Thousands of people protested in more than 150 Tax March rallies around the country Saturday to demand that President Donald Trump release his tax returns, and it all started with a tweet by Vermont Law School professor Jennifer Taub. Well, hers and a similar Tweet by comedian Frank Lesser.
On the heels of the record-setting Women’s Marchs in January, Taub and Lesser independently proposed that people take to the streets April 15 to push Trump to follow through on his campaign promise of making his returns public, a vow he has since backed away from.
People liked the idea of a Tax March, and soon Taub and Lesser were coordinating with others to stage marches across the United States. Organizers say that 25,000 attended the main rally in Washington this weekend, with another 45,000 in New York alone. The marches even had an official mascot: the large inflatable chickens with sweeping combovers that bear a striking resemblance to the hair style of a certain Oval Office occupant. (It turns out the chickens were manufactured in China to coincide with the Year of the Rooster, but were left unused after Trump’s rhetoric on China softened.)
We caught up with Taub on Tuesday to discuss how a tweet blossomed into a movement, and where the Tax March goes from here. Her answers have been edited for length and clarity.
This all started with an off-the-cuff Tweet back in January. Did you ever imagine it would turn into a movement?
Absolutely not. I’m fully amazed, happy and really proud of us all coming together for this event.
Which march did you attend?
I’m on the Tax March Executive Committee. I helped organize the D.C. march, so I was down in D.C.
What was that experience like?
It was wonderful. I had not attended that many protests in my lifetime. Back in the late 1980s, I went to Washington for a pro-choice march. That was the only protest I had been to in Washington. I did go to the Women’s March, but in Boston. I’m someone who spends more time inside reading and admiring activists from afar. I’ve always been an armchair kind of policy person.
It was a beautiful, slightly overcast morning. We were on the Capitol Lawn in the green room, and we watched our 20-foot chicken get inflated right in front of the Capitol dome, and watched the crowd come in slowly. Suddenly, you look out and it’s 25,000 people. To watch it happen is a beautiful thing.
Tell me how this came about and what your goal was.
It was the Sunday after the Women’s March. I was feeling very buoyant. I was happy that folks turned out in what proved to possibly be the largest protest in American history. I thought there was an opportunity to raise our voices. I was very concerned with what I saw in this incoming president, and I was also concerned that we had a single party in charge of all three branches of government. To me, at that moment before I sent that tweet out, I saw this fourth branch of government—we the people—stepping up and speaking out. I felt this populist moment happening.
Then I saw on Twitter that Kellyanne Conway said on television that the president was not going to release his tax returns and that people didn’t care. I found that really arrogant and untrue. It bothered me because I felt the biggest concern about this presidency was corruption. Was this someone who was seeking office in order to line his own pockets, or would he be serving the public interest?
— Jennifer Taub (@jentaub) January 22, 2017
I had to make a choice. Was I going to turn off my phone and get back into academia and policy, or was I going to help shepherd this? I felt protective of this idea. Why not try it? So I reached out to Frank and said, “Is this on us?” We reached out to folks, and within a day formed an executive committee and created a website that made it easy for people to put their own marches up. It all happened very quickly.
President Trump tweeted about the Tax Marches the next day. He essentially said, “I won the election, my tax returns are a moot point.” What’s your response to that?
My response was, “Look, he’s paying attention and it’s not over.” When you win an election and become president, you’re there to serve all the American people, not just the minority of popular voters. There’s a tradition of transparency. Every other president has released their tax returns. Also, I think he’s misunderstanding the nature of the bargain. When he was running for office, he said, “I’ll release my tax returns.” People who voted for him believed that was part of the bargain, and now he’s breaking that bargain. Surveys have said that more than 70 percent of Americans want him to release his taxes, even many Republican members of Congress. Really, the only debate right now on the tax return issue is whether this should be a voluntary release, or whether it should be legally required. There aren’t many credible voices I’ve heard suggesting he not release his tax returns.
I did what was an almost an impossible thing to do for a Republican-easily won the Electoral College! Now Tax Returns are brought up again?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 16, 2017
Now the Democrats are saying they will resist tax reform efforts until those returns are released. Do you think that will be effective?
Our Tax March has two messages. One is, “Release your tax returns.” The other is, “Our tax policy should be fair.” We should have a system where people pay their fair share, and we should use those taxes in ways that help people flourish.
I’m so encouraged to hear Chuck Schumer and others say, “Until he releases his tax return, we’re not moving forward.”
Will you do another Tax March?
I’m not someone who quits. The Tax March will continue. We’re not going away. Our chicken is here to stay.
Contact Karen Sloan at email@example.com. On Twitter: @KarenSloanNLJ.