WU graduate student arrested protesting GOP tax bill

and | News Editors

Astrophysics graduate student Ben Groebe was arrested during a protest against the Republican tax bill on Capitol Hill Tuesday.

The GOP tax bill, which is currently in conference committee after having different versions passed in the House of Representatives and Senate, centers on a large corporate and upper-income tax cut and has led to much divide among Democrats and Republicans.

Groebe flew to Washington to protest the provision of the bill that would tax graduate student tuition waivers as income.

“It’s particularly close to home to me being a graduate student, and all my colleagues are worried about this,” Groebe said. “I know that all of my friends back at home in graduate school are worried about this, so that’s why I felt like I had to go out—because it’s something that affects so many people that I live and work with.”

According to Groebe, the protest began outside the Longworth House Office, a building that houses offices of members of Congress including House Speaker Paul Ryan. Graduate students from across the country gathered outside the building to rally and chant. Eight graduate students, including Groebe, marched up to Ryan’s office.

The police were already present at the office when the group they arrived. The students knocked twice, but received no response.

“We decided that since he’s not answering, we still want to say what we came here to say. We prepared remarks, so we sat down and we started talking, started chanting and the police pretty much immediately stopped [us],” Groebe said.

The police gave the students a warning to cease and desist or face arrest. The students continued their chanting, which led to them being arrested and brought to a police facility in vans. Their pictures were taken and they were searched. They went through paperwork, and were released after about two hours. None of the graduate students will be brought to court.

“We were not being violent; we were not resisting arrest. So to the police, it’s something they don’t want to have to deal with all that if we were following instructions and all that. We paid bail and left—and that was the end of it,” Groebe said.

Chancellor Mark Wrighton has sent letters to the Washington University community addressing the tax bill, as well as to several members of the U.S. Senate. However, Groebe claimed in a Facebook post Nov. 29 that the University has not made any efforts to prevent the passing of the bill.

“Washington University has done precisely nothing to prevent this provision from passing and has not given us any indication that they will take action to mitigate its effects if it does,” Groebe wrote. “They have told us how much they care about our well-being, but the most they have offered us is canceled meetings and an email telling us to call our representatives.”

Despite the arrest, Groebe does not regret protesting and still feels strongly about the bill.

“I’d definitely do the same thing again,” Groebe said. “I know that nobody was expecting that we’d get as much media coverage as we did, which is great. I feel like this tax is still generally an issue…I just have not seen a lot of coverage yet that conveys the sense of outrage that people should feel about this bill that takes from a lot of people who don’t have much to give to a few people who already have too much.”

  • Ben Groebe

    I should have been more careful in phrasing that particular clause in that post, but the bigger picture I was getting at is that graduate students here are rightfully afraid of the consequences they could face under the provision of the House bill, and WashU has displayed a worrying lack of public communication and support for us. We still don’t know how/whether WashU would act to protect us if the provision ends up in a final bill that passes. This is an urgent issue for many graduate students here, and it’s a stark contrast with the administration’s constant messaging during the unionization campaign about how worried they were about the “threat” a union posed to us. The university’s priorities are clear.

    Again though, it’s more important to look at the bigger picture. I didn’t fly to DC and get arrested just to whine about WashU. This bill–both the House and Senate versions, as well as whatever abomination comes out of the conference committee–is structured around a massive shift in wealth away from those without much and towards those with too much. That this would have disastrous consequences for my friends and colleagues is bad enough, but to see the impact it will have on hundreds of millions of others is even worse. That is the message we went to send to Speaker Ryan, and that’s the message we believe we sent to everybody watching.