Thousands crowd Daley Plaza for Tax Day march to demand Trump release tax returns

Though attendance fell well short of the women's march in January, the downtown Tax Day protest rally demanding President Donald Trump release his tax returns drew a large number of protesters who marched half a mile to Trump Tower in Chicago on Saturday.

City officials didn't provide a crowd total for the march, but organizers estimated between 2,000 and 4,000 people piled into Daley Plaza — one of the numerous such protests taking place in about 150 cities — where demonstrators heard guest speakers rebuke the president and where families snapped selfies with the inflatable golden-haired "Chicken Don" mascot.

The big turnout for the peaceful assembly was no doubt aided by temperatures hovering around 80 degrees along with sightseeing tourists and shoppers strolling the Loop.

"I think it was a huge success — we had a very energetic crowd," said Taran Singh Brar, a lead organizer, whose idea for the protest led to a Facebook page that advertised the event to thousands. From there, dozens of left-center activist and union groups signed on to participate in the march.

While Brar had hoped for a massive turnout to rival the 250,000 who attended Chicago's women's march, the California native and documentary filmmaker said he was overwhelmed by social media's capability in drawing such a crowd.

"This is my first time organizing something on this scale. I learned a lot. It was really an amazing event … we sent a really strong message."

Brar emceed the event, and with U.S. Reps. Jan Schakowsky and Mike Quigley looking on, performed the chicken dance as a brass band played behind him as a nod to Trump, whom opponents have derided as a "chicken" for not releasing his tax documents.

"There's so many reasons these records need to be released, most of all transparency at a time when public trust in elections is at an all-time low," Quigley told the crowd. "We need to be as transparent and as accountable as possible."

Other speakers included Schakowsky, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and state Sen. Daniel Biss, a Democratic candidate for governor who is pushing legislation requiring presidential candidates to release their tax returns in order to be on the Illinois ballot.

Husband-and-wife chemical engineers Carl Stevens and Kathleen Barton said they are among the 74 percent who believe Trump should release his returns but said their opposition is rooted in his rejection of climate change and science, something very personal to them.

"It's about a president who doesn't read, doesn't know what he's talking about, spends all of his time watching television and playing golf," said Barton, who attended the women's march and plans to attend next weekend's march for science in Washington, D.C.

Terra Fairburn, a social worker with American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees out of the Quad Cities, said she and her co-workers attended Saturday's protest to push back against what she called an increasingly divisive agenda.

"We're pretty sick of the Trump policies, the hate, the fact that he's not showing his taxes," said Fairburn, 61, who travels with a group of women they call the Meow Meow Sisters. "We're the baby boomers and we didn't behave like this and now we're in our 60s and we're going to march every march."

Fairburn, dressed in a pink "kitty" costume, said she stood up hoping that millennials will pick up the torch of protest and continue the fight. "We want to set a tone for the other younger people. They can't just sit and expect the boomers to fight all of these fights. They need to come to the table. They need to be part of this solution."

For one of those millennials, Aaron Straka, an advertising executive who lives in the River West neighborhood, not even a broken right foot would keep him from attending Saturday's rally.

Limping around Trump Tower on crutches, he sported his own homemade shirt that read, "Broken foot and still marching to see your taxes."

A supporter of Hillary Clinton, who won the popular vote along with 83 percent of votes cast in Chicago, Straka said Trump's taxes will continue to be an issue to the millions who supported the Democratic nominee.

"I think absolutely people care," Straka said. "I think a majority of the people that voted for Hillary Clinton absolutely care, and that's the majority of people."

wlee@chicagotribune.com

Twitter @MidNoirCowboy

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