Groups took to the air, land and sea to challenge Washington’s wealthiest corporations and individuals to share the economic sacrifices with working families.
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Joggers, picnicking families and boaters visiting Seward Park were greeted with an unusual sight Sunday afternoon. Huge banners, launched with helium balloons, visible from Paul Allen’s Mercer Island estate, challenged Washington’s wealthiest corporations and individuals to share the economic sacrifice with working families. Those walking down to the water to catch a better look were greeted with a song and dance routine, “Change Your Evil Ways,” targeting billionaire Paul Allen and other wealthy opponents of a state income tax.
The groups partnering for the event, Backbone Campaign and Washington Community Action Network, point to state budget cuts in healthcare and education as two consequences of the failed tax initiative 1098, and that working families are shouldering the economic burdens of the tough economy. They pointed out that high-wage earners, like Paul Allen whose massive Mercer Island offshore helipad was a target of Sunday’s action, provided funding for the defeat of last year’s I‑1098, despite their extreme wealth. I-1098 would have called on top earners to share in the economic sacrifice that has plagued Washington’s state and local governments. Allen was joined by other tech sector giants on the list of top contributors to I-1098′s defeat. Allen gave $100,000, Jeff Bezos (CEO of Amazon), Judith and Jon Runstad also matched Allen’s contribution, while Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer gave a whopping $425,000 to defeat the effort.
Yolanda Tinoco, a member of Washington CAN! from Bellevue said, “It doesn’t take an AP Calculus teacher to explain why we are frustrated. Our children and schools need funding. We are already making a sacrifice. It’s time we share that sacrifice with the Richest like Paul Allen who lobby everyday to keep their tax breaks in place. Paul Allen lobbies against Washington families.” Yolanda is a mother of three, PTA member and after school tutor in Bellevue where she lives.
Rachel De Cruz, also of Washington Community Action Network, pointed out that the wealthiest 1% of Washington residents pay less than 3% of their income in state taxes, while the poorest 20% pay 17% of their income in state taxes One banner contrasted the sinking fortunes of “the Rest of Us” with the inflating incomes of the wealthiest one percent. Another banner flying above the lake exclaimed “Shared Sacrifice My Ass” and featured trousers at half-mast, driving home the reality that Washington’s wealthiest citizens simply do not face the same burdens as the vast majority in a constricting economy. Dancers donned foam derrières in support of the message, as kayakers pulled the banner out over the water. The expression echoes recent calls by Warren Buffett, in an August 14 New York Times editorial, for America’s wealthiest individuals to share the sacrifice.
Bill Moyer, Executive Director of the Backbone Campaign pointed out, “We are giving away everything to big corporations and the super wealthy while asking nothing in return. Our families and communities are tired of handing out tax breaks and bailouts while basic needs and education are cut to the bone. The path to shared sacrifice and shared progress is to have our system of taxation and budgets align with the old moral adage ‘from those to whom much is given, much is expected.’”
Sunday’s creative action was the culmination of Backbone Campaign’s “Localize This!” creative arts and activism camp that brought artists and campaigners from across North America to Vashon Island for the past week. Teachings included community organizing, non-violent direct action and the art of building and staging events such as Sunday’s “Flotilla for Fairness” and “Change Your Evils Ways” musical number (featuring dancing and pointed lyrics set to Carlos Santana’s “Evil Ways”). Passers-by were encouraged to jump in, learn a few steps and join the fun.
Washington Community Action Network, Washington CAN!, is the largest grassroots organization in the state with over 35,000 members. They work for social, racial and economic justice.
Backbone Campaign was formed in 2004 on Vashon Island to bring creative arts and spectacle to the movement for justice. Backbone has worked across the United States to enliven community organizing, teaching street theater and political artistic expression on a grand scale, and using cross-educational opportunities to bring front-line change-makers into conversations with leading minds on global and community issues.