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If some of the nation’s wealthiest residents were planning on a quiet, leisurely retreat to their Hamptons estates ahead of the July Fourth weekend, they’re off to a bad start.
A caravan of 200 protesters — some of them armed with plastic pitchforks — showed up outside the Long Island vacation homes of Michael Bloomberg and other wealthy investors Wednesday to decry the nation's rising income inequality, which has only gotten worse since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. The activists drove in from New York City and targeted the seaside destination where many rich New Yorkers stayed during the coronavirus crisis, to argue that their plight is being ignored.
“Tax the rich, not the poor!” protesters chanted outside the 22,000-square-foot, $20 million mansion of former NYC mayor and presidential candidate Bloomberg. (He owns several other properties, so it’s unclear whether he was home.)
Since March 18, the combined wealth of all U.S. billionaires has surged by $584 billion, according to the progressive think tank Institute for Policy Studies. Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon and the richest person in the world, has gained an extra $43.8 billion, according to the group’s analysis. The U.S. stock market is thriving.
At the same time, millions of low-income Americans are either out of a job — with Black and Latinx Americans being particularly hard-hit — or deemed “essential” enough to risk catching the virus while earning low wages. People can’t pay rent and are facing eviction. Lines at food banks are horrifying long. And some states facing their own economic crises, including New York, are mulling budget cuts to the same public education and social services programs that could help lift people out of poverty once the pandemic abates.
“This is primarily about the fact that we’re living in a time where the 0.1% are not only in control of our economy but also our way of life,” said Alice Nascimento, the director of policy at New York Communities for Change, one of the groups leading the protest. “We’re in the middle of a crisis, and ever since the pandemic started, the richest people in the world have only gotten richer.”
Some protesters brought plastic pitchforks because they’re a symbol of “the working-class rising up,” she said.
Protesters included members of the Shinnecock Indian Nation, New York Communities for Change, the New York Taxi Workers Alliance, and others. They’re hoping that Gov. Andrew Cuomo pushes higher taxes on New York's wealthiest residents to pad the state’s budget and avoid cuts to services that could help the poor during a downturned economy, according to Nascimento.
To make their point heard, they also planned to head to the homes of Stephen Ross, a billionaire real estate developer; Stephen Schwarzman, the CEO of the Blackstone Group, a massive real estate investment firm; and Daniel Loeb, the billionaire behind the hedge fund Third Point.
Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to a VICE News request for comment, although he’s previously been skeptical of raising taxes on the wealthy. A coalition of state legislators has also called for higher taxes on the richest New Yorkers this month, according to Newsday.
Similar protests, organized by groups including the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, will also take place across California later Wednesday, at the homes of real estate magnates and Elon Musk, the CEO of Tesla.
Editor's note: This story has been updated to clarify that the pitchforks protesters carried were plastic. The headline has also been changed.
Cover: Screenshot via Twitter/New York Communities for Change