Local Activists Rally For Full Funding Of CRESS Program And School Budget

Some of the participants at Saturday's (7/10) town budget protest at Sweetser Park. Photo: Maria Kopicki

More than two dozen people gathered at Sweetser Park in downtown Amherst on July 10 to protest the town’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget, passed by the Amherst Town Council on June 21. The event was organized by the Amherst Sunrise Movement, a local hub of the national youth political action organization.

The rally was held to protest deep cuts to the school budget and extremely limited funding for the Community Responders for Equity, Safety, and Service [CRESS] program. Speakers included Amherst High School paraeducator Erika Loper, Sunrise Amherst Representative Amrita Rutter, Defund413 representative Allegra Clark, and former Amherst School Committee member and current candidate for Amherst Town Councilor At-large Vira Douangmany Cage.

Rutter recounted that the Community Safety Working Group (CSWG) was created a year ago because the Town Council said it needed more information about critiques of traditional policing. She decried the Council’s budget allotment of only 6 percent of the amount recommended by the CSWG to create an alternative public safety service stating “I feel like I have no voice.” She promised to persist. 

Clark reminded attendees that none of the demands that Defund413 had made of the Town Council for this year’s budget had been met, including fully funding CRESS and large reductions in the Amherst Police Department officers and budget.

Loper pointed out that despite being the “first responders” of education in the school district, paraprofessionals frequently need to work two jobs because of low pay. She said that the cuts in the budget (around $1 million this year) affect both students and educators.

Cage called for a change in the makeup of the Town Council that “issues resolutions to feel good about themselves” but should instead include people who are close to pain and suffering. She also questioned other fiscal decisions by the Town, including voting to take on significant debt for the proposed library project rather than repairing the high school athletic fields. Cage said that the current Council “checks in with developers first and who among them says we need to check in with the people first?” 

A statement sent from the CSWG co-chairs Ellisha Walker and Brianna Owens was read by Sunrise Amherst representative and rally moderator Marisol Pierce Bonifaz. They affirmed their solidarity with the causes of fully funding the schools, the CRESS program, and continuing the work of their own committee to support alternative public safety measures. “For a community to be truly safe, all members of the community must have equal access to the resources that they deem necessary to their wellbeing.”

The rally concluded with chants led by Sunrise members and a call to action. 

Town Council Candidate Vira Douangmany Cage addresses the budget protest at Sweetser Park on July 10. Photo: Sophie Lindsay
Greta Hougen-Smith (left) and Saara Rathod (right), representatives of Sunrise Amherst address the budget protest at Sweetser Park on July 10. Photo:Sophie Lindsay
Erika Loper, ARHS paraeducator, speaks to the assembled at the budget protest at Sweetser Park on July 10. Photo: Sophie Lindsay
Marisol Pierce Bonifaz, co-hub lead for Amherst Sunrise and one of the event organizers speaks to the assembled at the budget protest at Sweetser Park on July 10. Photo: Sophie Lindsay
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2 thoughts on “Local Activists Rally For Full Funding Of CRESS Program And School Budget

  1. Thank you to the young and the young at heart group that organized this event. Could not be there this time but appreciate that the next generation with Sunrise understand what is at stake regarding our tax dollars and the accountability of the elected officials, the town council, and the unelected, paid staff, the town manager. Education, equity, and public safety of our residents especially, the BIPOC community should be the priority of Amherst.

    Dee Shabazz

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