While many political pundits continue to emphasize the public’s frustration with taxation, Vanessa S. Williamson—a graduate student in government and social policy—started a website last August to take the conversation in a new direction.
The website, dubbed “I Heart Taxes,” was created as a way for individuals to showcase their pride in the “patriotic pro-tax movement,” according to Williamson.
“[If you are] proud to be a taxpayer, you could really show your pride,” Williamson said.
“I Heart Taxes” is a combination of a blog providing tax-related commentary with an online store selling merchandise that highlights how tax dollars are used to support government programs.
Williamson, who launched the website on the anniversary of Social Security’s creation this past summer, said that her inspiration sprung from her friends’ Facebook status updates around Tax Day that praised their monetary contributions to government programs.
Williamson said she wanted to create a site where people would be able to show similar enthusiasm.
The site’s merchandise is branded with sayings such as “Taxes Fight Fires” and “Taxes Feed Kids.” Williamson’s next product line will tout “Taxes Put Man on the Moon.”
“Our government is something we can all contribute to,” says Williamson, who added that she chose to donate all profits from the site to the Treasury as a way to support a variety of government projects.
For Williamson, the political debates about taxation often mask the real concerns of Americans.
“The focus on taxes is an absolute red herring,” she said. “This election and the next election are about jobs...unemployed people would be really excited to pay some taxes because they would have a job.”
Williamson said the response to her website has been “universally positive.” Government and Sociology Professor Theda R. Skocpol—who is Williamson’s academic advisor—praised the creativity of “I Heart Taxes,” which she said “takes on the tax issue in a humorous way.”
Skocpol and Williamson are currently collaborating on a book that will examine the Tea Party movement, with a focus on the movement’s views on taxation.
Skocpol and Williamson’s research has shown that Tea Party members are not as opposed to government benefit programs as is commonly thought, but instead are angry about people they view as less-deserving receiving those benefits.
Prior to her work as a graduate student, Williamson served as policy director for Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, a non-profit advocacy organization.
“There is a lot of opportunity right now to shape policy in a lot of arenas, and taxes are just one of them,” Williamson said. “If I thought everything were going right politically, I would study medieval French poetry.”