Give Your Taxes to the Solidarity Economy

by David M. Gross

 

In mid-April, people across the United States struggle to fill out their federal income tax returns. This shared calamity has created something of an inverted holiday season — with grumbling about paperwork and frustration towards government bureaucracy replacing the “peace on earth, goodwill to men” of the Yuletide.

But at a church in Berkeley, California, this past April, people were handing over their taxes with a smile. They were members of the group Northern California War Tax Resistance, and they were smiling because their checks — averaging more than $1,000 apiece — were not made out to the federal government, but to twenty-seven local groups including the Bay Area Community Land Trust, the Berkeley Food Pantry, the Biketopia Community Workshop, Oakland Sustaining Ourselves Locally, People’s Community Medics, and the Sustainable Economies Law Center.

The money came from a war tax resisters’ “alternative fund” called the “People’s Life Fund” — one of more than a dozen such funds in the United States. The Fund’s annual mid-April “granting ceremony” brought together representatives from each of the recipient groups, who accepted their checks and briefly summarized their work for the benefit of the other attendees.

Bill Ramsey holding giant $250 check

Conscience & Military Tax Campaign escrow account manager Bill Ramsey presents redirected tax dollars to the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, April 2013.

The People’s Life Fund (like most other such funds) accepts deposits from war tax resisters of the money they are refusing to pay to the government. The fund holds the money in alternative financial institutions like credit unions and socially-responsible investments. If the government manages to seize the resisted taxes from the resister, he or she can reclaim the money from the Fund. Meanwhile, any investment returns from the deposits are distributed to local groups in these annual granting ceremonies.

“Redirection” has a long history in American war tax resistance. American war tax resister Bill Ramsey says it reminds him of Gandhi’s “constructive programme” with which the commander of the Indian resistance movement worked to strengthen grassroots Indian institutions at the same time he was trying to weaken British imperialist ones:

The spinning wheel was the center of Gandhi’s constructive program. Redirection is the war tax resistance movement’s spinning wheel. The “constructive program” is positive action that builds structures, systems, and processes alongside the obstructive program of direct confrontation to or noncooperation with oppression. When we redirect our war taxes, we invest in imaginative and positive projects in our communities and around the world.

At first, redirection was largely practiced by individuals, and in an ad hoc manner. For example, in 1968, war tax resister Irving Hogan stood outside the Federal Building in San Francisco and redirected his federal income tax dollars one at a time by handing them out to passers by. “I want this money to be used for the delight, not the destruction, of men,” he said. “Here: go buy yourself a beer.” But today redirection is frequently coordinated by local or national war tax resistance groups.

Some have used redirection to strengthen the anti-war movement. One group used its alternative fund to create a scholarship for college students who had been barred from government financial aid because they refused to register for the military draft. Another made an interest-free loan to a legal defense group that was supporting a group of military draft resisters who were on trial.

Traditional charity and relief organizations have also been recipients of redirected taxes. In 2008, a national effort called the “War Tax Boycott” redirected $325,000 in federal taxes from the U.S. Treasury to two organizations: a health clinic in New Orleans struggling with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and Direct Aid Iraq, which provided medical care to refugees from the American war.

War tax resisters aren’t just redirecting their money. Many American war tax resisters resist by deliberately lowering their income below the level where the federal income tax applies. They do this by working fewer hours of paid employment and by simplifying their lives so that they can live on less money. Such resisters no longer have an amount of income tax to redirect, but they can redirect their time instead. One low-income resister, Clare Hanrahan, wrote: “I believe that redirection of time and presence provides a personal and potent contribution to the common good, a gift of self that has more dimensions than money alone. I redirect each time I give my time and energy in support of good work within my community.”

In recent years more ties have developed between American war tax resisters and the grassroots or “solidarity economy” — a model that is currently being spearheaded by Spain’s “comprehensive disobedience” (desobediencia integral) movement. National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) made “economic disobedience” the theme of its last national gathering, and had fruitful exchanges there with the debt resistance group Strike Debt!, which has since incorporated a chapter on resisting “tax debt” into its Debt Resisters’ Operations Manual.

When Erica Weiland of NWTRCC delivered the keynote address at an April “economic disobedience” workshop in Eugene, Oregon, she said:

When we heard about this work in Spain, it was clear to us that war tax resistance is economic disobedience, the refusal to cooperate in an economic system that is built on war, militarism, and the perpetuation of human suffering. It was also clear to us that a variety of movements that also practice economic disobedience are allied with us in this struggle. When people refuse to pay debts to ruthless debt collectors, resist foreclosure, set up bartering networks that don’t report bartering as income, set up gift economies that avoid the IRS bartering regulations, organize lending circles for low-income borrowers, counsel high school students on alternatives to military service, squat abandoned houses, organize tent cities for the homeless regardless of bureaucratic and inhumane regulations, and struggle against corrupt landlords and employers, we are engaging in economic disobedience. The economic system we live under is not set up to support us, so we should withdraw our support from the system whenever feasible.

American war tax resisters are withdrawing from the warfare state and the economic model it enforces and are committing themselves with all of their strength and all of their resources to the creation of a more just system in which we can live with dignity. In doing so, they are blazing the trail that leads to this better world we all yearn for.

David M. Gross is the author of 99 Tactics of Successful Tax Resistance Campaigns (2014). 

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An Ethic for the 21st Century

by Robert Randall, with feedback from many folks

 

Let us all agree on this one simple thing:

It is not OK to kill people.

It is not OK to kill people because you don’t like them.

It is not OK to kill people because they don’t like you.

It is not OK to kill people because they are different from you.

It is not OK to kill people because of what they believe.

Or because of what they don’t believe.

Or because they believe differently than you do.

It is not OK to kill people because they are wrong.

It is not OK to kill people because of who or what they are.

It is not OK to kill people because they are male.

It is not OK to kill people because they are female.

Or because they are any other gender or genders or gender-less.

It is not OK to kill people because they are straight.

Or gay,

Or bi.

Or trans.

It is not OK to kill people.

It is not OK to kill people before they are born.

It is not OK to kill people after they are born.

It is not OK to kill children. Or young people. Or middle-aged people. Or old people.

It is not OK to kill people because they are disabled in any way.

It is not OK to kill people because they are a different race.

It is not OK to kill people because they are aboriginal.

Or because they are white.

Or because they are black.

Or because they are yellow.

Or because they are brown.

Or because they are red.

Or because they are any other color or shade or race or ethnicity.

It is not OK to kill people.

It is not OK to kill people because they were born in a different place than you.

It is not OK to kill people because they are from a different country.

It is not OK to kill people because they are Chinese.

Or Russian.

Or American.

Or Iraqi.

Or Ukrainian.

Or Afghani.

Or Sudanese.

Or Yemeni.

Or from any of 190 other countries.

Or without a country.

It is not OK to kill people.

It is not OK to kill people because they are a different ethnicity than you.

It is not OK to kill people because they are native people.

Or Kurds.

Or Chechens.

Or Hutu.

Or Karen.

Or Anglo.

Or Armenian.

Or any of thousands of ethnic groups or tribes or cultures.

It is not OK to kill people.

It is not OK to kill people because they have a different religion than you do.

It is not OK to kill people because they are Hindi.

Or because they are not Hindi.

It is not OK to kill people because they are Muslim.

Or because they are not Muslim.

It is not OK to kill people because they are Christian.

Or because they are not Christian.

It is not OK to kill people because they are Jewish.

Or Sunni.

Or Shia.

Or Catholic.

Or Protestant.

Or Buddhist.

Or any brand or subset of any of those things.

Or any of hundreds of other faiths and religions.

Or because they are not any particular one of those.

Or because they are none of those.

It is not OK to kill people for any “religious” reason whatsoever.

It is not OK to kill people.

It is not OK to kill people even if God tells you to kill people.

That is never the voice of God.

It is not OK to kill people if some religious leader tells you to do so.

That is not the voice of God, either.

It is not OK to kill people if some political leader tells you to do so.

That is not the voice of God, either.

It is not OK to kill people if your country tells you to do so.

Your country is not God, either.

It is not OK to kill people even if you are ordered to do so.

It is not OK to kill people even if you are in a uniform.

It is not OK to kill people who are in a uniform which is different from yours.

It is not OK to kill people even if it’s your job. Leave that job.

It is not OK to kill people because they are targeted.

It is not OK to kill people even if they are “collateral damage”.

It is not OK to kill people because their politics are different than yours.

Or their economics.

It is not OK to kill people because they are liberal. Or conservative.

It is not OK to kill people because they are capitalists.

Or socialists.

Or communists.

Or libertarians.

Or Georgists.

Or federalists.

Or one worlders.

Or decentralists.

Or anything else you may describe them as.

It is not OK to kill people.

It is not OK to kill people because they are rich.

It is not OK to kill people because they are poor.

It is not OK to kill people by making them poor.

It is not OK to kill people who are nationalists.

It is not OK to kill people who renounce nationalism.

It is not OK to kill people who are patriots, no matter to which country.

And it is not OK to kill people who are citizens only of the world.

It is not OK to kill people.

It is not OK to kill people because of what they do. Or did.

Or because of what they might do.

Or because of what they didn’t do.

Or because of what they won’t do.

It is not OK to kill people even if you think they deserve it.

It is not OK to kill bad people.

It is not OK to kill people who kill people.

It is not OK to kill people who won’t kill people.

It is not OK to kill people because they are in a gang.

Or not in a gang.

Or in the wrong gang.

It is not OK to kill people while breaking the law.

It is not OK to kill people while enforcing the law.

It is not OK to kill people because they are terrorists.

 

It is not OK to kill people, because we become the thing we are trying to kill.

It is not OK to kill people no matter who you are.

It is not OK to kill people if you are a “regular guy”.

It is not OK to kill people if you are a “big man”.

It is not OK to kill people if you are a warlord.

It is not OK to kill people if you are a religious leader.

It is not OK to kill people if you head a large corporation.

It is not OK to kill people if you head a country.

It is not OK to kill people even if you head the most powerful country on earth.

It is not OK to kill people even if you are a great international statesman.

It is not OK to kill people.

It is not OK to kill people with your bare hands.

It is not OK to kill people with sticks and stones.

It is not OK to kill people with knives and swords.

It is not OK to kill people with guns.

It is not OK to kill people with poison.

It is not OK to kill people with tanks.

It is not OK to kill people with lethal injections.

It is not OK to kill people with pathogens.

It is not OK to kill people with airplanes and bombs.

It is not OK to kill people with missiles.

It is not OK to kill people with drones.

It is not OK to kill people with nuclear weapons.

It is not OK to kill people with anything, no matter how creative you may be.

And it is not OK to build things to kill people.

It is simply not OK to kill people.

 

It is not OK to kill people for fun.

It is not OK to kill people for entertainment.

It is not OK to kill people to stand your ground.

It is not OK to kill people for revenge.

It is not OK to kill people for justice.

It is not OK to kill people for democracy.

It is not OK to kill people because you are at war.

It is not OK to kill people to keep the peace.

It is not OK to kill people in a revolution.

It is not OK to kill people for the greater good.

It is not OK to kill people.

It is not OK to kill people for profit.

It is not OK to kill people because they have something you want.

It is not OK to kill people for their land.

It is not OK to kill people for their resources.

For trees.

For oil.

For gold.

For uranium.

And it is not OK to kill people because of what you have that they want, either.

It is not OK to kill people.

It is not OK to kill people for your own honor.

It is not OK to kill people for family honor.

It is not OK to kill people for national honor.

There is no honor in killing people.

It is not OK to kill people because of some great wrong done in the past.

It is not OK to kill people yourself.

And it is not OK to have someone else do the killing for you.

It is not OK to kill by gang.

It is not OK to kill by mob.

It is not OK to kill by thugs.

Or death squads.

Or people’s revolutionary army.

Or militia.

Or army.

Or navy.

Or air force.

It is not OK to kill people using other groups of people.

And it is not OK to tell them it’s OK to do it.

And it is not OK to train them to do it.

And it is not OK to tell them to do it.

And it is not OK to pay them to do it.

It is not OK to pay them directly to kill.

It is not OK to pay them indirectly to kill.

It is not OK to pay taxes to kill.

It is not OK to invest in killing people.

Because it is not OK to kill people.

It is not OK to kill people.

Let us all agree on this one simple thing: It is not OK to kill people.

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Resistance, Redirection, and Revolution: Tabling at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair

Tabling at the Seattle Anarchist Bookfair this weekend, I realized again that anti-war activism is only part of the picture in modern war tax resistance. With so many problems in the world, with so much reporting and news from the proliferation of modern media sources online, it’s hard to know where to focus. Not only that, but it may not be in our best interest to focus too narrowly.

Because anarchists acknowledge the interconnectedness of economic, social, and military issues with the functions of capitalism and the state. I usually don’t have to explain the concept of war tax resistance in much depth. They are usually supportive, if not always personally interested. I don’t get pushback on the level that I do from a lot of other radicals who support some form of government. I met many folks at the bookfair who already don’t pay taxes for a variety of reasons: they don’t want to participate in the tax system at all, they don’t make enough money to owe taxes, they don’t want to pay for killing people, they support indigenous peoples still resisting US domination, and more. And everyone loved the idea of redirecting taxes to radical causes.

I also met folks who were hesitant about resistance because there were social service functions they didn’t want to defund (yes, even some anarchists/anti-authoritarians still have concerns about not supporting social services that they or their families or people they know rely on to help survive – also, not everyone who comes to the bookfair is an anarchist). For example, I met a US citizen who grew up in another country, has recently returned to the US, and is horrified by war, but is hesitant to remove their financial support from social services. I suggested resisting the military portion of their taxes, or a smaller amount, from the perspective that the act of resistance is itself the most important.

I always appreciate the opportunity to share information with folks and to be in an environment that promotes resistance in various forms. NWTRCC’s 30 years of experience in war tax resistance really sets us apart. One of my favorite interactions this year was from a person, probably mid-20s in age, who told me (paraphrasing) “Everything else here at the bookfair is interesting reading, but this is really practical information about something I can do!”

-Post by Erica

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