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April 15, 2008

More War Tax Rumblings

Ah, tax day.

Two weeks ago, I wrote a story about war tax resistance in Vermont. After the fact, one of the people quoted in the story emailed to express disappointment with both its tone and content. Too dismissive of war-tax resisters, the person wrote, and not enough praise for the power of war-tax resistance movements.

Well, OK. Here's some more information about war tax resistance that I didn't have room for:

* Henry David Thoreau was one of the first war-tax resisters in the history of the U.S.— he refused to pay taxes in support of the Mexican American War.

* Bob Bady and Robert Riversong, both of whom appeared in my story, were involved with an epic war-tax-resistance struggle against the IRS — in Massachusetts, in the late 1980s. The struggle has been chronicled in the film An Act of Conscience.

* On March 13 of this year, 32 war-tax resisters were arrested outside IRS headquarters.

* In addition to the Code Pink war-tax boycott mentioned in my story, the New York City-based War Resisters League has sponsored its own war-tax boycott. Out of several dozens names on the petition, I count five Vermonters.

* While reporting my story on war-tax resistance, I spoke with two well-known Vermonters who have had some connection with the movement over the years. Peter Schumann, patriarch of Glover-based Bread & and Puppet Theater, told me that, while he doesn't refuse to pay taxes, he has made woodcuts for the War Resisters League. And Joseph Gainza, field director of the American Friends Service Committee's Montpelier office, said he withheld some of his taxes during the Reagan wars in Central America — before, that is, his employer started withholding wages.

* Oh, and earlier this week, I received an email from Peter Moss, a House candidate from Franklin county. Moss attached public testimony on taxation he gave before the House Ways and Means Committee on March 13. One of Moss' ideas? We should, he suggests, turn the Department of Defense (DOD) into the Department of Corporate Profit Defense (DCPD).

Since I was the interviewee who complained about the tone of Mike's article, let me respond:

He states my objection as "Too dismissive of war-tax resisters...and not enough praise for the power of war-tax resistance movements."

While it's important not to mis-characterize such a movement (such as comparing acts of conscience to "garden variety tax evaders"), it's also important not to either minimize or exaggerate its impact.

The effect of the long-standing American tradition of resisting taxation for war has been limited only by the relatively small number of people who have been willing to take a principled public stand against injustice, and the willingness of resisters to capitulate to the IRS when push comes to shove or not sufficiently alter their personal economy to one that is neither taxable nor supports our consumer-driven empire.

In spite of this, however, there have been times (such as during the Vietnam War) when the war-tax resistance movement has impacted foreign policy. And since the IRS admits that there are at least 10,000 conscientious tax refusers, the actual numbers must be many times that.

While the demographics of resistance today are largely unknown, Mike Ives continues to minimize them. The 2008 War Tax Boycott, actually organized by the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (, lists more than 350 people willing to make their names public (not the "few dozen" that Mike suggests).

If even a small percentage of Americans opposed to funding the current wars of aggression were to withhold their taxes this year, the military-industrial complex would be dealt a devastating blow that no amount of protest could accomplish. When we who wish for peace are willing to say, "Not with my body and not with my money", then we will have peace - but not until then.

For a different view of a "war tax" check the latest posting at

I wish to clarify an important point. The "failure" of such tax resistance campaigns as Code Pink has undertaken is that they are based on the fallacy that there is either strength or protection in numbers. They asked people to be willing to resist some part of their taxes once 100,000 people signed up. And, of course, that number is never realized. This has been tried before by others.

The issue, however, is this: do we do what is right because others are doing it and with sufficient numbers it might have an impact on our political agenda? Or do we do what is right because it is right regardless of the consequences, either to ourselves or to the world at large.

The truth is that there is a wonderful freedom in losing our fear and acting on principle rather than "pragmatism". And the deeper truth is that one can never know before hand what the outcome of a simple act of conscience might be.

A Harvard grad once refused to be drafted into the Vietnam War and took his case to the US Supreme Court, lost, and spent time in federal prison. But while on appeal, one of many who listened to his story was moved to tears and to the determination to also do what he knew to be right.

That first young man was Randy Kehler, who later founded the Traprock Peace Center in Western MA and initiated the Nuclear Freeze Campaign. The other who was moved by Randy's example was Daniel Ellsberg who then copied and released the Pentagon Papers which turned public and Congressional opinion against the war and helped bring it to an end. Nixon's retaliation against Ellsberg also contributed to his near-impeachment and resignation.

Years later, when Randy and his wife and daughter had their house seized by the IRS for non-payment of war taxes (they always paid their due to groups repairing the damage of war), people from all over rallied together to conduct an 18-month non-stop 24/7 occupation of the house and Community Land Trust land, which brought world-wide attention to war-tax resistance as a powerful act of conscience.

Gandhi taught us (as he had learned from Thoreau and as MLK learned from him) that the most powerful non-violent weapon that we can wield is our refusal to cooperate with injustice. War-tax resistance is one of the clearest examples of that, and doing right for its own sake DOES have an effect on the world we share.

Drop a pebble in the pond and the ripples silently spread.

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