Just hours before the gavel fell to open Tennessee’s 2012 legislative session, members of Occupy Nashville teamed up with Tennesseans for Fair Taxation, and others, to protest a proposed state constitutional ban on creating an income tax in Tennessee.
It was the first of what they say will be many attempts to “instruct their representatives” throughout the session.
The demonstration, of fewer than two dozen people on the steps of the War Memorial Auditorium, featured several speakers, including representatives from the state NAACP and Occupy Nashville member Eva Watler, who wore wings and called herself the “Money Fairy.” Several speakers argued that Tennessee’s tax system was among the most regressive in the country and that an income tax ban would only make it more unfair.
“[Occupy Nashville] stands in solidarity with the Tennesseans for Fair Taxation. We support their efforts to create a more equitable and just system of taxation for families,” she said. “The current system places an unfair burden on struggling families. Our state should not limit its options to create a more fair system for all Tennesseans.”
Last session, the Senate passed SJR221, proposing an amendment to the Constitution that would ban an income tax going forward. However, the proposed legislation was held back in the House and left for this session. Before it becomes law, the proposal needs a majority vote in both chambers of the current General Assembly and a two-thirds vote in the next. At that point, it would be set to appear before voters on the 2014 ballot. The House is expected to take up the legislation Jan. 19.
TFT president Dick Williams said he knows the process could be slow going, but that the group wants to “start the discussion now.”
Bill Howell is a TFT member who has also been involved with Occupy Nashville since their first days on the Plaza. He was among those arrested in the first of two early morning evictions in late October. As the session progresses, he said the two groups will continue to work together.
“I think our values at TFT and Occupy are very closely aligned. They’re really doing the work of the citizens,” he said. “Something I learned over the course of working with Occupy is there is a clause in the Tennessee Constitution that is parallel to the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment. One of the phrases is that the citizens have a right to ‘instruct their representatives.’ That’s exactly what they’re doing.”
Tennesseans for Fair Taxation have held similar demonstrations in the past, expressing opposition to taxes on food and calling for a more progressive tax structure, which they say would lighten the burden on the poor and increase the state’s revenue.
Shortly after the Speaker Beth Harwell kicked the House into session and the chamber stood for the national anthem, a set of protesters dropped a handful of slips of paper cut like dollar bills from the gallery reading, “The People’s Bribe. Get money out of politics. We are the 99%. What side are you on?” on one side and what looked check written to the Tennessee General Assembly for $99.99 on the other.
When asked about the incident afterward, the speaker said she was aware that the group would be present and downplayed the disruption.
“I really thought that was a rather insignificant gesture on their part, so I did not gavel them down,” Harwell said. “But, of course, I do not encourage any type of behavior like that on our House floor.”
After dropping the leaflets, the group left the chambers without incident.