Tax the rich, not the sick

December 11, 2017 rounds up reports from demonstrations that brought protesters into the streets and onto the campuses to protest the Republican tax heist.

RESPONDING TO Congress' plan for a Christmas present to the 1 Percent--tax cuts worth more than $1 trillion for the rich, while working people will pay more in taxes and the inevitable deficit is already being used to justify cuts to social spending--protesters came out in cities across the U.S. to show their opposition.

The fact that the bill is one of the most unpopular pieces of legislation in recent history didn't slow the Republicans down in their giveaway to the rich--but it is fueling resistance at the grassroots, as protesters fight not only to kill the bill, but against the cuts to come.

The protests ranged from actions on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where the heist was being plotted to local actions in cities around the country from California to Maine.

In Washington, D.C., following on the heels of dozens of civil disobedience actions and protests prior to the Senate's vote on tax legislation, hundreds of protesters turned out in the days that followed.

Hundreds chanted outside of congressional offices on December 5, and dozens were arrested outside of the offices of Republican Reps. Ryan Costello and Barbara Comstock.

Activists rally against the Republican tax bill in Columbus, Ohio
Activists rally against the Republican tax bill in Columbus, Ohio (Becker1999 | flickr)

In Chicago, some 500 gathered in front of the Board of Trade before marching to the Federal building on December 4 in a demonstration called by the People's Lobby (TPL).

Supporters of TPL/Reclaim Chicago, Jane Addams Senior Caucus, Indivisible Chicago and Indivisible Oak Park, Democracy for America, One Northside and the International Socialist Organization turned out, in addition to members of AFSCME Local 1989, National Nurses United and other unions and activist groups.

Gubernatorial candidate Daniel Biss spoke prior to the march. Afterward, a representative from the Jane Addams Senior Caucus, which was active in building local "Moral Mondays" protests last year, a TPL organizer and National Nurses United member Elizabeth Lalasz spoke to the crowd. In particular, Lalasz spoke about the bill as part of an attack on public-sector workers in particular.

Speakers at the demonstration emphasized that the bill is an attack on working-class and poor people and didn't shy away from criticizing the Democratic party's lack of a fight. There were many calls to fight the bill, but concrete next steps were mostly limited to pressuring individual legislators through phone calls and an emphasis on the 2018 elections.

In Los Angeles, more than 700 people marched from Pershing Square as part of a rally and march endorsed by more than 20 organizations, including the LA branch of the International Socialist Organization, the Democratic Socialists of America, People for Bernie Sanders, and more.

Sophia Armen, a graduate student at the University of California San Diego gave a rousing speech, sharing chants that echoed the popular slogan of the Egyptian revolution: "The people want the fall of the Trump regime."

Speaking about the ways the bill will directly impact her, Armen condemned the provision that will tax tuition waivers received by graduate students. She mentioned the airport protests against the Muslim ban as pointing toward potential resistance.

The march was lively and radical, featuring a number of homemade signs, one of which appropriately read: "The American dream is a pyramid scheme." Some in the crowd shouted "Call your senator," but one of the most popular chants on the march was "Up, up, up with the people. Down, down, down with Congress."

As Armen said: "I am telling you: This tax bill is class war, so answer the call to battle!"

In San Diego, hundreds converged in front of the Federal Building on December 4 for an event, called "Stop the #GOPTaxScam", co-sponsored by the San Diego Southwest Asian-North African Alliance (SWANAA-SD), Activist San Diego, San Diego Action United, Indivisible San Diego and the UCSD Student Workers Union.

The event began when about 20 protesters, many of them Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients, who began chanting, "What do we want? DREAM Act! When do we want it? Now!"

Protesters braved cops and to block rush-hour traffic while marching in the street. The protest grew large enough to circle the block with a continuous procession of people carrying signs, flags and banners. By the time, the DACA activists reopened the street and rallied around the stage, the crowd numbered in the hundreds, with dozens of cars honking their horns in approval as they drove by.

Rick, who carried a sign reading "We the people, NOT the donors," was most incensed about the tax bill's attack on the Affordable Care Act and the victimization of people who make under $75,000 a year. Renée marched to protest the gutting of Medicare and the prioritization of corporations over people. Another protester, Ray, was horrified that his generation's future was being mortgaged to fund corporate tax havens.

Mohamed Elnakib, the event's organizer and emcee, stressed that this bill stands to make the rich richer and the 1 Percent more powerful.

A common thread in protesters' outrage was the bill's elimination of the state and local tax deduction, which is a targeted attack on states like California, and their ability to fund infrastructure, education and other projects.

The rally downtown coincided with a similar event at the University of California at San Diego, where almost 100 UCSD graduate students participated in a walk-out coordinated with UC campuses across the state in opposition to the House plan to tax graduate student's tuition waivers as income.

In Austin, Texas, more than 500 graduate students at the University of Texas (UT) at Austin walked out of "all work-related duties" on December 6 and into the cold, wind and rain to protest Congress' most recent attack on them and other workers.

Rallying on the steps of the UT tower against the GOP's plan, grad workers named the hustle for what it is, chanting against the "tax scam on our backs!"

The walkout and march, organized through the Graduate Student Assembly, sought to make disrupt business as usual to show the university's "core of educational labor" that is "publicly invisible and woefully undercompensated."

As a group of workers in the absurd position of having to continually pay their employer (via tuition) to even enter the workplace, graduate students highlighted how the latest iteration of the class war was a blatant move to narrow public higher education into an avenue only available to the wealthy.

As Carol Fraser, who works in the school of architecture, explained: "For students like me, we have to take on other jobs and go further and further into debt just to be here, and this tax bill puts into jeopardy our already precarious situation."

The walkout also emphasized the dynamism of the graduate student workplace, and how the potential for international solidarity and fighting for a commitment to the rights of all workers. One Democratic congressional candidate was shouted down when he spoke about guaranteeing education for "all Americans"--protesters angrily corrected, "Everyone!"

Many graduate student workers are international students whose lives and well-being are impacted by events both in the U.S. and abroad. In fact, the walkout unexpectedly coincided with a smaller demonstration in solidarity with migrants in Libya--and graduate student protesters extended a message of solidarity.

Several graduate student speakers spoke to a more than sympathetic audience about deepening the struggle for Black lives and the rights of undocumented students. Recounting her experiences in the titanic Quebec student struggles of 2012, which halted an austerity agenda in its tracks and brought down a government, Fraser reminded demonstrators of their potential power to make history.

Juan, a worker in the Lozano Long Institute of Latin American Studies, remarked, "[The tax plan] affects me because I'm a TA here, and I'm also an international student, so it's even worse. When I came here, it was hard for me to pay the normal tuition, but with taxes, it's now going to be harder."

In Columbus, Ohio, some 140 people gathered for a noontime rally at the Ohio Statehouse on December 9, followed by a march to Republican Sen. Rob Portman's office.

Members of Indivisible Ohio, Sierra Club, Working America, Save Grad Ed OSU, RenewOSU, the International Socialist Organization and others carried signs that read, "Tax the rich, not the sick," and "No tax cuts for wealthy."

Nick, a member of RenewOSU, a undergraduate climate justice student organization at OSU, pointed out who politicians were aiding with the tax plan--and the fact that OSU is complicit in harming the environment.

Julian, an activist with Working America, argued for a call to action and lauded the diversity of the people present at the rally. He explained how the tax bill was not "trickle-down economics" but really "trickle-down oppression."

Noah Charles, an organizer with Save Grad Ed at OSU, explained that graduate students are members of the working class and pointed out how quickly students radicalized after hearing about the tax bill, organizing rallies and actions to fight back.

Sen. Portman is scheduled to speak of the OSU commencement on December 17--and Save Grad Ed is planning on making sure he doesn't go unopposed.

In Madison, Wisconsin, despite bitter cold and short notice, more than 50 people rallied against the tax cut rip-off at the University of Wisconsin (UW).

The rally was called by the International Socialist Organization and endorsed by Democratic Socialists of America, Four Lakes Green Party, Indivisible Wisconsin, Not One Penny, Socialist Alternative, Teaching Assistants' Association and Our Wisconsin Revolution.

The messages put forward at the rally centered around the need for unity in fighting the tax cuts. Speakers explained how different groups would be affected, including the tax increase on graduate students under the House plan, and the way that tax cuts would be used to justify the next round of budget cuts.

Speaker CV Vitolo-Haddad, a member of the Teaching Assistants' Association and director of debate at UW Madison, spoke about the need to fight the whole tax scam, not just this or that part:

We won't reject line items of the tax bill at the expense of the most vulnerable. Solidarity is about relationships. If we lose those relationships to each other, then we become the form of individualism that only benefits the 1 Percent and tells us it is our fault when we don't succeed.

In Burlington, Vermont, several dozen protesters rallied on the steps of Bailey-Howe Library at the University of Vermont (UVM), including representatives of the ISO, the newly formed chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), UVM Progressives, and more.

Gabe Timberg of the ISO said that the Republican proposal would only benefit the wealthy elites and corporations.

Alex Smith, a representative of SJP, brought up the issue of the U.S. supporting illegal Israeli settlements and Trump's plan to further endorse Israel by moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. "Just as we cannot trust wealthy congressmen to do anything other than support the rich," he said, "we cannot expect an administration which gives so much to the colonizers to find peace and freedom for the Palestinians."

In Amherst, Massachusetts, the Western Massachusetts branch of the ISO organized a "Rally Against the Tax Plan" on December 5 at the University of Massachusetts (UMass) at Amherst. Twenty people turned out despite pouring rain and the end of the semester drawing near.

The following day, the ISO held a panel discussion featuring two graduate student senators, who discussed their plans for a December 13 teach-in and rally against the tax heist.

Destiny Gowdy, Jon Kurinsky, Meghan Lemay, Twinkle Panda, Anna Shea, Seth Uzman and Alexander Wells contributed to this article.

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