President Trump will face his share of protests this month. On April 29, the 100th day of his Administration, environmentalists will take to the streets for the People’s Climate March. The week before that, scientists will gather for the March for Science. And this Saturday, April 15, is the Tax March, which is for everyone who wants him to release his tax returns.
The premise of the Tax March is simple: Shortly after the inauguration, Kellyanne Conway said that Trump would not release his tax returns because “people don’t care.” Saturday’s march is meant to prove her wrong.
In a year when protests have become a liberal pastime, the Tax March is unusual in both its subject matter and its specificity. Instead of a broad subject like women’s rights, climate change or science, it’s focused entirely on a single and rather narrow demand. It comes exactly eight years after the Tax Day demonstrations that helped kick off the Tea Party movement, on a day that is usually more of a target for conservatives’ ire.
Activists hope the protests will help push along efforts to get Trump’s returns released.
“Protest will stiffen the spine of your allies, give people in Congress reason to talk about Trump’s returns again and be more willing to stand up to whatever policies are coming down the pike,” explains David Myers, a professor of sociology and political science at UC Irvine and author of the Politics of Protest. Plus, he adds, it “kind of trolls Donald Trump, and then he almost always responds badly and says something stupid.”
The demonstrations will take place in almost every major city in the country, from New York City to Yuma, Ariz., plus five marches in other countries. The main Tax March will be in Washington, where organizers have applied for permits with the Park Department for a gathering of more than 10,000 people. San Francisco organizers expect roughly 20,000. In St. Paul, Minn., organizers expect at least 5,000 people to show up.
Even a massive show of force like January’s Women’s March - the largest protestin U.S. history - is unlikely to change Trump’s mind. The President’s son, Eric, said during the campaign that his father would be “foolish” to release his taxes, and the President has shown little sign he disagrees with that assessment.
The march also presents a risk for transparency advocates. If turnout is below expectations, Trump may argue that proves his point that people don’t actually care about the issue. One recent poll found 53% of voters wanted Trump’s tax returns released, down from the 62% who felt that way about both candidates’ returns in a pre-election poll.
But the tax returns don’t necessarily have to come from Trump.
The chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee can request any tax return from the Treasury Department, though an effort to do so failed in the House on a party line vote in late February. State lawmakers in Hawaii, California, Massachusetts, New York and New Mexico are considering resolutions to require candidates to release federal and state tax returns in order to qualify for the ballot, and the New Jersey legislature passed a similar resolution in mid-March. And a New York City Councilman plans to introduce legislation requiring a subset of vendors with city contracts to turn over the tax returns of any individual “named in the entity” - a regulation that would apply only to Trump, due to a golf course he owns in the Bronx. One law professor has even suggested New York pass a law releasing Trump’s state tax records. And that’s not to mention the anonymous leaks of Trump’s 1995 and 2005 tax returns.
The seed for the demonstrations was planted on social media, when several different people, none of them professional organizers, had the same idea at once. Comedy writer Frank Lesser tweeted “Trump claims no one cares about his taxes. The next mass protest should be on Tax Day to prove him wrong,” which was retweeted more than 22,000 times. Law professor Jennifer Taub tweeted the same idea around the same time. And New York friends Wes Shockley and Liz Tursi started a Facebook page with the same basic concept. The March is co-sponsored by the Working Families Party, MoveOn.org and StandUp America, in partnerships with other liberal organizations like Indivisible and the Bernie Sanders organization Our Revolution.
But organizers say the Tax March has appeal beyond the liberal enclaves of New York and Washington. Kathleen Peterson, an organizer of the Tax March in Cheyenne, Wyo., says when she and her peers helped put together the local Women’s March, they expected only 200 people to turn out but found 2,000 protesters ready to enlist. Now she hopes to see similar momentum to demand Trump’s tax returns.
“We have a lot of closet Democrats, a lot of people who feel like they cannot say they’re Democrats because of their jobs or their businesses or their friends, but I think that’s changing since the election,” Peterson says. “When we did the Women’s March, I saw a lot of people I didn’t expect to see.”
Elizabeth Williams is organizing the Tax March in St. Paul, where she expects between 5,000 and 10,000 protesters to show up. She’s encouraged a less partisan tone for the St. Paul march, making the protest more about financial transparency than opposition to Trump. “We’re trying to use this as a steppingstone to further relationships around other issues,” she says. “The political landscape is very divisive and we want to ease some of that tension.”
Williams says she came to this framing after conversations with her father, a conservative Trump supporter. “The connotation of Trump’s tax returns’ turned him off, but once we were able to have a conversation about financial transparency, he was very responsive,” she says. Williams invited local Republican politicians to speak at the March, though none have taken her up on the offer. Richard Painter, a former chief ethics lawyer for George W. Bush who sued Trump on constitutional grounds, will be speaking at the St. Paul demonstration.
“I think people across the political spectrum are tired of paying taxes if the government is not going to do its part free of conflict of interest,” Painter says. “This’ll probably be more bipartisan than the Women’s March was. It’s not an invitation to jump into substantive issues that may be divisive. Everybody wants accountability from the government when we pay taxes.”
National organizers say the question of Trump’s taxes is also a way to draw attention to the bigger issue of Trump’s credibility. “Trump has lied so many times about so many things, it becomes impossible to thoroughly call him out on every lie,” says Maura Quint, a comedy writer who is on the march’s national committee. “This is a clear, straightforward, easy thing: he said he was going to do it, then he said he wasn’t going to, and now he’s trying to spin it like nobody cares. Well, we do care.”