US Uncut: Corporate Tax Dodging Unifies Unlikely Allies -- Like Cops and Protesters
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This weekend, US Uncut chapters in Georgia, New York, Washington, Pennsylvania and California staged actions (a much larger nationwide protest is planned for March 26. Thus far, 30 cities have signed up). I spoke with Kevin Shields, the founder of US Uncut Philadelphia about the protest and also his wish to close the divides between three groups: members of the lower classes, US Uncut’s predominately white movement and minority communities and also domestic efforts and the anti-austerity resistances in other countries.
A senior in high school, Shields decided to start his own US Uncut chapter simply because the need to protest is in his DNA. “For me, protesting and getting involved in activism is just something you do. If you don’t do it, you’re really missing out, and you’re participating in your own exploitation. So when I saw this, I thought, okay, I’ll do that.”
He tells me what happened at Saturday’s protest. It’s a familiar story for the newer branches of US Uncut: a small, peaceful protest during which the activists staged a “teach-in.”
“We explained [to customers] that if you take half of the money the IRS paid [Bank of America] in 2009 you’d be able to pay for every single cut Governor Corbett is proposing… We just educated everyone there about what’s going on.”
For an example of a teach-in, here is a video from Uncut Boston:
As usual, the staff of the bank was not amused. “The security guy was kind of stressing out,’” says Shields. But then a funny thing happened. Security called the police, and when an officer arrived to the scene, he didn’t seem to know what to do. The protest was peaceful, and the activists clearly weren’t looking for a fight. Shields said the officer lingered in the bank for fifteen minutes before approaching him. “Finally, he walked up to me and was like, ‘They really want you to leave. I don’t want to tell you to leave, but they really want you to leave.’ It was really weird to have a cop at a protest be so polite to me,” he says.
I witnessed similar behavior at New York’s day of action. Protesters spoke with police officers and explained they were engaging in civil disobedience on their behalf. Under Mayor Bloomberg’s leadership, firefighting staff will fall to its lowest ranks since 1980, and the police force will be slashed to its 1992 level, according to an Independent Budget Office’s report. Bloomberg also intends to fire 5,000 teachers. The cops seemed sympathetic with the protesters, who after all, were outside shivering and clinging to cardboard signs partly to save their jobs.
It’s trickier to form the same bonds of solidarity in Philadelphia because of a shrewd maneuver by Governor Corbett. Shields launches into an explanation of Corbett’s tactic by telling me a story about former UK Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.
“There was one part of the government that Maggy spent more money on, and that was police, and of course she needed them for the miner strike. Corbett is doing the exact same thing here. He’s actually increased funding on police by about $40 million.”
By heavily funding the police, Corbett is removing the possibility of a serious, unified backlash from unions in the wake of his other austerity measures (about $1 billion in cuts). He has successfully managed to squash solidarity.
However, Shields has some ideas for how to counteract the Corbett-style wedge. Now, this must be stressed (namely because he emphatically emphasized it): Shields is by no means calling the shots. Unlike an astroturfing campaign like FreedomWorks, US Uncut is a 100 percent genuine grassroots movement. As such, it’s completely democratic. The members decide where the agenda goes. That being said, Shields does have some good ideas he wanted to convey to me.