Rally Against Gov. Chris Christie’s Budget Cuts Could Draw 30,000

trenton rallyOrganizers of Saturday’s Statehouse protest against Gov. Chris Christie’s budget cuts are expecting a crowd of up to 30,000 — most from public employee unions — and hope such a show of force will sway the state’s top politicians. A turnout that big would make it the Statehouse’s biggest protest. But through the years, disgruntled New Jerseyans have trekked to Trenton en masse hundreds of times, venting their anger on everything from wars, gun rights and abortion to college tuition, taxes and pension cuts. Protesters have smashed sacrificial sedans to rage against high auto insurance rates, paraded tractors down State Street to save the Department of Agriculture and used big inflatable rats and helium-filled pigs to make points on jobs and tolls. The biggest Statehouse rallies have been colorful and boisterous, drawing media coverage showing images of the angry. 

But for all the headlines, do they make a difference? Those behind the biggest rallies say some did — and some didn’t.  

“The only real way to get your issue heard, especially in those days, was to protest,” said Manny Menendez, who in 1976 was a 21-year-old organizer of a student rally that drew thousands to a protest that killed public college tuition hikes.

Angry crowds also made a difference in 1990, when the furor against Gov. Jim Florio’s $2.8 billion tax increase boiled over on a summer afternoon and at least 6,000 took to State Street.

“It was almost a spontaneous outburst,” said Jim Gearhart, a morning drive-time radio host on New Jersey 101.5, which had just switched to a talk format and promoted the rally.

Jon Shure, Florio’s communications director, said nobody in the administration saw it coming.

“It was a large crowd, and it was a very angry crowd,” Shure said. “I watched, just looking out a window from upstairs in the Statehouse. I remember going back and telling my colleagues at work that this was something we should be concerned about. People said ‘Nah, when the summer is over and the weather gets cool, people won’t be talking about this.’ And they were.”

Within a year, New Jersey voters cleaned out virtually every Democrat who voted for the taxes, and later dumped Florio.

Not all rallies have such an impact, even with huge numbers.

On a sweltering July day in 1974, the streets of Trenton filled with at least 20,000 angry, hard-hatted construction workers in a “march for jobs” organized by then AFL-CIO President Charles Marciante. They swilled beer and climbed buildings.

“They were not cordial,” Marciante said. “They were chanting the governor’s name and asking him to come out, and it was sort of reverberating off the building. It was a little chilling.”

When Gov. Brendan Byrne addressed them and blamed the lack of jobs on President Richard Nixon, the workers booed him.

The 20,000 crowd figure stands as a Statehouse protest record, but Marciante still bristles at what he considers a low-ball police estimate (a common complaint by organizers). He says 35,000 were there, but isn’t sure how much it accomplished. “Not a lot changed on the state end,” he said.

The record for the longest Statehouse protest was “The Siege of Trenton” in 1936, when hundreds camped out in the Senate and Assembly chambers for nine days to protest a lack of state unemployment relief in the Depression. Historians say the rally fizzled, but made a statement that government should help.

Rally leaders say a clear message helps the cause and any whiff of violence can defeat it. Since 2000, the Statehouse averaged 91 protests a year. But only the big ones lure the cameras.

“You do it just because you’re going to be on TV,” said Rider University political scientist Ben Dworkin. “The second thing is that it’s to rally folks to become active in your cause.”

Powerful public employee unions behind tomorrow’s protest — the New Jersey Education Association and the Communications Workers of America — say the rally will be about all Christie’s budget cuts, not just their fight with him over pensions and pay.

They are working with community groups to make sure more than just public workers show up. “We want to demonstrate there are a number of groups who are going to be negatively (affected) by Gov. Christie’s priorities,” said NJEA spokesman Steve Baker. “And when you see who shows up that will be very clear.” Star Ledger.

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  1. Gov. Chrisitie is not going to care if 100,000 people show up, the people protesting are not the ones who voted for him, the people who voted for him (the majority) support him overwhelmingly, these democrat union selfish people think he will destroy his political future for a little minority, shows how out of touch they are, CHRISTIE WE LOVE YOU

  2. I wish their rally wouldn’t be on Shabbos… because then I would’ve setup a kosher hotdog stand with chilled beverages… Can u imagine selling 30,000 hotdogs!!!!

    I could’ve covered all my kids tuition bills for the next few years without any problem… oh well 🙁

    I guess I’ll just have to enjoy my rest while the union members shvitz away in 80 degree weather 🙂

  3. It still absolutely amazes me that they think the taxpayers are going to pay for benefits for them, that we couldn’t imagine getting ourselves. Who has a pension? Who has so many sick, vacation, and personal days? Even if they pay 2 percent of their healthcare costs it doesn’t hold a candle to what most of us pay! Automatic raises no matter what? Only if you work for the state, the municipality or the county. Out here in the corporate world nothing!

  4. A CEO whom due to the economy decided decided to lay off 60 employees. Whom should he lay off? he went to the parking lot to count how many vote for Obama bumper stickers & it was exactly 60. They all got what they voted for. Governor Christie, are they the school Union heads that wrote the disgusting poem?

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