Taxes and science

When large demonstrations work, they change the conversations afterward. Assembling in Washington DC–and elsewhere–occupies space in mainstream and social media even when the demonstrators have gone home.

Last week’s tax march, which turned out tens of thousands across scores of American cities, focused squarely on the release of Donald Trump’s tax returns.

It made for clever politics in a few different ways:

First, Tax Day protests are a staple for conservative activists, who accentuate widespread resentment toward filling out complicated forms and spending money on anything you might not feel like spending money on that day. The Tea Party emerged as a force through Tax Day protests in 2009, and “Tea” stood for: Taxed Enough Already.

Until last week, Tax Day protests read as resentment toward paying taxes and supporting government altogether. By claiming this space, Tax Day activists flipped the script to focus on tax justice instead. Donald Trump’s hidden returns allowed activists to talk about tax advantages for the very rich, and to establish a strong position against tax cuts for corporations and the very rich that float high on the Republican agenda.

Second, Trump’s supporters have claimed, as he has, that the November election demonstrated no public interest in the president’s returns. Large numbers of marchers Protest in New York Citydemonstrated otherwise. Although they didn’t provide the returns, Trump’s allies and staff were once again forced to provide (unsatisfying) answers.

Third, continued attention to the secret returns will haunt any Congressional debate about tax reform. Democratic legislators promised not to support any changes to the tax code until they can see how they will affect Trump’s finances. They demand that he demonstrate that he’s looking out for the country rather than himself.

Fourth, because the president is so sensitive to criticism–and so difficult for his staff to manage–every provocation trolls, providing Trump the opportunity to tweet another unforced error. He rarely misses such opportunities: on Twitter, he wondered aloud who had paid for the demonstrations. Activists could easily respond that they’re just interested in who paid for Trump.

Today’s March for Science in Washington, DC, supported by hundreds of satellite marches worldwideImage result for march for science will work, partly, by drawing attention to public support for science and education and to the role of facts and inquiry in making public policy.

Activists are directly challenging the notion that the president’s substantial gut should serve as the ultimately arbiter on climate change, public health, or transportation. The science marchers support a passionate commitment to a process for coming to truth, one which should inform the public debate.

I’m inspired.

Apparently, Trump is as well. In response to the march, the White House released a statement affirming the president’s commitments to science and economic growth–but not addressing climate change:

My administration is committed to advancing scientific research that leads to a better understanding of our environment and of environmental risks...As we do so, we should remember that rigorous science depends not on ideology, but on a spirit of honest inquiry and robust debate.

The maxim that “hypocrisy is the tribute vice pays to virtue” (from Francois de La Rochefoucauld, a 17th century French writer), suggests that such rank duplicity actually ends up reinforcing nobler norms.

I expect fine journalists to report on the march and Trump’s response to it. I also expect Members of the Union for Concerned Scientists with Muppet character Beaker protest in front of The White House in Washington D.C., before heading to the National Mall for the March for Science.them to outline Trump’s proposed budget, which features massive cuts to science generally, medical research, and environmental protection.

The effective demonstration provides a torch to enlighten–or inflame–the discussions that follow.

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A day without…. a note on strikes

Today organizers of the Women’s March are staging a strike….of sorts.

The fundamental logic of a strike is coercive. People refuse to do what’s expected of them (e.g., work, take public transit, pay taxes), forcing those dependent on cooperation or quiescence to consider different policies. Although some practitioners, like Gandhi, consistently explained that it was about convincing your opponent of the justice of your position, this stance isn’t completely forthcoming. Economic and political leverage advantage even the strongest moral argument.

Mostly, we think about strikes in the context of the labor movement. Workers seeking better wages or working conditions refuse to do their jobs until they get what they want. Ruins of Ludlow restored.jpgDisruption of business is critical for getting anything: coal stays in the ground; cars aren’t built; kids aren’t taught. If concessions or accommodations come, they result from pressure as well as moral suasion.

A strike like this is difficult and costly for the strikers as well as their targets. Workers who aren’t working don’t earn money. It can be dangerous as well. Workers who refuse to go to work can lose their jobs. Even worse: Employers have used police, private or not, to break up strikes and strikers.  Awful: In 1913 Colorado National Guardsmen burned a strikers’ encampment, killing children and wives, as well as strikers in the Ludlow Massacre.

The leverage that women can exercise and the risks they broker are, at least, different. Sex is the ultimate weaponGreek comedy provides a wonderful model: Aristophanes’s Lysistrata.  The titular heroine organizes the women of Athens, Sparta, and their various allies to stop making war possible. They stop sleeping with the men, taking care of the children, and doing all the work that women do. They also seize the treasury. In the play, abstention is difficult for everyone involved, and eventually, the men give in and make peace. Everyone has sex at the end. It’s a buoyant and bawdy model of politics, the kind that works better in the theater than elsewhere.

The Day without Women has somewhat more modest objectives. Women who can are asked to stay home from work and/or  shop only at women or minority-owned businesses and/or wear red in international solidarity for Women’s Day; groups in some cities are scheduling rallies, and at least a few schools, anticipating absent teachers, are canceling classes. But there’s no visible coercion or pressure anywhere–and it’s only a day. In some ways, it’s similar to the Day without Immigrants activists staged last month. That effort was buttressed by larger demonstrations and the sympathetic closing of many restaurants; some strikers lost their jobs.

So absent pressure, how’s all this work?

Taking personal/political days off, wearing red, and talking and thinking about women and public policy is a signal and statement to those who are paying attention. It’s also a commitment, albeit a modest one, to activism and engagement for those who take it on. The day itself matters as much as it encourages all kinds of efforts in the future.

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Authenticating townhall meeting protests

Image result for indivisible town meetingsGetting yelled at in an elementary school auditorium isn’t much fun for most of us. It’s probably even worse when you’re an adult, and those yelling, questioning your integrity and intelligence, are also threatening to take away your job.  It’s not surprising that elected officials anticipating trouble are ducking them; this year, it’s mostly Republican members of Congress skipping the schools and the waves of opposition Trump has provoked. But some Democrats, particularly those in states carried by Trump, have also found other ways to fill their time.

So many excuses:

Marco Rubio (R-FL) originally said that he’d be out of the country, but he found himself in South Florida, where constituents wanted to meet. He then acknowledged that he knew people would yell at him, and has no interest in embracing that experience.

Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) spent part of her break touring the Mexican border, and sent staffers to meetings in her place; she said she’d schedule some meetings at the next Congressional recess.

Representative Mimi Walters (R-CA), my Congresswoman, issued a statement that she preferred to meet with constituents rather than paid protesters. Asked if she had any evidence that anyone was actually paid, Rep. Walters’s office issued a statement that the protesters were organized and opposed to Walters. (True.)

Representative Louie Gohmert (R-TX) said it was much too dangerous for him to attend a meeting, because of the anger everywhere and crazy people with guns. There’s obvious irony (hypocrisy?) here: Gohmert has never supported any restrictions on access to guns, and interrupted a Democratic sit-in on the House floor about gun control last year, screaming that radical Islam was the prime threat to public safety.

The resistance campaign is organizing around the absences, calling out legislators who won’t show up for meetings.

Although there’s nothing in the Constitution that requires legislators to hold open meetings, lots of people think it’s part of the job– including elected officials who have taken their knocks.

Former US Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ), who was shot and severely wounded at a meet-and-greet in her district, says that being accessible is part of the job: “To the politicians who have abandoned their civic obligations, I say this: Have some courage. Face your constituents. Hold town halls.”

She also says that Gohmert might feel more secure if he supported some of the common sense gun control reforms that she’s been promoting since leaving office.

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R) who has held dozens of townhalls each year, and is known for bringing as much vigor and venom to the meetings as any opponent, has no patience for Republicans who won’t face the public. The Washington Post reports:

I understand why members of Congress don’t like it…But you know what? You asked for the job. Go do it….Welcome to the real world of responsibility…The fact is that, right now, the heat is on the Republicans. It’s on us. … We now have two-thirds of the statehouses in America. We have the House. We have the Senate. We have the White House. It’s now on us to produce results. And one of the things that we need to do is engage with the public.

Local organizers are often taking cues from online guides, like Indivisible. They’re also watching other local groups and paying attention to the news.

Most notably, they’re drawing on the vast archive of writing and video on the Tea Party disruptions at town hall meetings in the summer of 2009, intended to stop health care reform. The Tea Party built on the infrastructure of well-funded conservative groups, particularly Americans for Prosperity and FreedomWorks, and they had printed guides as well. Eight years later, it’s still easy to find some in print and online.  Here’s an excerpt from a guide drafted by Bob McGuffie, a Tea Party activist in Connecticut.

You need to rock-the-boat early in the Rep’s presentation, Watch for an opportunity to yell out and challenge the Rep’s statements early. If he blames Bush for something or offers other excuses — call him on it, yell back and have someone else follow-up with a shout-out…The purpose is to make him uneasy early on and set the tone for the hall as clearly informal, and free-wheeling. It will also embolden others who agree with us to call out and challenge with tough questions. The goal is to rattle him, get him off his prepared script and agenda. If he says something outrageous, stand up and shout out…”

Former NY Rep. Steve Israel (D) reports surviving a Tea Party onslaught at a town meeting, sure that outside interests had orchestrated confrontation. A point of pride, Rep. Israel reports, was his decision not to whine about it. In a op-ed published in the New York Times, he explains:

The night of my town hall, I knew the crowd was effectively stage-managed and that many people there didn’t live in my district. But I didn’t make an issue of that, as President Trump does now. It was my obligation — my job — to listen to disagreement. The people there were Americans expressing their anger and anxiety; exercising a constitutional principle to petition their grievances to government. It wasn’t a pleasant night, but it was a patriotic one.

Representative Israel voted for health care reform, and was reelected…several times.

Thus far, the Trump resistance meetings have produced some provocative video and exposed some ill-informed and timid elected officials, but nothing yet comparable to the physical disruption of some of the Tea Party meetings. I suspect, however, that more is coming.

The important work ahead for the resistance is channeling the drama of the demonstrations at townhall meetings into the mundane work of electoral competition, recruiting, funding, and running opposition candidates.

Given the extreme polarization, residential sorting, and gerrymandering that characterize Congressional districts, it’s going to be far easier in most districts to stage a powerful meeting than to unseat an incumbent. Rep. Chaffetz, for example, beat his Democratic opponent by more than 130,000 votes. Although there are more than enough Democrats to fill an auditorium, winning at the polls is a more distant goal.

But America’s bigger and even more diverse than Utah’s 3rd district. Nearly two dozen districts voted for Hillary Clinton and sent Republican incumbents back to Congress; my district, California’s 45th, is one of them. These districts are where the political influence of the emerging resistance movement will be tested.

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The Trump resistance IS organized

Finally, something at least a little accurate from Trump’s Twitter feed:

Republican members of Congress stalwart enough to meet with their constituents have faced crowds that really are angry. Congressman Jason Chaffetz, who won reelection to represent Utah’s 3rd district by nearly 50 percentage points, probably felt safe coming home to talk. Two weeks ago, however, he found an auditorium packed with activists angry about many issues, including health care, Congressional oversight on conflicts of interest, public lands, and Trump in general. Rep. Chaffetz ended the meeting early and refused to take questions from the media. These days, anyone with access to a computer can see meeting excerpts (as below) or even the entire hour.

I’m not willing to bet that this town hall meeting will influence Rep. Chaffetz’s reelection prospects or his decisions, save for avoiding town hall meetings in the future. Meanwhile, local groups across the country have worked to set up meetings large and small with their elected officials. Wary of creating viral Youtube moments, members of Congress are staying away in droves, as the Republican leadership advises them to find other, less visible and recordable ways to interact with constituents. Activists are holding district meetings anyway. The meetings call legislators out and force them to take positions–or to avoid doing so in the most transparent and damaging ways.

Of course this is organized, just like the Tea Party town meetings in 2009, and almost all large demonstrations in the United States. Spontaneity is highly overrated.

Resistance to the Trump presidency continues to develop, and it’s being organized on many fronts. Below is an extremely partial (e.g., none of the local groups and none of the hundreds of Facebook sites) and superficially vetted listing of groups working to organize activism nationally. Fee free to dip in and offer updates and additions.

The Women’s March staged the first national demonstration, with sister demonstrations across the country, on the day after Trump took the oath of office, and stage anothers action every ten days.

Indivisible, a group of former Congressional staffers, posted a practical guide for resistance focused on Congress and elections, and is tracking events.

March for Science is planning demonstrations across the country on Earth Day, April 22.People's Climate Movement 2017

The following weekend, on April 29, the People’s Climate March is demonstrating in Washington, DC, for “jobs, justice, and the climate.”

The Town Hall Project encourages and tracks open meetings with legislators, crowdsourcing a list of events.

Michael Moore has posted The Resistance Calendar, a crowdsourced collection of events across the country.

Veterans of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign are organizing grassroots politics across the country, trying to encourage greater participation and new candidates for office locally, through #KNOCKEVERYDOOR.

Swing Left is working to organize for the 2018 election by focusing on districts that Democrats might win, encouraging the vast majority of Americans who live in districts that are safe for one party or another to redirect their efforts where they might matter.

The White Rose resistance project takes inspiration from a tragic short-lived Christian campaign against the Nazis in Germany, offering strategies for influence across many issues.

The DJT Resistance calls for a boycott of Trump, and of all the companies whose leaders support him.

I’m certain I’ve provided only a fraction of what’s going on.

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All-star politics and the messy influence of protest; Black Lives Matter and basketball

The Miami Heat take a photo wearing hoodies in support of Trayvon Martin, who was tragically killed last month. The photo was posted on LeBron James' Twitter account with the hashtags "#WeAreTrayvonMartin #Hoodies #Stereotyped #WeWantJustice."

Miami stand for Trayvon Martin, March 2012

The National Basketball League plays its annual All-Star Game in New Orleans this long weekend, offering an odd window into an impact of protest movements. (Note: David Zirin has been writing about this for a while.)

Despite its charms, New Orleans was not the NBA’s first choice location for the game. The league relocated the game from Charlotte months ago, a protest against anti-gay legislation passed by North Carolina.  Here’s the NBA’s statement from July:

The NBA has decided to relocate the 2017 All-Star Game from Charlotte with the hope of rescheduling for 2019.

Since March, when North Carolina enacted HB2 and the issue of legal protections for the LGBT community in Charlotte became prominent, the NBA and the Charlotte Hornets have been working diligently to foster constructive dialogue and try to effect positive change. We have been guided in these discussions by the long-standing core values of our league. These include not only diversity, inclusion, fairness and respect for others but also the willingness to listen and consider opposing points of view.

Our week-long schedule of All-Star events and activities is intended to be a global celebration of basketball, our league, and the values for which we stand, and to bring together all members of the NBA community — current and former players, league and team officials, business partners, and fans. While we recognize that the NBA cannot choose the law in every city, state, and country in which we do business, we do not believe we can successfully host our All-Star festivities in Charlotte in the climate created by HB2.

We are particularly mindful of the impact of this decision on our fans in North Carolina, who are among the most passionate in our league. It is also important to stress that the City of Charlotte and the Hornets organization have sought to provide an inclusive environment and that the Hornets will continue to ensure that all patrons — including members of the LGBT community — feel welcome while attending games and events in their arena.

We look forward to re-starting plans for our All-Star festivities in Charlotte for 2019 provided there is an appropriate resolution to this matter.

Moving the All-Star game puts a little bit of financial and social pressure on the people of North Carolina, perhaps weakening soft support among conservatives willing to sanction freedom to discriminate. It also makes a national statement of the league’s values. No doubt, some basketball executives see the move as a statement of their values, but those who made the decision surely also see it as a way to get in front of social values that are changing quickly. Whatever else the statement is, it’s also a business decision.

The league’s diversity stance did not spontaneously arise in response to one piecImage result for NBA gay rightse of legislation, but built over time. Reserve center Jason Collins, at right, came out in 2013, after more than a decade in the league. With the explicit support of the management and players of the league, he finished out a career in accord with his basketball contributions to his teams.

But the league and its players have become outspoken on many issues. Above you can see the Miami Heat, posing with hoods up to stand up for Trayvon Martin, identified as suspicious and killed by a neighborhood watch volunteer put off by Martin’s hoodie.

Below superstar player LeBron James was one of many players who warmed up for games wearing a jersey intended to draw attention to the police killing of Eric Garner in New York. Garner’s last words, repeated as he was sprawled on the ground and choked by an armed officer, became a rallying cry for Black Lives Matter. James and other players took up the call. It’s hard to imagine such a strong public stance on the courts without thousands of other people taking even stronger stances in the streets. The protests focused players’ attention on the issue of police violence, and the players gave the movement an additional public face.

And as players see themselves as citizens as well as athletes–extraordinarily well-compensated workers–they don’t draw sharp lines around the issues they engage.

Donald Trump’s election has produced more provocations, and the league’s stars have responded. The top coaches in the league, including Steve Kerr and Gregg Popovich, have consistently challenged Trump on racism and misogyny. The league has featured star players from diverse backgrounds for many years, including Muslims for decades, and the coaches criticized the travel ban and defended diversity. Following their players, at least three teams have announced that they will no longer stay in Trump’s hotels when traveling.

Superstar Stephen Curry challenged his sponsor, Under Armour, when its CEO Kevin Plank described Trump as an “asset” to the country.  According to Curry: perhaps if you deleted the “et.” Plank walked back his praise, announcing the company’s commitment to diversity and its commitment to opposing the travel ban.

The players are making their own decisions, but they’re responding to the environment they’re living in, an environment that Black Lives Matter has helped create. And the athletes’ actions and statements give more life to the concerns Black Lives Matter has advanced.

It’s not a consequence you can easily code, but the lines of influence are really clear.

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As protest spreads….renegotiating bad deals

I gave up on keeping on top of all the anti-Trump protests spreading across the United States, but the emerging resistance certainly isn’t giving up. People who marched in one of the women’s march or protested ant-Muslim travel restrictions at the airports–or just cheered those who did–have fanned out to carry on the political battle.

Some of it is focused on specific issues, like reproductive rights. Last weekend when anti-abortion activists staged protests at Planned Parenthood clinics, their opponents held larger rallies away from the clinics on behalf of the cause and the organization.

Abortion politics hasn’t really disappeared since Roe v. Wade, but the new wave of protests signals an uptick in public concern, which will only increase during hearings on the next appointment to the Supreme Court.  Candidate Trump promised to push to restrict abortion and stop funding Planned Parenthood. Anti-abortion activists will expect him to deliver on these promises, while reproductive rights activists will work hard to stop him. There’s absolutely no ready resolution in sight, and the protests and conflicts will continue even when there’s little national attention.

Image result for Dakota access pipeline protestTrump’s commitment to resurrecting the Dakota Access Pipeline invites the resumption of contention. The Standing Rock Sioux have environmental groups have both continued their opposition in the courts, and protests at the construction site will soon resume as well. Meanwhile, supporters across the nation who are not prepared to decamp to the Standing Rock reservation are looking for more proximate targets, organizing divestment campaigns, for example, from pipeline investors like Wells Fargo.

In an odd reprise of the Tea Party protests at Congressional town hall meetings in 2009, opponents of the promised repeal of the Affordable Care Act have swarmed meetings organized by Roseville police escort Rep. Tom McClintock through an audience from the Tower Theatre in Roseville, California on Feb. 4.Republican legislators. They’re bringing questions about health care, mass deportations, and conflicts of interest; even more obviously, they’re bringing anger and vigorous political engagement. Across the country, activists are downloading the Indivisible Guide for coordinated resistance, engaging mainstream politics as well as protest.

Thus far, most Republican members of Congress have postponed their own town meetings, perhaps hoping that the anger will dissipate some time in the next two years. I’m not sure that’s a good bet.

Hillary Clinton carried 23 districts that elected Republicans to the House of Representatives, creating obvious electoral targets for the emerging resistance. In California’s 45th district, where I live, demonstrators have regularly turned out to protest  Republican Rep. Mimi Walters’s refusal to meet with them. I suspect there are similar campaigns across the country that are not generating national headlines.

And public school teachers, unable to prevent Senate confirmation of Betsy Protesters gather outside Jefferson Middle School Academy in Washington to oppose a visit by Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.DeVos as Secretary of Education, tried to keep her from physically entering their schools.

It’s all overwhelming and exhausting. The anti-Trump protesters don’t agree on everything, but share a contempt for the new president and a commitment to stop his administration from delivering on its agenda. Thus far, the administration’s simultaneously aggressive and sloppy approaches to politics and policy have fed the resistance.

Trump’s opponents face the challenge of finding ways to continue in the face of the policy defeats they’ll face in the short term. They must also forge connections among their issues to present a relatively unified political movement. The administration is trying to make policy gains on many fronts at once, defying the conventional wisdom for presidents to prioritize and focus. As a result, the opposition is also fighting on many fronts at the same time as well.

These diverse efforts can all make progress in the same way, increasing the costs and risks to Republican politicians for supporting Trump. Many already disagree with the administration on some issues: immigration, Russia, health care. They’ve made an explicit bargain to look the other way on differences in hopes of making inroads on issues they care about: cutting taxes or restricting access to abortion. The activists are working to make that bargain look like a very bad deal.

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David S. Meyer’s voice, just in case you’re interested

Although a massive demand for my voice online has not yet crossed my desk, here are links to two recent recorded conversations. I was fortunate to draw two very good interviewers, and the topics will be familiar.

From Top of Mind, with Julie Rose at BYU Radio, here’s “Lessons in Protest from Lunch Counters to Airports.”


FroOn The Mediam WNYC’s On the Media, here’s an interview with Bob Garfield, here’s “Breaking News Consumer’s Handbook: Protest Edition,” distilled to 8 tips in the poster below.

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