As Tax Plan Rolls Out, Activists Stake Claim for Diversity - Higher Education
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As Tax Plan Rolls Out, Activists Stake Claim for Diversity

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WASHINGTON — On the same day that House Republicans rolled out a sweeping new tax plan that critics say favors the rich at the expense of the poor, Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network rolled into town Thursday in an effort to convert its activism into policy and law.

About a dozen Democratic lawmakers — including past and potentially future presidential contenders — dropped by to lend their support to the cause, which took place as a legislative conference under the theme “From Demonstration to Legislation.”

Rev. Al Sharpton

They also seized the opportunity to slam President Donald J. Trump for his anti-immigrant policies, his combative online proclivities, and to forecast his impeachment amid the ongoing investigation into Russian interference with the 2016 election.

The Democratic lawmakers gave attendees updates on entitlement programs that they say are wrongly in the crosshairs of the GOP — programs with well-known acronyms that ranged from SNAP to WIC — and urged them to oppose any legislative measure that cuts those programs in their planned interactions on The Hill.

Sharpton — in his role as convener — repeatedly urged the dozens of members and leaders from his network’s 13 chapters who attended the event to take notes.

“You must impact the law. You can’t teach what you don’t know,” Sharpton said. “This is connected to policy.

“The beauty of the King movement is that it led to the Civil Rights Act of ’64, the Voting Rights Act of ’65, the Open Housing Act of ’68,” Sharpton said in praise of the martyred civil rights leader, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

He said the progress made during the Obama years is in danger, and it is necessary to defend those achievements.

“In the age of Trump it is defense [of] what was achieved. The Voting Rights Act, all of that is at stake,” Sharpton said. “But if we’re not in the trenches saying that, we’ll have great rallies, great hashtags, and everything will reverse.

“In fact, Trump will use us … to energize his vote, while we’re running around dispensing despair and our vote don’t come out,” Sharpton said.

Higher education didn’t necessarily feature as prominently as other subjects at the conference, such as voter suppression, tax breaks for the rich and the emboldening of white supremacists in the Trump era. But a few issues in higher education got a modest amount of attention, namely, college affordability and protection for Dreamers.

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D–N.Y., vocalized both issues.

“Our country thrives on diversity and that includes our Dreamers,” Gillibrand said. “You know our Dreamers are leaders, teachers, innovators, scientists, doctors. They create jobs and strengthen our economy.

“So all of us need to do everything we can to protect Dreamers from losing jobs, getting deported, or not being able to contribute to our economy.”

Gillibrand mentioned college affordability as one of several issues under the umbrella of economic justice, such as a higher minimum wage.

“We have to keep fighting to make sure college is more affordable, to make sure that kids are not denied the right of higher education just because it’s too far out of reach,” Gillibrand said.

In related news, the American Council on Education, or ACE, issued a statement Thursday that lamented how the House tax reform proposal unveiled Thursday would “discourage participation in postsecondary education, make college more expensive for those who do enroll, and undermine the financial stability of public and private, two-year and four-year colleges and universities.”

“According to the summary of the legislation provided by the House Committee on Ways and Means, this bill would increase the cost to students of attending college by more than $65 billion between 2018 and 2027,” ACE president Ted Mitchell said. “This is not in America’s national interest.

“We believe it is possible to offer tax relief to hard-working, middle-class and lower-income Americans in a way that does not increase college costs and make a quality higher education less accessible,” Mitchell said. “We are eager to work with Congress to enact such legislation.”

Asked precisely how the House tax plan would increase the cost to college students by $65 billion over the next decade, an ACE spokesman said the increase wasn’t the result of any one item in the plan but rather the proposed elimination of the student loan interest deduction, changes to the American opportunity tax credit, and other provisions collectively. A markup of the tax plan is reportedly set for Monday.

Jamaal Abdul-Alim can be reached at jabdul-alim@diverseeducation.com or you can follow him on Twitter @dcwriter360.

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