US Uncut is born
Walking away from the Mississippi State Capitol yesterday, I saw three older white folks getting out of their cars. They looked like they were on a mission.
“Hey y’all,” I said, making friendly talk like we do in the South. “Who y’all with?”
A bigger man chuckled. “We’re with the old folks committee.”
“You mean the Mississippi Tea Party?” I asked. We all laughed.
It was funny because it was true; the tea virus has seeped into the halls of the state legislature this year. You can always tell by looking for the all-white, 60-something crowd of stern-faced men and women clad in red, white and blue clothing.
I’ve suffered through a local Tea Party gathering out of morbid curiosity. It was 80 or so old folks planning their schedules around the upcoming Glenn Beck 9/12 rally in Washington, interspersed with venom against the “liberal” mainstream media. There was also a speaker who said that the United States wasn’t a union, but a Confederacy of states. He added that The South was the only group of states to properly understand that concept. Other than myself at age 23, the youngest person in the room was in their fifties.
Young people in Mississippi have every reason to get active in politics. We have the nation’s lowest per capita income, lowest college graduation rate, the most poorly-ranked schools and the highest rates of obesity, diabetes, child poverty and reported incidences of domestic violence. We’re ranked 51st out of 50 states plus Washington, D.C. in almost every social welfare category.
And for reasons unknown, our leaders continue to get re-elected by fighting to resist the inevitable progress of social change at every turn. Young people busy working 2 or 3 jobs to scrape together $450 a month for rent don’t really have the energy or time for civil disobedience.
Then my dad emailed me an article about UK Uncut from The Nation. I was riveted. The story of British citizens refusing to let Vodaphone earn income until Vodaphone paid income taxes rang true. And after reading the ten-step guide to starting US Uncut, I got busy.
I discovered that two-thirds of US corporations don’t pay income taxes. I learned the $3 in my wallet was more than the income tax liability of multi-billionaire Fortune 500 headliners like GE, ExxonMobil, Bank of America and Citibank combined.
These are the very same companies to whom we gave hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars, ruined the economy and rewarded themselves with performance bonuses that could have solved every state’s budget crisis and created millions of jobs.
At the same time, my state and others across the US are preparing to fire hundreds of thousands of hard-working state employees due to drastic budget cuts (pdf). Politicians say these cuts are necessary to meet the requirements of balancing the state budget every year, yet they prefer to fire public school teachers and police officers instead of confront the most egregious tax cheats.
If America’s corporate tax dodgers paid taxes like everyone else, Mississippi could theoretically recoup up to $432 million per year (pdf). The US would recoup up to $100 billion a year, or $1 trillion every decade. If Congress closed corporate tax loopholes and made offshore tax havens illegal, tax dodgers would provide our treasury with all of the necessary expenses to fund US infrastructure and pay off our debt by 2016.
When you approach young people and inform them of gross economic injustices, they light up. We’re so hungry for a movement like US Uncut to begin. Most of us are victims of massive layoffs or budget cuts. We’re all struggling and barely holding on to our last strings of financial stability before our corporate owners take those too. When we hear that working people may suddenly have a voice in how leaders shape policy, we get fired up.
I’ve started an organization called CIVIL USA- Citizens In the Voluntary Insistence of Laws. We, the taxpaying citizens of this nation, are volunteering our time to insist that our corporate citizens follow the law. The law, in this case, being the 16th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
On February 26th, myself and about a dozen others are forming a human chain in front of the entrance of a local Bank of America branch. We’re going to close the branch and refuse them the opportunity to earn income until Bank of America pays income taxes like everyone else.
I’m letting my friends in the local media know about the protest so they can be there before we’re arrested. I’m organizing this by facebook, twitter and word of mouth. I’m still looking for attorneys friendly to the cause willing to represent us pro bono if Bank of America decides to press charges. I’m also looking for a bail bondsman to help get our bail lowered to an affordable rate. If we’re arrested for trespassing, that means a misdemeanor on our record and a potentially hefty fine.
We’ll likely need financial support so we can keep the protests frequent and well-attended. I’m going about the business of registering with the IRS as a 501(c)(4) organization so I can take donations through a paypal account. I’ve hosted my first interest meeting and told a dozen old/young, white/black gay/straight Jacksonians about what we plan to do.
I’m continually inspired by widespread, spontaneous demonstrations in favor of democracy in Tunisia, Egypt, Ireland, Greece and especially by UK Uncut. I’m attempting to organize a US Uncut protest day on February 26th with the help of friends in other states. I’ve heard on Twitter of protests being organized in Portland, Maine and in New York on the same day.
US Uncut will confront the banks on the same day as the second of the two UK Uncut bank protests – the 19th and 26th of February. February is the month they start to pay attention to us.
Before one more teacher is fired, before one more salary is frozen, let’s stand together and demand the richest among us play by the rules like everyone else and pay up.