Billionaires take the time to thank 'the little people'
By Dominic Rushe
In The Times (London)
April 18, 2004
LAST Thursday night, as people queued outside New York’s main post office to meet the deadline for paying their income taxes, a group of smartly dressed men and women could be spotted thanking them for their contributions.
Dressed in protest chic, smart suits, tuxedos, diamonds and pearls, Phil T Rich, Iona Yacht and Seymour Benjamins were taking time out of their busy schedules to thank “the little people” for paying their dues. The Billionaires for Bush waived signs reading “Taxes are not for everyone” and “Thank YOU for paying OUR share”.
For years, say the Billionaires, nobody has taken them seriously. Few heeded their calls for smaller governments and bigger wars. People scoffed at the “Bomb the Arabs and Steal their Oil” bumper stickers on the back of their limos. But at last the rich man’s protest group feels it is getting its message across. Now is the time to show its appreciation.
Launched last October at a Billionaires Ball, the group is growing rapidly. There are 40 chapters across the US and splinter groups in Australia, South Korea and Germany, all co-ordinated via their website, www.billionairesforbush.com.
The group is among several protest groups that have sprouted up in recent years that combine politics with sketch comedy. “Reverend Billy” and his “Church of Stop Shopping” stages church-revival-type rallies with a preacher inside shops.
The Reverend, when he’s not being thrown out of Disney stores, can be found guilt-tripping caffeine addicts in Starbucks. So effective has his preaching become that the company put out a company memo headed “What to do if Reverend Billy enters your store”. Being an avid recycler, Billy used it as the title of his recently published memoir.
Then there are the “housewives” from Bush’s hometown of Crawford, Texas. More often seen in New York than their home town, the Texan ladies’ proverbs include “A bomb in time saves 9” and they can occasionally be spotted parading around the city dressed in red, white and blue with missiles strapped between their legs.
Billionaires’ spokesman Phil T Rich, otherwise known as author and lecturer Andrew Boyd, says that last week some ungrateful taxpayers seemed too concerned with paying their taxes to stop and thank him for his support. The doors to the post office were kept open until midnight for last-minute taxpayers.
“At 11.45pm you had to be very careful where you stood or some fool could have knocked you down in his haste to pay our taxes,” he says.
For those who were less hurried, the Billionaires outlined their policies. Most of which can be summed up by their banners: “Free the Enron 7”, “Corporations are people too”, and “Hands off Halliburton”.
Boyd says people react in a variety of ways to the group. “Some people get it straight away and just start laughing. For other people, it takes time to sink in.” The rest, he says, are just genuinely confused.
He says the idea is not simply to bait the rich, although for him it is clearly a perk. The idea is to shake things up and get people to look at things in a different way. Humour is a way of keeping fresh the debate over such issues as corporate sleaze and tax, he says. “People can only be angry for so long,” says Boyd. “There are so many things to be angry about.”
Boyd was recently travelling on the subway dressed as Rich and wearing a Billionaires for Bush badge. Billionaire mayor Michael Bloomberg takes the subway, so Rich wasn’t breaking a precedent by descending to the levels of hoi polloi. “This guy looked at me as if he was in shock,” says Boyd. “I told him it was a joke. ‘Good job,’ he said, ‘or I’d have to kill you’. ”
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