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Romney Celebrates with Trump as Working New Yorkers Rally Against Rich Tax Dodgers

Mitt Romney's wife held a tax day fundraiser in New York--and found a day of protest from working people angry at the Romneys and their 1% friends' low tax rates.
 
 
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On the street outside the shimmering gold logo of Trump Towers, a baseball team has gathered. This isn't the Yankees or the Mets, though. It's the long-lost Dodgers. The Tax Dodgers, that is.

Inside Trump Towers, Ann Romney is celebrating her birthday with a fundraiser expected to bring in close to $600,000. Outside on the street, New Yorkers from the Working Families Party, New York Communities for Change, VOCAL-NY, United NY, and many other community groups have joined forces to remind the Romneys—and anyone passing by—that they pay a higher tax rate than the richest Americans.

The Tax Dodgers pose in their uniforms, hula-hooping cheerleaders hold up their “Tax Loopholes,” and the “team manager” thanks “hardworking, taxpaying Americans” for “paying taxes so we don't have to.”

Ann Romney doesn't surface, but a number of her party guests do make their way in and out the side doors of the towers during a rousing performance of “Take Me Out to the Ball Game,” accompanied by an accordion, with the lyrics slightly rewritten (listen to audiohere).

“Take me out to the tax game/ Flip the bird to the crowd/ Losers pay taxes, we take rebates/ We make the rules for the corporate state/ Then it's wham bam slam through the loopholes/ We always win, what a game/ We're the one, yes, the one percent and we have no shame!”


One of the women holds up a “Moms Drive the Economy” sticker over the giant baseball “Mitt” (pun most definitely intended); another shouts to the crowd “At least I pay taxes!” 

While we have no information on most of the attendees of Romney's party--though one did complain to the Guardian's Ryan Devereaux that she pays plenty of taxes and was being unfairly demonized--we do know that Mitt Romney paid a tax rate of 13.9 percent in 2010. And the Tax Dodgers are determined not to let anyone forget it.

"I know how much I pay," Margaret Passley, a home care worker from East Flatbush, tells AlterNet. "Mitt Romney does not know how much he pays. In January he said he thinkshe pays 15 percent. I think he should know."

Celebrating Tax Day

"Tax Day is about the citizens rising up against the big money crowd to demand that they stop ripping off the rest of us and start carrying their fair share of the tax burden. Otherwise we will rot as a nation, even if some wealthy people live glamorous lives," Dan Cantor, executive director of the Working Families Party, told AlterNet.

That, in a nutshell, was the message of the various groups banding together on Tuesday to visit some of the city's most infamous tax dodgers—including Romney's Bain Capital, General Electric, Wells Fargo and more.

The day began at post offices around the city, where activists with the various groups handed out flyers detailing the tax giveaways to big corporations, hedge funds (which pay no New York City tax on their profits) and of course, the big banks that caused the economic crisis in the first place.

They converged on the steps of the James A. Farley post office in Manhattan to hold a press conference (or they would have, if the police hadn't roped off the steps) on on tax day, one of the post office's busiest days of the year. (As of 4pm, the ropes had been reinforced by police barricades.)

Denied the steps, the press conference proceeded on the sidewalk, where members of SEIU 32BJ, VOCAL-NY, NYU for OWS, and faith leaders spoke of the need for corporations to pay their fair share, and volunteers handed out “I paid my taxes—the 1% should pay their share” stickers to people on their way in and out of the post office, as well as fact sheets on the corporations that don't pay up.

“I worked for the big banks," Wayne Starks, a board member at VOCAL-NY, told AlterNet. Starks, who is HIV-positive, went through a depression and lost his job after being diagnosed back in the early 1990s. He got his life back together with the help of social services, and to this day lives in supportive housing.

“Now it seems like the safety net they gave to me, they want to take away,” he said. “It's not like they don't have the money.” In addition to the supportive housing he relies on, he said, New York is also considering cuts to food pantries that helped him get his life back together, and the child care his grandchildren use now. “They make all the cuts to us, the 99%. When is it going to stop?”

After touring the offices of several tax dodgers, including Bain Capital, Wells Fargo and the Paulson Group, the world's fourth largest hedge fund, the activists converged at Bryant Park and set off on a march through Times Square and down 7th Avenue, past a Chase Bank where student activists put on more street theater, looping back to just short of the Farley Post Office once again. Barricades met the marchers precisely at the end of where their march permit ran out, and police officers were none too pleasant when we asked why no one was being allowed closer to the post office. 

Marchers took turns speaking to the crowd, telling personal stories. There were Teamsters, art handlers for Sotheby's stuck in an eight-month-long lockout as the company refuses to negotiate. Communication Workers of America were also in attendance, with signs targeting Verizon for its dirty dealings with its own union workers, as well as other unions, community groups, and a few Occupy activists as well. 

“It’s time for the big banks and corporations to pay their share of taxes like the rest of us do. The Flatbush community cannot afford any more cuts to the services we rely on in order to line the pockets of the 1%. We’re not going to take it anymore. Today we’re fighting back.” Leroy Johnson, chairperson of the Flatbush Chapter of New York Communities for Change, said. 

Meet the Tax Dodgers

While the uniformed “Tax Dodgers” trail Mitt Romney, activists with the coalition handed out envelopes promising “real money” inside--more money than the tax-dodging corporations paid in taxes. Inside, one penny was taped to a card listing some of the worst offenders.

General Electric, for instance, has earned $44 billion in global profits in the past three years and $10.5 billion in the US alone. Despite that, it's paid not a cent in taxes—instead, it has received a tax refund of $4.7 billion over those three years. In 2010 alone, it got $3.2 billion back from the government.

Meanwhile Verizon, which has laid off more than 20,000 workers since 2008 (while raking in profits of $32 million), paid a negative 2.9 percent tax rate in that time. While doing that, the CWA notes, it's been trying to wrangle concessions from its union workforce.

"For JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, Verizon and GE, they owe New York state billions of dollars. If they had paid their taxes, New York city would not be closing schools, there would be more money for nursing homes, home care, and more money for schooling. New York in general would be much better off," Margaret Passley said.

Morgan Stanley, the investment bank, has received nearly $200 million in public subsidies (bailouts) and $34 million from New York City alone, while slashing jobs. Wells Fargo has also cut thousands of jobs while receiving a tax refund of $681 million from 2008 to 2010.

Bank of America might be America's most notorious tax-evading corporation, having been the target of activist groups for years now, from US Uncut to Occupy Wall Street. The big bank hasn't paid federal income taxes in the past three years—but it has slashed jobs, while giving its CEO a raise (six times what he'd made the year before) and fat bonuses.

The protest at JP Morgan Chase had a personal dimension for Passley. "I owned a home for 15 years. JP Morgan Chase was my mortgage holder. I've been a home care worker for 22 years. Being a home care worker is something I like to do, it's about caring for people. I had some difficulties, they refused to refinance. Because of that I lost my home--after working some 84 hours a week to maintain and pay my mortgage, because JP Morgan refused to refinance I lost it. My beautiful daughter, I live with her now," she told AlterNet. "For that reason I'm out here to tell Chase and all the other banks: Pay your taxes. If I pay mine, they can pay theirs." 

Caitlin MacLaren, one of the NYU students demanding that the university divest from JP Morgan Chase over its foreclosure and student debt policies, said, “I think [tax day] is a great opportunity to point out the hypocrisy of a lot of these institutions, that sometimes have rhetoric about how they're serving the community. It's just really clear that on every level, they're disregarding people's rights and the needs of people in New York City and all over this country.”

What's Next?

Regular Americans had until midnight to file their tax returns, and actions continued in New York as the post office held its doors (if not its steps) open late.

But beyond street actions, what hope is there for making the 1 percent actually pay taxes? The Buffett Rule, which would have established a minimum tax on millionaires, stalled in the Senate (as do most things these days), and federal action on tax fairness seems like an impossible task while Republicans control at least part of Congress and even some Democrats are unwilling to support higher taxes on the rich.

Still, the rising pressure created by activist groups and Occupy Wall Street seems to be combining with a genuine anger on the part of everyday Americans when they find out that the companies that take their money also get government handouts. Something's got to give.

 

 

Sarah Jaffe is an associate editor at AlterNet, a rabblerouser and frequent Twitterer. You can follow her at @seasonothebitch.
 
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