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Higher Ed, Metro

Occupiers urge Biden to tax the rich

Senior Staff Writer
Friday, February 24, 2012

About 20 demonstrators lined up outside the Biltmore Hotel in downtown Providence Thursday to protest the arrival of Vice President Joe Biden, who was in town to support Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse at a fundraiser for his re-election campaign.

Members of Occupy Providence, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power RI and the Student Global AIDS Campaign followed a young boy dressed as a banker in a puppet suit as they marched from Burnside Park to the Biltmore. The banker waved to cars and pedestrians down Washington Street with a sign around his neck that read “Mr. Bank of America: Greed is Good.”

Though the protesters stopped and stood outside the Biltmore entrance, the police asked them to move across the street almost immediately after they arrived at the hotel. Increased security lined Dorrance Street well after Biden’s arrival around 6 p.m.

The protesters were seeking Biden’s support for a measure called the Robin Hood Tax, a collection of taxes on financial transactions that could raise $350 billion for social issues like the global AIDS epidemic and climate change, said Jennifer Flynn, a member of Occupy Providence and the coalition.

Last fall, the Robin Hood Tax ­— which would tax the financial sector for revenue to be used towards community services — was up for passage by the European Union.  Biden has been “running around the world lobbying against this tax,” said Pat Fontes, a protester. Fontes said the tax would be a “tiny, tiny tax” that the nation’s bankers would not even notice.

Flynn also said the financial sector would barely notice the tax but added that the revenue it could collect “would actually change the world.”

Flynn pointed to the various cuts made in Rhode Island — such as the closing of the state’s only sexually transmitted disease clinic due to state budgetary constraints — as an example of what the tax could finance.

She added that this one tax is part of a greater movement to seek more equality, saying the federal banking bailouts demonstrated how the federal government prioritizes the needs of big businesses over the needs of the middle class.

Protesters also focused on what they called the state’s unequal tax system. Fontes, a member of the Occupy committee on tax reform, said the movement’s goal for Rhode Island is “to increase the progressive taxes so that in the long run, we can decrease the property taxes.” Fontes said property taxes split the 99 percent and cause animosity between property owners and non-property owners.

Fontes added that the Occupy movement in Providence is just as strong as ever, saying that the end to its 24-hour encampment in Burnside has not changed the movement’s message. Occupiers are still meeting weekly and keeping a close eye on state legislators, she said.

“We may have lost some bodies but we haven’t lost spirit,” Fontes said. “Our job is to keep inventing actions and keep informing Occupiers to come to support these actions.”

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