Protesters block Midtown traffic with makeshift house as they demand tax on richest New Yorkers

Protesters used their own bodies and a wooden façade to block traffic Thursday afternoon.
Photo by Dean Moses

Protesters brought traffic to a screeching halt outside Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office in Midtown Manhattan Thursday afternoon with a makeshift house that served to plead their case for a tax hike on the wealthiest New Yorkers.

Demonstrators constructed the façade of a house by drilling and hammering plywood together before transporting the hefty structure outside of Cuomo’s office at 633 3rd Avenue, where they brought Midtown traffic to a standstill (on the corner of 40th Street and 3rd Avenue).

Protesters flanked both sides of this housing veneer, brandishing banners and raising fists, gridlocking incoming cars with their own bodies. They used the stunt to amplify their call for a tax increase on the rich to help build a post-pandemic New York, including ending homelessness.

Jawanza Williams led the protest to the center of the roadway. Photo by Dean Moses

For over an hour, the group of about 50 individuals chanted “Tax the rich!” and held speeches in the middle of the roadway while irate drivers honked and cursed the rally.

To ensure their demands were both audibly and visually comprehendible, they also took spray cans and tagged their makeshift house with “End homelessness” and “House NY.”      

Deeming Cuomo a “liar” whom, they claimed, only panders to his wealthy constituents, speakers demanded change.  

“Homelessness is at unparalleled heights. It was before COVID-19, and overdose deaths are even higher than they were in 2019. They are promising future deaths that are preventable, overdose is promising future experiences of homelesssness if we do not continue to invest in our people,” said Jawanza Williams, a member of Vocal NY to the growing crowd of protesters. 

The campaign “Invest in Our New York Act” advocates for six bills that propose tax increases for the inordinately affluent, such as millionaires, billionaires, CEOs, and major corporations.

Vocal New York charged that the most affluent New Yorkers can handle a tax increase. They cited a study by Americans for Tax Fairness which found that the state’s richest residents raked in more than $87 billion in 2020 despite the hardships others faced during a year marred by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Invest in Our New York Act, which the protesters support, promises to generate $50 billion in revenue through ending tax breaks on the rich.

Protesters demanded change and greater aid for the homeless. Photo by Dean Moses

“The corporations have benefited from the four years of the Trump administration’s disregard for the vast majority of the people in this country,” Williams said, adding, “What we are here to do today is to make sure that Governor Cuomo, that the legislators, that anybody in New York State understands that ending homelessness and ending overdose will only happen if we are actually are able to pay for the common sense policies, like the Housing Access Voucher program that costs $500 million a year that would house thousands upon thousands of people experiencing homlessness across our state.” 

Every motorist from taxi drivers and mail trucks to public buses were stranded in place, some drivers fruitlessly attempting to plead with the group to grant them passage.

In a matter of minutes, NYPD officers arrived on the scene. While they forcibly moved protesters to allow MTA vehicles to pass, they permitted the overall action to continue to take place, redirecting traffic down 2nd Avenue. No arrests were made.

Officers pushed protesters aside to allow MTA buses to pass. Photo by Dean Moses

The afternoon protest was one of four operations happening in tandem alongside each other. Other actions took place in Albany, Rochester, and Buffalo, each demanding that Governor Andrew Cuomo help end homelessness and overdoses through Invest in Our New York Act. 

“The only way we are going to be able to do that though is if we take direct action. If we disrupt things and make it incredibly impossible to ignore these issues because we all know that the homeless crisis in this state is greater than it was during the Great Depression, and that was before COVID-19,” Williams said.

amNewYork Metro reached out to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office for comment and is awaiting a response. 

Protesters believed that the only way to garner awareness is through disruption. Photo by Dean Moses
“When Cuomo lies, people die,” exclaimed protesters. Photo by Dean Moses
Onlookers stuck in traffic watched the demonstration in awe. Photo by Dean Moses

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