Chanting "This is what democracy looks like!" and waving homemade signs and banners as they marched across the Brooklyn Bridge Friday, about 1,000 city high school students cut classes to protest a plan to eliminate their free transit passes.
From the Bronx to Brooklyn, students left their classrooms in the middle of the day headed to City Hall and City Transit Headquarters to protest MTA budget cuts that could end the free and reduced-price MetroCards handed out to nearly 600,000 students.
Fernando Matos, 17, a student at Samuel Gompers High School in the Bronx, said that without a free transit pass he would have to transfer to a different school.
"I do not want to go to a local high school," Matos said. "It doesn't have the classes I need."
The protest comes a day after Mayor Michael Bloomberg announced a stepped-up effort to fight truancy.
Bloomberg said Friday that the students should have stayed in class.
"If I were them, I'd just think long and hard someday," he said. "If I didn't pass a test, I'd always go back and wonder, 'Was it that afternoon when I was trying to be cute and be out there and picketing was better than being in class?'"
The transportation agency has proposed ending the free rides as part of its effort to close an $800 million budget gap. The city contributed $45 million to the program last year while New York State paid only $6 million.
Bloomberg said the protesting students should demand that the state Legislature kick in more.
"We are not going to make up for the state," he said in his weekly radio address. "We just cannot do that."
Proposed cuts would mean MetroCards would be half-off for students beginning in September of this year. Next September, they would have to pay full price. Without the free passes, families would be forced to buy monthly MetroCards at a cost of about $1,000 a year per child.
"That's money you're taking away from buying them books," said Debbie Officer, a mother of two from Brooklyn who joined the protest.
Talha Rahman, a student at Brooklyn Tech H.S. said she's need to get a job just to get to school.
"People are losing jobs as it is," Rahman said. "My family is one of them. I have to get a job to get $1000 needed to get this."
Sharon Litaker, a special education teacher at Banana Kelly High School in the Bronx, attended the rally to support her students.
"I just walked out," she said. "A lot of families lost their jobs. They don't have the extra income to pay for their children's MetroCards."
A spokesman for the Department of Education said that any disciplinary action the students might face for cutting class would be up to their principals.
The rally was organized by a group called the Urban Youth Collaborative, and after the city hall rally the students marched to Brooklyn to protest in front of NYC Transit headquarters.
The students took up half the length of the bridge as they marched to Brooklyn shouting "The students, united, will never be defeated!" Drivers honked their horns and cheered as the students spilled off the bridge and into Brooklyn.
But after the students crossed the Brooklyn bridge, their organizer got the address of NYC Transit headquarters wrong. The press release stated the students would rally at Jay Street in downtown Brooklyn, where local media outlets stood by for their arrival. But an hour after the students were scheduled to arrive, there was still no sign of them.
Turns out the group posted the old address of Transit Headquarters on their release. The agency recently moved to Willoughby Street.
Despite the mistake, students and their supporters believe they expressed their concerns loud and clear.
And the students today had the support of some employees from the Transport Workers Union and members of the City Council, who talked about the city's $3 billion rainy day fund.
"I'd say to the Mayor that it's raining and we should take that money and invest in your future," said Letitia James (D) City Council - Brooklyn.