“We Will Be Out in the Streets”: What’s Next in the Fight Against the GOP Tax Bill

Sarah Jaffe

Protesters took to the streets in Maine to protest Sen. Susan Collins' support of the GOP tax bill. (People's Action)

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. Mooneys 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 Peo​ple​sAc​tion​.org, sign up for our updates, learn more about where there are affil­i­ates near you that you can be a part of.

— — -

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?

JJS: The plat­form is on our web­site which is www​.Peo​ple​sAc​tion​.org. Also, a great way to keep up with us is with social media: Face­book and Twit­ter.

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. 

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of 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.
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