(The following piece was originally published in NWTRCC’s More Than a Paycheck bimonthly newsletter in June 2002. For more information on how to deal with an IRS levy, consult our Practical War Tax Resistance #3: How to Resist Collection,
or Make the Most of Collection When It Occurs.)
by Thad W. Crouch
It was April 10th and I hadn’t slept the night before. I had tossed and turned as I struggled with my conscience and my tax return. The question wasn’t whether or not to pay. I had laid that question to rest four years ago. The question was whether or not to be public about my war tax resistance. On one hand, while such a witness might be very poignant during wartime, it could also be risky and cause me to leave my job if my employers told the IRS. On the other hand if I weren’t vocal I would know I was choosing fear instead of hope. I waited for the coffee to pick me up as I listened to my voice mail. It was the payroll administrator from the national office. She said the IRS had placed a levy on my salary and that she needed to fax me some IRS levy forms. WHOAH! This had never happened before. Now I added stress, and fear to my fatigue.
Soon I felt a little relief. Not just due to the coffee, but because I could now easily decide to be public since there was no question of risk, the levy was here and my employer knew about it. How fortunate to be levied a week before tax day. What a great media hook! I sighed. The real relief came as I drove home that evening. I thought singing prayer in the car might be comforting. I sang “Blest Are They” a David Haas song about the beatitudes from the Sermon on the Mount. As I sang about being blessed for being persecuted for justice and for following Jesus, I realized the words were for folks in my situation. I sang the next line “Rejoice and be glad! Yours is the kingdom. Shine for all to see!” Suddenly I began laughing and laughing until tears came to my eyes. While the stress remained, all the fear vanished. I decided in that instant that not only would I publicly refuse to pay my taxes, I would throw a party to rejoice in my religious persecution and I WOULD INVITE THE IRS!!!
I told the other members of the Austin Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation (ACOMT) that in addition to leafleting the Post Office on tax day I wanted us to send press releases that I would publicly refuse to pay my taxes. We hammered out a press release together. On tax day Andy McKenna, Susan VanHaitsma, two prospective new WTRs and myself leafleted taxpayers and displayed Susan’s large banner reading, “If you work for peace why pay for war? Austin Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation.”
A couple of TV stations did interviews and Andy got us invited to a radio show. I baited the reporter of a local CNN affiliate by offering exclusive footage of me signing my refusal letter and dropping it in the mailbox with my 1040. Their news story mentioned WTR, explained the Peace Tax Fund, and was broadcast in Austin about every hour all through the night and into the next morning.
The next day coworkers had many questions, so I e-mailed over 200 employees about WTR, the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund, and invited them to a party on Friday, April 19th. The invitation encouraged guests to bring musical instruments for rejoicing. About forty people ranging from six months to 70 years old enjoyed that fun-filled night as we sang, beat drums, recited poems, and laughed beneath the “peace tax cranes.” A friend and I made origami peace cranes from tax returns and strung them from the ceiling. Midway through the party I took just a few minutes to thank everyone for coming. I explained my WTR, the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund, and why I was rejoicing in a levy.
Ever an activist, I did one more thing before continuing the celebration. I asked guests to write a handwritten letter to our House Representative who sits on the Ways and Means Committee where the peace tax bill is stuck. Several guests ventured into “The Letter Writing Room,” a room filled with handouts, paper, pens, envelopes and decorated with poster-size sample letters and suggested talking points. Ten guests took time out to write handwritten letters that ACOMT member Steve Olshewsky will hand to our representative in Washington, DC.
Many party guests questioned ACOMT members about WTR and the Peace Tax Fund. The most popular question was “Did you really invite the IRS?” We were happy not only to answer yes, but also to entertain guests with the voice mail message of an Austin IRS agent thanking me for the invitation but declining on behalf of their office. Guests howled with laughter that I hope dispelled their fears as it had done mine the week before.
I’ll always remember that party as not only fun, but also as both a great organizing tool and a great comfort to me. Wanting my guests to remember it, I put a sign on the door asking them not to leave without getting a peace tax crane from me. This allowed me to thank them for coming and left them with a souvenir that I hope prompts questions from their friends and family. I have since seen peace tax cranes hanging in the cars and homes of a few friends.
So the next time the collection agent comes knocking and you find yourself faced with tough decisions, stress and fear, take time to rejoice. Laugh, throw a party, educate others, and dispel fear!