Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We’re now several months into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators, and educators, not only about how to resist, but how to build a better world.
Sarah Chaisson-Warner: My name is Sarah Chaisson-Warner and I’m an organizer with People’s Action.
Sarah Jaffe: We are talking on Monday morning and it is the down-to-the-wire moment for stopping the tax bill. First off, tell me what some of your groups were up to over the weekend.
SCW: Over the last three weeks, the affiliates of People’s Action have held 53 actions across the country with people standing up to say “We will not stand for this tax scam, this is not what we want, this is not what will help our communities, our economy or our country.”
Maine People’s Alliance held a large march in Kittery, ME through a snowstorm. People there were committed to showing Sen. Collins that they oppose this bill, that this tax scam bill does nothing to help their communities, and that all it does is support the interests of the wealthy and big corporations.
We also had events in West Virginia, where our affiliate and some of their allies held a rally and a banner drop and sang Christmas carols outside Rep. Mooney’s office, where Christmas carol lyrics were changed to reflect the tax scam bill. Going forward, our members are continuing to make calls to members of Congress across the country to show our opposition to this bill.
We are literally everywhere: We are in the streets, we are in the papers, we are on the phones. We are doing everything that we can to raise and mobilize the voices of people who are saying no to this bill.
We will continue to work in largely Republican districts and should Congress vote for the bill this week our affiliates are ramping up for a rapid response. If they pass this bill, it will not be quiet in the states. People are angry about this, and almost no one wants this bill to pass — you see it in the polls. We will be out in the streets and everywhere else showing members of Congress that this was the wrong decision.
SJ: Next year is going to be an election year for a lot of these people in Congress and we’re already hearing some declarations from some fairly prominent members — even rumors that Paul Ryan might not run for reelection. It seems like perhaps they know that if they pass this they are going to pay a price at the ballot box.
SCW: Absolutely. There is a political price to be paid for this. People across the country, when they went into the voting booth, did not vote for more tax breaks for the rich and big corporations. When members who vote for this bill come back to their constituencies they are going to have to meet with people and they’re going to have to stand by what they did. People won’t forget this.
Our work over the next year will be to help educate people on the impact of this tax scam bill, who voted for it and why they made the wrong decision.
SJ: What’s been most surprising to you about the last year in fighting back, in resistance, in the organizing that you’re doing on the ground?
SCW: We’ve had some good surprises and we’ve had some not-so-good surprises this year. In terms of good surprises, we’ve been impressed by the magnitude and the excitement of people to stand up for themselves, to stand up for their neighbors, to stand up for their family members and their communities to say no to policies that are just plain wrong on so many levels. That’s been a really wonderful surprise, just how motivated people are to continue the resistance.
On the negative side, I’ve been incredibly surprised that this Congress has let funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program expire. This is a program that has enjoyed bipartisan support for many years and funding for the program expired on September 30th. So while many of these members were rushing to give massive tax cuts to the wealthy and big corporations, they let funding for children’s health insurance expire and they still have not passed a bill to fund those programs. That’s had a massive impact.
SJ: How can people keep up with you and People’s Action and all the things you’ll be doing in the next year?
SCW: The best way to keep up with us is to go to our website at PeoplesAction.org, sign up for our updates, learn more about where there are affiliates near you that you can be a part of.
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On Friday, I also spoke with Jessica Juarez Scruggs of People’s Action, as the GOP dropped its “final” version of the bill.
Jessica Juarez Scruggs: Hi, my name is Jessica Juarez Scruggs. I am the Deputy Policy Director with People’s Action and People’s Action Institute, which is a national network of grassroots organizations that fights for racial, economic and gender justice.
SJ: What do we expect to see in this final version of the bill that they plan to pass?
JJS: They have changed a bit around the edges, but it is still a massive transfer of wealth to billionaires and a few multi-millionaires. And it is a transfer of wealth away from working class folks and the middle class toward the richest of the rich. So, the fundamentals have not changed.
SJ: I heard that the tax hike on graduate students was out, that Marco Rubio got his increase in the child tax credit – very minor increase in the child tax credit, as far as I could tell. So, what we are looking at now is the one thing that they might actually succeed in passing through Congress this year.
JJS: I think we are seeing the one thing the GOP can still all get behind, which is giving money to the wealthy. They might not be able to get together on exactly how to take healthcare away from everybody, but they certainly were able to find a path to success here.
I don’t want to for a second say that we are throwing in the towel and allowing this to happen. There are people camped out in front of offices all across the country. We have organizers chasing Congress people down on planes. We are not about to sit down and allow this to happen without our voices registering, but it certainly is a tough task.
SJ: Talk a little bit about what your member organizations have been doing all week. There have been arrests in D.C., arrests in several different congressional offices, congress people hiding from their constituents.
JJS: We have had over 50 actions in the last three weeks in Republican districts across the country. People are really, really concerned about giving massive tax breaks to the wealthy and corporations. We all know that this has been achieved by budget magic and the only way they are going to pay for this is through cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid — the programs that our folks depend on to stay alive and keep their families healthy.
SJ: I think one of the things about this bill is that this is not just a massive tax break for billionaires, this does actually raise taxes on working people. That seems like kind of a bold move for an unpopular party and a quite unpopular president.
JJS: Yes. I think they have sort of been scraping wherever they can to get the revenue they need to pay for some of these massive giveaways, like the pass-through, which is a deduction allowing the first 20% of income from a pass-through company to be essentially tax free. That is something that is only going to benefit the very, very wealthy. To get the money to pay for those tax cuts and still stay under the $1.5 trillion line, they really have to go through the middle class. It is the only way to raise the revenue.
SJ: One of the upsides of this year is that if this bill passes, this will be the only big piece of legislation that this Congress passes at all. Although this would be a bad note to end the year on, it has been an interesting experience to see how much can be stopped.
JJS: If you had asked me in January where we would be today, I would have painted a darker picture. The only reason it is not worse is because of the millions of people who have called and emailed and gotten arrested and stood outside in the freezing cold and sung tax-themed Christmas carols and everything else. I think it is proof of what we can do when we are united and get organized and get out in the streets. I am just looking forward to seeing that applied through the electoral sphere in the near future.
SJ: Speaking of that, next year is going to be a Congressional election year. There are going to be some big Senate seats up. Paul Ryan might retire. What do you want to see from people who are running to replace some of the people who are going to vote for this tax bill? What are some of the things that you want these people to have in their platforms?
JJS: We actually have a platform that we are asking folks to run on. It is our Protest to Power platform. I can name some specific priorities, but I think the biggest thing is that we are really looking for folks who are willing and excited to co-govern with the people in their communities. People who are not trying to get elected and then shut the door, but really listen to what their constituents are saying, and transfer as much power as possible away from special interests and into our hands.
SJ: Where can people find this platform and how can they keep up with you and your organization?
Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.
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Sarah Jaffe is a Type Media Center Fellow, co-host (with Michelle Chen) of Dissent magazine’s Belabored podcast, and a columnist at The New Republic and New Labor Forum. She was formerly a staff writer at In These Times and the labor editor at AlterNet. Her previous book is Necessary Trouble: Americans in Revolt, which Robin D.G. Kelley called “The most compelling social and political portrait of our age.” You can follow her on Twitter @sarahljaffe.