Three Maine women -- Sharon Dean of East Machias, Ridgely Fuller of Belfast, and Jessica Stewart of Bass Harbor -- were arrested at Senator Susan Collins’ Bangor office last December demonstrating against her support for a very bad federal tax bill.
Their belief that the tax bill would harm Maine’s most vulnerable people led the three to remain in the office after they were asked to leave. Collins' staff called Homeland Security and had the three arrested.
|"Protesters outside U.S. Sen. Susan Collins' Bangor office on Monday. Gail Leiser is dressed as 'Darth Traitor" to protest Collins' support of the Republican tax overhaul bill." Bangor Daily News 12/18/17|
All have vowed to keep speaking truth to power until Collins is accountable to all Maine people. Fuller said in a statement to local reporters after the first day of their trial on March 21,
The health care component of it that [Collins] is addressing today is one component of a really disastrous tax bill that will promote inequality throughout our country.
Their attorney, Logan Perkins of Belfast, argued that calling in federal law enforcement was "meant to intimidate people from exercising their first amendment rights in her office as well as punishing political speech," according to an email sent to me by Fuller. Sen. Collins' office staff have called in the Bangor police during previous sit-ins, but the District Attorney subsequently refused to press charges.
Perkins is the attorney who represented Stewart and myself at our trial for criminal trespass at Bath Iron Works earlier this year. She achieved a victory for the 1st Amendment when Justice Dan Billings granted her motion to acquit saying that, when BIW holds an event open to the public, it cannot exclude people solely on the basis of protected political speech.
Defendant Stewart shared her written reflection with me after their day in court this week. Both sides in that trial now have until April 7 to file briefs outlining their views of the 1st Amendment issues at stake in the case.
There Comes a Time
by Jessica Stewart
At the close of our trial, the prosecutor, Andrew Lizotte, walked to the podium and began dramatically, “There Comes a Time...” Shocked, I imagined him about to launch into the words of Mario Savio. But no, he wanted to anticlimactically explain that “there comes a time to leave a congressional office.”
In fact, there comes a time RIGHT NOW, that we need to walk into our congresspeople’s offices, our public squares, and our streets to lift up a vision for a more fair world and lessen preventable suffering and hardship.
As we were in Senator Collins’ office, just before the DHS police arrived, Collins’ staff person, Carol Woodcock, lectured us that the tax plan “wasn’t worth it, was not worth staying in the office over...” Those words galvanized my commitment more than any of the recycled, incorrect explanations for the tax bill that had been tossed around all afternoon. Maybe none of this is “worth it” to Senator Collins or her staffers. But to those of us whose family, loved ones, and friends will be harmed by the tax bill, it is beyond worth it. Maybe it does not seem so to Senator Collins’ staff, but the tax plan is a life and death matter for some people in our communities. Tax policy choice means the difference between people getting critical medical care or suffering, even dying without, children going to school hungry versus universal access to healthy food, prison versus college for young people, families becoming homeowners versus becoming homeless.
We are all co-creators of our society and our world. If we do not ask for a more just, peaceful, and sustainable world, it will not happen.
If we believe compassionate and fair economic policy is possible and attainable, we are called to breathe life into that possibility through action. We must also offer a passionate, loving, and firm No when we see wrong being done in our names. However, more than saying no, when I stayed at Senator Collins’ office, I was saying YES to a world where we ensure everyone in community has healthcare, where social mobility is possible, where we build sustainable infrastructure to allow young people from all communities to thrive, and where we care for elders.
The tax plan, was and is, an act of violence toward the poor, the young, communities of color, people with disabilities, and any individual or community who lacks wealth and political power. It is also a paean to hopelessness about the possibilities of the human community. We live in a country with tremendous wealth, smart and innovative people, and a vast array of resources. If only we choose to allocate our resources ethically and compassionately, we can afford to ensure that everyone has healthcare. We can provide an excellent education to all children. We can repair the racial wealth gap. We can make sure everyone has access to enough healthy food - and so much more. Shared prosperity and wellbeing are attainable.
But we cannot do it by funneling every more money to the wealthy. As we sat in Collins’ office, her staff reiterated disproven tropes about trickle down economics. We were asked accept that the best way to help our poorest community members was to funnel ever more money to the wealthiest individuals and corporations and trust that wealth would could magically trickle down to those of us nearer the bottom. This is like being told that the best way to help the Cratchett family and the poor of London is by pouring money into Scrooge’s business.
In reality, the tax plan provides a permanent cut in the corporate income tax rate that overwhelmingly benefits people with significant capital, mostly the top 1 percent. While the plan included some temporary cuts that may potentially benefit some low- and moderate-income families, these benefits are both minimal and temporary, whereas the tax cuts for the largest corporations are large and permanent.
The net effect of the tax bill will be an increase in wealth inequality. 83% of the benefits will accrue to the top 1% by the time it is fully phased in, in 2027, according to the Tax Policy Center.
Defenders of the bill, such as Collins, argue that the benefits of corporate tax cuts will trickle down to workers in the form of faster productivity growth and higher wages, but this claim falls apart when compared to real economic data.
A large body of empirically sound research shows that the benefits of a cut in corporate income taxes accrue overwhelmingly to wealthy owners of capital instead of to workers and ordinary low and middle income people. In turn, capital ownership is extraordinarily concentrated at the top of the income distribution. For example, the top 1 % of households own roughly 40 % of all stocks.
Besides the permanent cut to corporate tax rates, the tax bill’s temporary cuts to individual income taxes includes a preferential rate for “pass-through” businesses—businesses that pay no corporate taxes but whose owners must pay taxes on profits on their individual tax returns when those profits are “passed through” to them. While this is often described as a tax cut for “small businesses,” it is in fact a tax cut for high income financial elites. Pass-through income is even more concentrated at the very top of the income distribution. 69% of pass-through income is claimed by the richest 1% of households. This means that most of those benefits will not go to small businesses like mom and pop restaurants or day care centers, but instead to hedge funds, large law firms, and big Wall Street consulting and accounting firms.
Years of top notch economics research tells us that trickle down economic policies do not lead to shared prosperity or economic growth, but to widening gap between rich and poor.
Likewise, wealth inequality is not an unfortunate abstraction of our era. It has agonizing and preventable real-world consequences. The people of Maine and this county deserve so much more.
Defendant Dean said at a press conference following Wednesday's trial:
I would just like to encourage people, average people, who are struggling in this country right now, with a lot of the stuff that's hitting us from all sides, from different fronts, that we all have to step up.
We all have to get out of our comfort zones.
Struggling with tears, Dean continued, "This isn't something that I set out to do, but when we care about stuff we've got to step up, we've got to do it."
Rather than pay a $130 fine, Dean and the others chose to go to trial. If they are found guilty of the charge of failing to obey a lawful order (i.e. to leave the offices) they could be sentenced to 30 days in jail and/or fined $5,000.
These women are my sheros. They speak up for people in Maine who are too sick or preoccupied with economic hardships to communicate with senate staffers in person. They use their white privilege to get arrested not beaten, or even killed, by police. They are all mothers who sacrifice their own comfort to struggle for a better life for their children and grandchildren's generations.