AFT members demand justice during ‘Tax the Rich’ tour

As working class people struggle to pay their bills and educators in particular wind up working second and third jobs to stay afloat, it’s especially galling that the super wealthy enjoy huge tax cuts, and corporations rake in more money than ever before. That’s why the AFT, as part of the union’s Fund Our Future campaign, is backing the Tax the Rich bus tour, protesting the country’s inequitable tax system.

Tax the Rich bus tour

Launched June 26 during the first presidential primary debates in Miami, the tour, which involves a bus with the words “Tax the Rich” emblazoned on its side, will make its way around the United States conveying this message: “When we tax the rich, we all do better.”

“As presidential candidates enter the field and begin debating how they’re strengthening the economy, it is imperative that each articulate to the American people their vision for a fair tax system that helps everyone, not just the wealthy few and well-connected,” says Maura Quint, executive director of Tax March, which is sponsoring the bus tour.

The Washington, D.C., tour stop drew congressional leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn). “Truly creating an equitable society and a fair economy means not allowing people and corporations to accumulate so much wealth that they get to dictate the laws and control our political system,” said Omar. “And that’s why we need to ensure billionaires, millionaires and billion-dollar corporations who politicians so often prioritize are asked to contribute a little more.”

More money from the wealthiest Americans would mean better resources for public schools, which have been underfunded for years. According to the Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools, between 2005 and 2017, public schools were underfunded by $580 billion in Title 1 and IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) programs alone—programs that specifically support low-income and special needs students. At the same time, the personal net worth of the nation’s 400 wealthiest individuals grew by $1.57 trillion.

“Hardworking middle-class to lower-income folks that I know clearly agree that we must tax the rich,” said Evette Jones, a Philadelphia Federation of Teachers member who came out to greet the bus when it made a stop in her city. Jones’ taxes, and those of her fellow educators, went way up this year. “It seems as though the bulk of taxation comes on the backs of middle-income and lower-income people,” she said, adding that she knows plenty of teachers who take on extra work to make ends meet. With schools resuming in August, she’s worried the students won’t have the supplies they need. “There are not enough tax dollars to go into our schools,” said Jones. “Teachers have to subsidize out of their own pockets. It’s ridiculous.”

“Poor districts such as ours don’t receive fair funding needed to support our student population,” said William Scott, from the  Syracuse Teachers Association, who visited the bus in Syracuse, N.Y. “It’s necessary that we gather and speak like we’re doing here today. We all do better when we all do better.”

The AFT is a longtime proponent of fairer tax policy, and a partner—along with dozens of other organizations—to Tax March. In our fight for equity and resources for the poorest communities and neediest public schools and healthcare facilities, the AFT opposes the Trump administration’s tax plan, which raises taxes on 92 million middle-class families, denies healthcare to 13 million people and threatens social safety nets for millions of Americans, while giving tax breaks to the wealthiest.

Unfair tax policy has magnified the increasing chasm between the rich and poor in this country—a chasm so deep that the top 0.1 percent of the population owns almost 20 percent of the nation’s wealth, more than the bottom 80 percent of the population combined. “Today, the 400 richest Americans, 0.00025 percent of the population, have more wealth than the 150 million adults in the bottom 60 percent,” says AFT President Randi Weingarten. “While the rich have never been richer, 40 percent of Americans say they wouldn’t be able to come up with $400 to cover an emergency.”

The Tax the Rich bus tour is not only raising awareness of this disparity, it also is aiming to empower local elected officials, activists and national organizations so that together they can demand that the rich and corporations pay their fair share. The tour has featured nearly 40 events in 19 states and Washington, D.C., for 35 days this summer. It will end July 30 in Detroit, immediately before the second Democratic presidential debate.

[Virginia Myers]