a member of the international union Industrial Workers of the World, quoted the adage that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. “It was austerity that led to fascism in the ‘20s and ‘30s,” he said. The rising support for Golden Dawn, he and others fear, portends a new opportunity for extreme right-wing sentiments and policies to take root.

“What’s happening in Greece is a horrible social experiment,” said Joanne Landy, co-director of the Campaign for Peace and Democracy, “and if they can get away with it there, they can get away with it here.”

Stephanie Sucasaca, a 23-year-old student at Queens College, said she came to the rally because she believes “the crisis in Europe is a global crisis that is coming to us as well.”

Although she has no personal connection to the situation in Europe, Sucasaca said, “As a student it’s important to me as well — there are no jobs. We need to start the fight back now, or else we’re going to have nothing left.”

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