In the Face of the GOP’s Class-War Tax Bill, Chicago Activists Voice Outrage in the Streets

Timna Axel

Chicago's march was one of dozens of rallies and events planned this week in California, Colorado, Louisiana, Montana, Maine, New York, New Jersey, Florida, Virginia, Ohio, and Michigan. (Matt McLoughlin)

Chica­go — It’s an unsea­son­ably warm Decem­ber evening and a crowd of about 500 peo­ple, some wear­ing knit­ted pussy hats and recy­cled signs from pre­vi­ous ral­lies, are gath­ered at the plaza in front of the Chica­go Board of Trade. Two days ear­li­er the Sen­ate passed its ver­sion of the GOP’s tax plan, which gives lav­ish tax breaks to the wealthy at the expense of every­one else. 

Every­one I talk to in my church and in my sem­i­nary com­mu­ni­ty is ter­ri­fied of what this bill and oth­er pieces of leg­is­la­tion mean for us,” says Saman­tha Nichols, a 24-year-old sem­i­nary stu­dent who attend­ed the event.

Nichols wore her cler­i­cal col­lar under a grey coat as she marched in the Decem­ber 4 protest. With almost $50,000 in debt and one year left on her par­ents’ health insur­ance, she wor­ries both about her future and that of the parish­ioners at the Bridge­port church where she is a vicar.

In the city that launched Barack Oba­ma, home to one of the most diverse and most seg­re­gat­ed urban pop­u­la­tions in the coun­try, street protests have become both an expres­sion of pop­u­lar out­rage and a chance for polit­i­cal atten­tion. Notice of Chicago’s protest against the GOP tax plan was post­ed online Decem­ber 2 by The Peo­ple’s Lob­by and co-host­ed by a dozen oth­er orga­ni­za­tions. By Decem­ber 4, around 700 peo­ple had RSVP’d on Facebook.

Hun­dreds of ral­lies and protests have erupt­ed around the coun­try as the GOP tax bill made its way out of the Sen­ate com­mit­tee. Last Wednes­day, grad­u­ate stu­dents at more than 40 uni­ver­si­ty cam­pus­es walked out of class, and pro­test­ers took to the streets around the coun­try as the bill made its way out of the Sen­ate Bud­get Com­mit­tee. Accord­ing to Indi­vis­i­ble, dozens more ral­lies and events are planned this week in Cal­i­for­nia, Col­orado, Louisiana, Mon­tana, Maine, New York, New Jer­sey, Flori­da, Vir­ginia, Ohio, and Michigan. 

At the Chica­go protest, the crowd chant­ed, 

Love thy neigh­bor as thy­self! Tax the rich and share the wealth!” One man held a sign illus­trat­ed with a pitchfork.

While many of the most­ly white pro­test­ers walked straight from their Loop offices to join the march, 34-year-old Reid McCol­lum came in from the west­ern sub­urb of Hins­dale to par­tic­i­pate. He leads the Coali­tion for a Bet­ter Illi­nois 6th, a net­work of 25 grass­roots groups advo­cat­ing for local civic engagement.

McCollum’s con­gres­sion­al dis­trict is rep­re­sent­ed Repub­li­can Peter Roskam, one of only two dozen red dis­tricts in the coun­try won by Hillary Clin­ton in Novem­ber 2016. About an hour before crowds gath­ered in down­town Chica­go, Roskam had been select­ed to rec­on­cile the cur­rent ver­sions of the Sen­ate and House GOP tax bills before they’re sent to Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

The House has named its con­fer­ees (though not with­out a tantrum from the con­ser­v­a­tive Free­dom Cau­cus), and the Sen­ate is expect­ed to do so on Wednes­day. The time­line is unknown and the process to rec­on­cile the House and Sen­ate ver­sions will take place behind closed doors, but GOP law­mak­ers are eager to get the law passed before Con­gress goes on hol­i­day break after Decem­ber 15.

One of the major stick­ing points is expect­ed to be the late addi­tion of the cor­po­rate alter­na­tive min­i­mum tax (AMT) into the Sen­ate pro­pos­al. Remov­ing it in con­fer­ence would add $40 bil­lion to the cost of the bill. And while the Sen­ate ver­sion guts the Oba­macare indi­vid­ual man­date, the House pro­pos­al leaves it untouched. Oth­er dif­fer­ences that will need to be ironed out include whether grad­u­ate stu­dents’ tuition waivers are tax­able income, estate tax­es, the mort­gage inter­est deduc­tion, and the child tax credit.

Peter Roskam is the most cul­pa­ble politi­cian in the entire state of Illi­nois for this tax bill,” says McCol­lum. He wrote this thing and right now he’s sit­ting in a room with lob­by­ists and bil­lion­aires writ­ing a ver­sion that’s going to prob­a­bly pass, and con­stituents in my dis­trict need to know about it. … No Demo­c­rat has vot­ed for this thing. The fact is that only one Repub­li­can sen­a­tor had the courage to say this is wrong, this is not what we believe in – it’s not even what the Repub­li­can Par­ty believes in, its what the lib­er­tar­i­an extreme donors believe in, and they’re work­ing for them not the Amer­i­can people.”

McCol­lum wants peo­ple to focus on street protests, can­vass­ing, and turn­ing out for the next elec­tion to oust law­mak­ers like Roskam.

Max Romero works as an inde­pen­dent pub­lish­ing con­trac­tor in Uptown and orga­nizes with ONE North­side. He wor­ries that with­out the deduc­tions he relies on, he will not be able to con­tin­ue work­ing inde­pen­dent­ly, and that find­ing a job as a 47-year-old in media will be near­ly impos­si­ble. Until six months ago, he and his wife went on Oba­macare, and he now wor­ries about how fur­ther finan­cial insta­bil­i­ty may affect his family.

I do put some of the blame on estab­lish­ment Democ­rats. They for too long have been almost like the less con­ser­v­a­tive arm of one par­ty that runs this coun­try,” he says. But, Romero adds, a lot of peo­ple are wak­ing up, and many are run­ning for office or enter­ing pol­i­tics who would nev­er have thought about it oth­er­wise. I think that’s where our real hope is.”

At a few min­utes past 5 p.m. Illi­nois State Sen­a­tor and Demo­c­ra­t­ic guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Daniel Biss shouts through a mega­phone, Do you know what kinds of untold wealth come in and out of that build­ing on a dai­ly basis?” asks Biss, nod­ding at the tow­er­ing Chica­go Board of Trade.

As a stu­dent teacher what real­ly con­cerns me is the fact that they’re tak­ing out the deduc­tion for teach­ers [in the house bill],” says Joe Padil­la, a stu­dent teacher. We have to buy our own sup­plies because we don’t have ful­ly fund­ed schools, and now they’re tak­ing our deduc­tions so we’re pay­ing more.”

Padil­la, is from the west­ern sub­urbs and is a senior at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Illi­nois in Chica­go where he’s study­ing to be a his­to­ry teacher. While on cam­pus he got involved in the fight for stu­dent work­ers to be paid min­i­mum wage and became a coor­di­na­tor with UIC Stu­dent Action.

Padil­la has attend­ed pub­lic schools his whole life, and his moth­er is a pub­lic school teacher. He joined the protest because the House ver­sion of the GOP tax plan includes a vouch­er for char­ter schools to allow a fam­i­lies to with­draw up to $10,000 a year from tax-free col­lege sav­ings and use it for tuition and expens­es at K‑12 schools, includ­ing pri­vate and reli­gious schools.

What gives me hope is see­ing things like this,” he says, being able to go into leg­isla­tive meet­ings and demand that our elect­ed offi­cials sup­port a bud­get not just in Illi­nois, but across the coun­try that puts peo­ple and plan­et first, over prof­its and corporations.”

Rena­to Mar­i­ot­ti, a for­mer fed­er­al pros­e­cu­tor run­ning in the crowd­ed race for Illi­nois attor­ney gen­er­al says the blame for the tax bill lies on peo­ple I know who stayed home and didn’t care when I asked them to get ener­gized for this last election.”

Biss and Mar­i­ot­ti are not the only polit­i­cal hope­fuls attend­ing the ral­ly. Ra Joy who is run­ning for lieu­tenant gov­er­nor as the run­ning mate of guber­na­to­r­i­al can­di­date Chris Kennedy (Bob­by Kennedy’s son) is also there.

This bil­lion­aires’ tax scam is com­plete­ly and total­ly moral­ly bank­rupt,” he says. It’s prob­a­bly the most regres­sive and unfair piece of leg­is­la­tion to move through Con­gress in my lifetime.”

Edi­tor’s Note:
A pre­vi­ous ver­sion list­ed Indi­vis­i­ble Chica­go as the orga­ni­za­tion that post­ed the event to Face­book. The arti­cle has been updat­ed to show that The Peo­ple’s Lobby​ post­ed the notice.

Tim­na Axel is based out of Chica­go and works for Chica­go Lawyers’ Com­mit­tee for Civ­il Rights. She’s also writ­ten for 90 Days, 90 Voic­es, City Bureau, the Invis­i­ble Insti­tute and South Side Week­ly. In 2017 she won a Peter Lis­agor Award for her report­ing on City Bureau’s Liv­ing with Lead” series.
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