Militant Journalism

Organizers in Syracuse protest obscene $85 million aquarium project

On Aug. 14, members of the Syracuse Party for Socialism and Liberation, in partnership with other community members, gathered to protest the Onondaga County Legislature’s vote to spend $85 million to build an aquarium in Syracuse’s Inner Harbor. 

Onondaga County, which encompasses the city of Syracuse and its outlying suburbs, recently reported a $200 million surplus. After sending senior homeowners a meager $200 check and saving $70 million in a rainy day fund, County Executive Ryan McMahon proposed using the remainder of the money to fund an aquarium at Syracuse’s Inner Harbor.

The vote to approve this expense was held on August 2, in a closed session. After only 30 minutes of public comments were allowed, the public was asked to leave the building. Highlighting the immensely undemocratic nature of the aquarium approval process, Syracuse PSL member Stephanie Kenific said, “McMahon turned such a blind eye to criticism that the county literally turned off comments on its social media page because they were flooded with people telling McMahon they didn’t want this aquarium.” In spite of widespread dissent for the project, county legislators voted on a 9 to 8 margin to sponsor the tax-exempt aquarium.

Throughout the demonstration, the speakers and audience made clear that the plan to build the aquarium is unpopular, undemocratic and deeply insulting to the working class in the city. Among cities with 100,000 people, Syracuse has the highest rate of child poverty at 48.4%, according to the 2020 census. The city’s housing stock is crumbling and lead poisoning in older homes has affected the development of about 9% of Onondaga County children, with Black children in the county twice as likely to be affected as their white counterparts. ( 

Commenting on the county’s pattern of promoting expensive projects that fail to meet the needs of the people, Syracuse PSL member Tara Sandlin remarked, “If you had told me two weeks ago that today we’d be out here protesting because the county voted to approve a costly, unpopular out-of-touch project like the Onondaga County Aquarium … I would have believed you because this is not the first time that the wealthy people who run our community have turned their backs on what the people want and need, to satisfy their own greed!” 

The Syracuse PSL announced prior to the rally an intention to disrupt the aquarium process and a demand that the money be spent on a public housing project at the Inner Harbor instead. According to Syracuse Tenants Organizing for Power member Brian Hennigan, “​​County officials, as much as anyone else who lives here, know full well what its citizens endure, but have chosen to ignore it. And they ignore it because they think we’ll ignore it. But this fight isn’t over — we can still use our money to house our people rather than house fish to entertain tourists. Public housing is still the most cost-effective, most humane and most straightforward policy we have to ensure that we house people for need, not profits.” 

PSL Syracuse’s online petition to demand investments in public housing can be found here.

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