War Tax Resistance: An Idea Whose Time Has Come . . . Again?

by Michelle Kinnucan

If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. --Henry David Thoreau, "On the Duty of Civil Disobedience"

Let them march all they want, so long as they continue to pay their taxes. --Attributed to Alexander Haig, US Secretary of State (1981-1989), commenting on demonstrations by anti-nuclear weapons protestors

The past seven months have been especially trying for Americans who long for justice and peace and find that US government policy often has little to do with either. First came the heinous carnage of September 11th. Then came war--more heinous carnage--in Afghanistan and rumors of war in the Philippines, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, North Korea, Colombia and so on. Then, last December, the US withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty. More recently, the Bush administration suggested its intention to end a decade-long nuclear weapons testing moratorium, in part, to develop "mini-nukes" for possible use against non-nuclear enemies. Finally, the smoldering embers of hatred in the occupied Palestinian territories and Israel have burst into a (lopsided) conflagration of heart-wrenching death and destruction.

As we honor the lives of all victims of violence; as we contend with a "patriotic correctness" that sometimes seems pervasive; as we confront the political realities of American militarism and its hold on the government and the minds of our brothers and sisters; as we write, protest, and engage in other forms of activism, war tax resisters offer us another tool to work for peace, support justice, channel anger, and challenge hopelessness. They suggest: "If you work for peace, stop paying for war."

According to the War Resisters League (WRL), $776 billion--46% of the total discretionary funding--in the proposed 2003 federal budget is allocated to military spending. The WRL points out, paraphrasing radical pacifist A.J. Muste, "in order to conduct a war or build a military, the government requires two chief resources: soldiers and money. People are drafted through the Selective Service System, and money is drafted through the Internal Revenue Service." Tax resistance in this view is the financial counterpart of conscientious objection to military conscription.

One method of war tax resistance is refusing to pay federal income taxes. Both the WRL and the National War Tax Resisters Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) can provide detailed information for persons contemplating this type of non-violent civil disobedience. The WRL publishes War Tax Resistance: A Guide To Withholding Your Support From The Military, which explains the rationale and long history of war tax resistance along with in-depth information concerning the Internal Revenue Service. In addition to full-blown income tax resistance, activists have developed other lower stakes strategies such as telephone tax resistance and the "1040 Club."

The federal telephone excise tax began with long distance calls under the Spanish War Act of 1898; it was applied to local calls shortly before the US entered World War II. The WRL estimates that in 1972, perhaps one-half million people resisted the US war in Southeast Asia by refusing to pay the federal telephone tax. In 1990, the tax was set permanently at 3%; the IRS administers the funds, which like the income tax revenues are allocated for general expenditures including military spending. According to the Congressional Research Service, from 1980 through 1999, the tax brought in over $57 billion to the US Treasury, including a record $5.2 billion in 1999.

The NWRTCC says telephone tax resistance is "a strong, positive way to protest increasingly militaristic U.S. policies and actions." Resisters deduct the itemized 3% federal excise tax from their telephone payment(s) and include an explanatory note to the phone company with the payment(s). The WRL and NWRTCC both claim that it is unusual and generally illegal for a phone company to discontinue service for non-payment of the federal excise tax.

Earlier this year, Sonoma County Taxes for Peace a local, California affiliate of the NWTRCC launched its One Million Taxpayers for Peace the War campaign. Their goal is to get one million taxpayers to join the "1040 Club" by subtracting $10.40 from any payment due to the IRS when filing their federal income taxes. Taxpayers who are owed a refund by the IRS enclose a note with their return requesting an additional $10.40 from the IRS.

War tax resisters stress that they are different from run-of-the-mill tax evaders because they act for reasons of conscience and do not attempt to conceal their defiance of the law. In fact, advocates encourage resisters to write letters to the IRS, members of Congress, and local newspapers explaining their objections to paying their taxes. Additionally, resisters often redirect unpaid tax money to non-profit groups that provide services more consistent with their philosophy of non-violence or to escrow funds such as the Conscience and Military Tax Campaign Escrow Account or the New York City People's Life Fund.

This April 15th, NWTRCC members and friends will leaflet, parade, show films, and stage "Pentagon Porkbusters Penny Polls" in communities in every section of the country. For more information, you may call the NWTRCC at (800) 269-7464 or the WRL at (800) 975-9688.

Michelle Kinnucan may be contacted at: mailto:mjkinnuc@juno.com

Source: http://www.commondreams.org/views02/0412-01.htm

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