Street Theater and Arrests Mark Fiesty Cooper Union Anti-Tuition Protest Favorite 



Apr 26 2012


New York City

By Benjamin Sutton

"Where are the cops?" So one Cooper Union student
asked another as they crossed the plaza behind the Manhattan
university's Foundation Building during yesterday afternoon's protest
against the administration's recent decision to begin charging graduate students tuition
in 2013. Three hours later, the students, their signs, and their
professors would be barred from the public space by dozens of NYPD
officers all gathered to arrest one alumnus perched atop a nearby
monument to Peter Cooper, who founded the tuition-free school in 1859.
However, the protest's beginnings were relatively calm, with no more
than 50 students, alumni, and faculty members gathered in the small
plaza, some climbing the Peter Cooper statue, others kicking a soccer
ball around, while nearby instructors who'd decided to conduct their
classes outdoors went about their business — it's almost finals week,
after all. Shortly before 4pm the protesters marched up to Union Square
to join a larger group already assembled in a rally against student
loans, the commercialization of college education, and capitalism. The
protesting students brandished signs with slogans like "Debt-Free
Degrees" and "Keep Cooper Free, Keep Cooper Wild," and pushed a large
foam effigy of school president Jamshed Bharucha with a giant dollar sign on its forehead.
The artist Emily Roysdon, a visiting instructor at
the school teaching there for a semester, followed the group on its
march north. "I don't know if it's a coincidence," Roysdon told ARTINFO, "but I think my entire class is here. I guess there's a certain affinity between protest and performance."
The protest in Union Square was indeed marked by performances, not only by the ubiquitous Reverend Billy and his Church of Earthalujah
choir, but also by groups of protesters dressed as bankers and
prisoners, who enacted a showdown between debt-ridden students and the
one percent. "Higher education means higher profits," chanted the
bankers' leader, "Fannie Mae." Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein was also in attendance, assisted in her rousing speech by a man dressed as a Roman centurion (a possible running mate?).
The protesters, by this time numbering 200 or more, then headed back
downtown towards Cooper Union, escorted by a huge fleet of police
officers on foot, riding scooters, and in cars. Returning to the
previously quiet public plaza behind the Foundation Building ahead of
the crowd, Jesse Kreuzer, a Cooper Union alumnus who
graduated last spring, climbed back atop the Peter Cooper monument with
his sign, "No Tuition, It's Our Mission." It would take several tactical
NYPD vehicles, dozens of extra officers, members of the fire
department, and a vehicle equipped with a cherry picker-like mechanism
better suited to rescuing cats stranded in trees to eventually get
Kreuzer down.
Meanwhile many protesters continued on down to Wall Street, while
Cooper Union students awaited the fate of their former classmate. As the
NYPD cleared the small plaza between the Peter Cooper monument and the
Foundation Building Sara Abruña, a senior at the university, was arrested.
"She was on her way to class," Mateo Cartagena, a
fellow student, said. "Next thing I know they're slamming Sara on the
ground. She was a senior. We just had our senior show last week."
Kreuzer, meanwhile, was one of many disenchanted and underemployed
graduates of the elite art, architecture, and engineering school in
attendance — albeit the most highly visible one. As he was taken away in
handcuffs the crowd diverged from its cheering for free tuition and
chanted "Free Jesse Kreuzer!" Predictably — but no less disappointingly —
both the students' call to free their colleague and free future Cooper
Union students from debt seemed to fall on deaf ears. Bharucha was
rumored to be planning an appearance at the protest, but was nowhere in
sight at 7pm as the crowd began to disperse.

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