Thursday, June 2, 2011

Rallying for Rights

I missed the May 31, 2011, rally to preserve New York City’s HIV-services budget. The Bloomberg Administration’s solution to the current fiscal crisis is to cut funding across the City’s budget (some suggest, fairly). Critics propose raising taxes on the banks that caused the financial crisis, asserting that:

“There’s plenty of money,” said Heather Stepanek, 29, from the Bronx. “It’s not a revenue crisis, it’s a priority crisis.”

Today, June 2, 2011, City Hall faces another rally. New Yorkers are determined not to let Cairo, Casablanca, or Tunis have all the glory! And New York City can show the world what it looks like when a government allows citizens freedom of assembly and opinion—even when those citizens criticize their government and leaders.

The right to education is a human right, a civil right. Literacy is fundamental to the right to education. Citizens cannot function fully within society without being literate. At the very least, they are at a significant and unfair disadvantage without literacy.

Literacy facilitates economic self-sufficiency. With literacy, people are dramatically better able to support themselves. Economic self-sufficiency is laudable all on its own. But it also brings greater empowerment: power to make decisions and choices for ourselves; power to access health care and advocate for our needs; power to leave abusive relationships and stand on our own; power to demand safer sex from a partner or spouse who pays the bills but we believe may cheat (this is a big issue in male-to-female transmission of HIV around the world). Literacy education enables positive change in a society, in people’s economic conditions, and in their quality of life.

The statistics on adult literacy in NYC are clear. The need is great:
38% of New Yorkers are foreign-born (2000 Census).
47% of New Yorkers speak a language other than English at home (2000 Census).
Barely one-third of public school students performed at grade level on the 2001 English Language Arts exams (NYC Department of Education). 
1.5 to 2 million adults in NYC need literacy services. Fewer than 60,000 receive them (NYC Mayor’s Office).

The fact that New York has a sizeable foreign-born population matters because many countries around the world fail to educate their citizens adequately. Morocco, for example, has a literacy rate of 52%. The literacy rate for Moroccan women is just under 40%, which definitely has implications for HIV-prevention, domestic violence prevention, and other issues.

The Bloomberg Administration has shown it cares about these issues. But it needs us, the citizens, to press it to do the right thing. This is what democracy looks like: we are all accountable, not just the politicians and the banks. We all need to do our part.

Will you join me at the rally?


  1. Volunteer with a literacy organization such as Literacy Volunteers. You can literally change someone's life for the better.

  2. Unfortunately, I was misquoted by the source article. I said, “It’s not a revenue crisis, it’s a capitalism crisis.” Thank you.


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