'99 Percent Spring' protests gearing up locally, nationally

Kansas City StarApril 13, 2012 

Occupy Wall Street encampments have been swept away in most cities, but their rationales live on in the “99 Percent Spring.” That’s the new shorthand for Occupy’s heir — an ongoing protest movement that covers a range of issues and actions.

Along with organized labor, groups like MoveOn, Greenpeace and Rebuild the Dream are uniting under a big umbrella to advocate for “economic justice for all.”

It’s a movement with roots in the street demonstrations and occupation of the Wisconsin Capitol in February 2011. After Gov. Scott Walker limited public employees’ collective bargaining rights, the outpouring of populist rage captured worldwide attention and prefaced a Walker recall election set for June.

Then last September, the Wall Street protests added a real and figurative drumbeat to the “fair tax” causes now embraced by the 99 Percenters. Around the country, protests are taking various shapes. Today at some Bank of America facilities, the movement aims to create an uncomfortable Friday the 13th for the banking giant.

Nothing appears to be planned in that regard for Kansas City banking facilities, but the overall goal is to urge customers to move their money to community banks and credit unions — entities that had lesser roles in the foreclosure debacle.

Also on tap for the 99 Percent Spring is picketing at about 30 annual shareholder meetings of public companies that paid little or no income taxes.

In Kansas City, the movement includes:

• Thursday night in midtown Kansas City, at one of about 900 nonviolent protest training sessions scheduled nationwide, several dozen people registered to hear how to stage legal, peaceful demonstrations.

• Next Tuesday, this year’s Tax Day, a 3:30 p.m. rally downtown at Barney Allis Plaza is designed to prepare participants to deliver “bills for unpaid taxes” to four corporate offices near 12th and Main streets.

• A separate Tax Day rally, with labor union and community group support, is scheduled for 1 p.m. Tuesday at Washington Square Park, at Pershing and Grand boulevards. Organizers want the Bush administration’s tax cuts for the wealthy repealed and “fair share” taxes imposed on millionaires.

“We’re in a fight for economic fairness,” said Jeremy Al-Haj, an organizer with a group that will lead the Barney Allis Plaza rally. “We’re spreading the message that we’ve gone from a nation of prosperity for many to prosperity for a few.”

Although Occupy-style activities have been muted in Kansas City, the 99 Percent push is getting traction, aided by a well-oiled message machine — organized labor.

“We’re finally starting to break through to public opinion with what we’ve been saying for years,” said Lenny Jones, Missouri political director for the SEIU Healthcare union.

“There is a huge and growing economic divide in this country, and as politicians make ‘no new taxes’ pledges, more of the burden is falling on the lower and middle classes to pick up funding for our schools, our public safety workers, our social services,” Jones said.

In the Kansas City Tax Day events, organizers plan to march to downtown offices of Great Plains Energy/Kansas City Power & Light, Bank of America, AMC Theatres and Computer Sciences Corp. Their goal is to symbolically dun companies and their chief executives.

“We don’t expect any of the higher-ups in those buildings to play ball with us,” Al-Haj said. “But this is large-scale street theater to call attention to the fact that they don’t pay their fair share of taxes.”

Jones used KCP&L’s CEO as an example of why labor backed the bill: “If Michael Chesser made an $800,000 base salary last year, we’re asking why he couldn’t pay 30 percent on his earnings just like his secretary does.”

On Monday the Senate is scheduled to debate the “Buffett rule,” which would raise taxes on millionaires’ earnings to a rate on par with average workers. Most political analysts say the plan will go nowhere, but 99 Percenters applaud the conversation.

As for the focus on corporate taxes, KCP&L, like most companies criticized for not paying a “fair share,” responded that it has paid what it was required to pay.

“The claim we don’t pay our fair share is categorically unfair,” said Chuck Caisley, a KCP&L spokesman.

The utility in 2010 paid $260 million in federal, state and local taxes and $900 million from 2008 through 2011, although a portion are sales or use taxes collected from customers, Caisley said.

Protest organizers say they understand that street clashes with police alienate many of the hardworking union members — as well as non-union workers — whom they need for their economic justice campaigns to gain critical mass. That’s why nonviolent protest training is a key part of the agenda.

Planners acknowledge that they’re a collection of sometimes-strange bedfellows with clashing values. But during this election year, the 99 Percent Spring advocates say they’re trying to put differences on the back burner and make a unified noise.

Read more at kansascity.com

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