The Mysterious Ways of the IRS

“The Mysterious Ways of the IRS” was a topic of conversation during a recent war tax resistance (WTR) workshop. Many of the questions from resisters —whether new or longtime — related to “what might happen when.” If I file, when will the first IRS collection letter arrive? How long will it take them to seize my bank account? When will they garnish my salary?

One of the difficulties of this form of war resistance is that there often is no absolute answer. We know this from the decades of experience by war tax resisters. A motto for WTR counselors is “There’s what the IRS can do, and there is what the IRS actually does.” What surprises many new resisters is that the gap between those two is wide and unpredictable.

At the workshop, one self-employed nonfiler mentioned that a couple of his employers received levies for him recently – the first time the IRS has levied him since the 1970s. Many resisters and potential resisters might find it easier to spend a few weeks in jail rather than years worrying about when the IRS might take action.

WTR counselor Ed Hedemann considered this dilemma and created a “fantasy IRS penalties chart” (going with the government’s assumption that war fantasy IRS penalties.inddresisters should face penalties for trying to end war to begin with…). It never hurts to laugh in the face of fear. Creating your own penalty chart might help put things in perspective as you consider the consequences of your method of WTR. (Send us a copy if you do.)

On the flip side, one of the positive consequences was well put by Juanita Nelson: “War tax resistance is a way of keeping at the front of my mind the killing and suffering wrought by the government’s policies, and of voicing my profound disagreement with those policies.”

When the media pays attention to the U.S. government’s endless wars, they often say that only the families of people in the military think about the wars. As war resisters we know that that is not true, and for war tax resisters endless war can come to mind on all sorts of occasions: when applying for a job, needing to cash a check, considering retirement, going out to get the mail. Government policies and the victims of those policies are often “at the front of our minds,” and we work anxiously for the day when such decisions can be made with a clear conscience.

To help lessen the fear and sustain war tax resistance, seek support in the WTR network, and check out some of our resources, particularly the booklets on Resisting Collection (#3) and Low Income/Simple Living (#5). Let us know if you have ideas to add to these resources by emailing

—Post by Ruth Benn

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Frances Crowe: Finding Her Radical Soul

A couple of weeks ago, as we were eating lunch on the porch of Casa Maria Catholic Worker, Ruth talked about meeting her mentor in activism, Frances Crowe, in Western Massachusetts. When Frances saw Ruth wearing an anti-nuclear T-shirt, Frances, ever the organizer, came up and introduced herself immediately.

Frances Crowe at the Peace Abbey, May 2007. Peace Abbey founder Lewis Randa seated on the left.

Frances was a long-time staff member for the American Friends Service Committee in Western Massachusetts. She has been arrested 11 times at the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant alone (when asked how many times she has been arrested, she responds, “Not enough”) and traces her anti-nuclear activism back to the dropping of the atomic bomb at Hiroshima. Frances recently published her memoir Finding My Radical Soul (with a foreword by Amy Goodman). Now 96 years old, she is still an activist and still getting arrested for civil disobedience.

During the May 2007 NWTRCC gathering at the Peace Abbey, Frances was awarded the Peace Abbey’s Courage of Conscience award (which has also been awarded to war tax resisters Randy Kehler, Betsy Corner, Kathy Kelly, Julia Butterfly Hill, Cindy Sheehan, and Juanita and Wally Nelson).

Frances came to war tax resistance later in her life, when the Iraq war began in 2003. She said in an article in the May 2005 More Than a Paycheck:

We should be telling people how good it feels to separate yourself from this awful war… I was a total hypocrite, running around talking about these things, and feeling so strongly, while still funding them.

She also talked about the distraction of comforts in modern day society that may keep folks away from thinking about war tax resistance:

The trouble is that people are too comfortable. They are not hungry, and they are so totally caught in by the major media that they’re just shopping and entertaining themselves and feeling that they have to be happy all the time and diverted. I like to be comfortable. I like a warm bath and I like a comfortable bed at night. I don’t like being hungry.

But there is something else also to life, the joy of struggle, that not enough people have tasted. And the joy of community, and the joy of cooperation, instead of competition; these are the values that I want to perpetuate and talk about to young people. There’s a whole other world out there that they can taste that’s a really wonderful community in the brotherhood of humans.

(Even as our social media coordinator, I think this is a big argument for moderating time online or on TV. Media can help us build connections and educate ourselves and others, and it can also entertain us for so much time that it prevents us from taking further action.)

I also recommend Frida Berrigan’s recent article about Frances and her memoir in “Waging Nonviolence.” (My favorite fact learned from this article is that Frances did 1,776 draft counseling sessions in 1968 and 1969!)

Post by Erica

 P.S. More good news about Frances; she was awarded an honorary degree from Smith College on May 17.

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May in Milwaukee

Another enjoyable time at NWTRCC’s May conference in Milwaukee! Our hosts, Casa Maria Catholic Worker (with lead organizer Lincoln Rice), did a great job with the weekend.

Families staying at Casa Maria had made posters and artwork about where tax money should be spent.

As the Administrative Committee wrapped up our preparation for the business meeting on Friday, other folks who arrived early got to see some papers from Christian anarchist and war tax resister Ammon Hennacy, and Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day (edited to add, as Phil Runkel commented below, this was at the Marquette University Archives!). For dinner, we got to join the Marquette Center for Peacemaking fundraiser, where we learned that center director Patrick Kennelly, who was making the main presentation for the evening, was also going to be talking to us the next day about a trip he took to Afghanistan with the Afghan Peace Volunteers. I love when things come full circle like that! (Especially since NWTRCC friend, energetic activist and war tax resister Kathy Kelly, works with the Afghan Peace Volunteers!)

We followed up our dinner with a labor sing-along at Harmony House, one of the houses that are part of the Casa Maria community. I knew very few of the songs, but had a lot of fun!

Lincoln, Bill, Colleen, and Rick follow along in the Madison May Day songbook.

Saturday morning, we gathered at Casa Maria for breakfast and sorting out the schedule for the day. We had War Tax Resistance 101 and 201 workshops in the morning. Several folks came to the 101 session and got their questions and concerns addressed. It was gratifying to have attendance there, since sometimes we don’t have new folks for the 101 session. I sat in on the 201 session and we had lots of time for discussion of issues, including inheritance, Social Security, and bank accounts. I think allotting 2 hours for the 101/201 sessions is a good practice for the future; we didn’t feel rushed for this key part of the weekend.

Our lunch team, including Casa Maria workers and Paula Rogge, made a delicious spread of deviled eggs, salad, bread, and lentil-chard soup (I’m not kidding when I say this was one of the best soups I have ever had – check out the link for a recipe for a similar soup). The weather was warm so many of us sat out on the Casa Maria porch for a leisurely meal.

After lunch, I presented a social media workshop, telling folks about what I organized for Tax Day online this year: the Thunderclap, the “Letters from War Tax Resisters” video, and Facebook/Twitter posts. We also watched the terrific interview with Matthew Hoh on Huffington Post – if you haven’t seen it yet, this is a must-watch.

For the second afternoon session, I recorded and sat in on the Afghan Peace Volunteers session, where Patrick Kennelly showed us a lot of interesting photos and told us about the politics of the region and the lives of the peace volunteers themselves. Most folks attended the other session, which was in part to discuss the idea of a coordinated Tax Day action in 2016. We’ve got some ideas rattling around so stay tuned for details.

We actually got a good group photo this time, before people left for the weekend! Attendees gathered on the steps at the Casa Maria Catholic Worker house behind a sign saying “Your taxes are WAR taxes.”

A delicious dinner was followed by the Methods of Resistance panel, featuring Milwaukee local activists George Martin and Mary Watkins with our own Ruth Benn. A great presentation of local issues around peace and police brutality and civil disobedience.

I recorded both the Afghan Peace Volunteers and Methods of Resistance sessions and these will be going up online in the next couple of weeks. I’ll update this post with the links when available.

George Martin of Peace Action Wisconsin, Mary Watkins of Coalition for Justice, and Ruth Benn, Coordinator for NWTRCC, each spoke at the Saturday night panel on Methods of Resistance.

Our Sunday morning business meeting went well, thanks to the facilitation work of Ad Comm members and the thoughtfulness of the attendees.

As usual, the meeting ended too soon – I always wish we had a couple more days together, even if just to talk issues out, build our friendships, and make more plans for working on things locally and nationally. Looking forward to seeing folks in November!

More photos.

Post by Erica

Pictures by Ruth Benn and Ed Kale



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