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This article is part of the June 27, 2012, posting on David Gross's blog at sniggle.net/Experiment. He takes a look at individual tax resistance in service of what Ammon Hennacy called the "one-man revolution." We reprint the post's introduction, but the much longer entry, which you can read online, includes quotes from Hennacy and Thoreau..
You see the beauty of my proposal is
it needn't wait on general revolution.
I bid you to the one-man revolution–
The only revolution that is coming.
—From "Build Soil" by Robert Frost
Whether Hennacy got the name from Frost's poem, or Frost from him, or whether each came up with it independently, I don't know. The idea goes back much further than either, and in particular is especially pronounced in Thoreau's thinking.
This idea is that, contrary to what the organizers of the world are always telling us, the key to curing society's ills is not necessarily to organize at all. You don't need a majority, or a critical mass, or a disciplined revolutionary vanguard. Just get your own house in order and commit yourself to your own personal revolution—that's the most crucial and practical thing you can do.
"One-man revolution" is the answer to the question posed by radicals and reformers who feel overwhelmed by the task ahead. "What can one person do?" they ask (half-hoping, I suspect, that the answer will be "nothing, so don't sweat it"). They think the revolution that will finally put things right is scheduled for later—when the masses see the light… when a crisis comes… when we find a charismatic leader… when we unite the factions under one banner… when… when… when…
The one-man revolutionary says: no, the revolution starts here and now. Your first task as a revolutionary is to overturn the corrupt, confused, puppet governor of your own life and to put a more responsible sovereign in its place.
As to what the policies of this new sovereign ought to be, well, that's up to you. I'm not going to cover the details of how Hennacy's and Thoreau's one-man revolutions played out and what specific decisions they made along the way. Instead I'm looking at the reasons they gave for why the one-man revolution is practical and effective, in answer to the "What can just one person do?" skeptics.
These reasons can be roughly divided into five categories:
David Gross is a member of Northern California War Tax Resistance. He's the editor of The Price of Freedom, a collection of Thoreau's thoughts on conscience and society, and several other books.
This article was also posed on the war tax resistance listserve, https://lists.riseup.net/www/info/wtr-s. Join the listserve and participate in discussions with other WTRs. Here are parts of a couple responses to the "one-man revolution":
...it wasn't [Thoreau's] essay that brought about the end of slavery, it wasn't his essay's influence on Martin Luther King that produced the Montgomery Bus Boycott; for the ending of slavery you need the whole of the abolitionist movement (and a lot more than that, obviously), for the boycott you need the extraordinary collective labor of the Montgomery Improvement Association. "Effective" political change requires collective action.
Regarding [point 3] — it all depends on what revolutions or actions one's talking about, no? The Civil War changed American life, it put an end to slavery. The Civil Rights movement changed American life, it put an end to Jim Crow laws. Both changes were incomplete, and I'd be the last to deny the scope of the work remaining to be done. But that doesn't mean, for me, that those changes were inconsequential.
...I would suggest that personal spiritual growth provides endurance, patience and compassion for the longer effort necessary.
...perhaps the question is "how to make a true revolution"? Many of us realize by now that the easy answer of violence only accomplishes more of the same. And this then leads me to wonder how one weeds out (from society?) the power-mad, greedy and short-sighted (etc.). That, to me, is the more difficult question, because no one can define, much less force, spiritual growth for another. And unless these antisocial tendencies are eliminated, revolutions will run in the same rut, always eventually coming back to the same point.
In our last issue (June/July) we reported that a major transportation bill in Congress included an amendment to give the government the authority to revoke passports from people who had not paid their taxes once the delinquency reached $50,000. The bill that passed on June 29, 2012, does not include this amendment, as it did not survive the reconciliation process.
An interesting website that covered the passport amendment is at papersplease.org. Called "The Identity Project," the site explores and defends the "fundamental American right to move freely around our country and to live without constantly having to prove who we are or why we are here."
The Affordable Care Act (ACA), or "Obamacare" as some like to call it, survived a Supreme Court challenge. It includes an individual mandate that people buy health insurance, or, starting in 2014, a penalty (or "tax" as defined by the Supreme Court) will be charged to those who do not have qualified health insurance. There are exemptions because of low income (under the taxable level), religious beliefs, or for members of American Indian Tribes, and there will be a form to apply for a waiver for other reasons. The tax will be a line-item on the 1040 income tax return, although the IRS is prohibited from using its ordinary tools of liens, levies, seizures, and penalties to enforce payment of this part of the tax.
For the 2012 tax year, employers who file more than 250 W-2 forms must report the value of the coverage on those forms. The bill may present challenges for nonfilers and resisters who have stayed off the books for years, because the IRS will be very involved in tracking who has insurance and who doesn't. We'll see how this plays out in the next couple years as further pieces of the law kick in, assuming opponents don't kill or dramatically change the legislation.
Many in the war tax resistance network are not able to afford health insurance, and we can't tell if things will improve with the ACA. In 2014, for self-employed people or if an employer does not offer insurance, each person will be able to buy insurance directly from an Affordable Insurance Exchange. They say individuals and small businesses will be able to buy health benefits at competitive rates; we'll see in time what that means. If you want to learn more about the bill itself, a rather good website with an easy-to-read timeline of the bill's stages is at healthcare.gov.
We send out a collective pat on the back to all readers who still refuse to pay the federal excise tax on local telephone service (the only telephone excise tax still in effect). For most of us it's a small amount of money and can be a bother to try to refuse, but paying the tax still grates.
Telephone companies, however, seem to be more resistant to resisters. A typical email to NWTRCC often begins, "I am writing because [in this case] Frontier has decided to stop crediting my account as my letter directs and the late charges are piling up." Frontier seems to be particularly recalcitrant about reporting refused taxes to the IRS and leaving it to the IRS to collect, which still is the proper procedure.
Ed Agro in Massachusetts said:
I found that the best way to deal with this used to be to go right to the top, by sending a request or complaint to the CEO or head office of the company, with copies to whatever functionary or lower office one has been dealing with.
Back in 2009 when I started my latest round of phone tax refusal via Verizon, I began by contacting their online help, which got me a phone contact, which got me the address of the main office. Here's a draft of my note to online help that could be adapted by others:
I'm unclear how to refuse to pay the FET on my phone bill while at the same time keeping my account for Verizon services current. I understand that Verizon is required by the [tax code] to forward my refusal to IRS and to credit my bills. Please let me know what I must do in order for this to be carried out. If you do not know, please give me the address or phone number of Verizon corporate headquarters or an ombudsman. I apologize for making your clerks' work difficult and wish to continue subscribing to Verizon. But refusal of a tax that at least historically has gone to pay for unnecessary military adventures is also important to me. Thanks for your consideration.
Two separate inquiries to the NWTRCC office recently raised a new topic for us. Does the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) report income figures provided by benefit applicants to the IRS? It is not clear to us that there is a direct link to the IRS, but perhaps some readers have experience with this. Determining income is a key part of the application process, and applicants are asked for copies of their 1040. However, we did hear from two nonfilers. One had a caseworker compose an honest letter as to how much money was earned on a monthly basis from a small house/pet sitting business; this helped bypass the need for other income verification. Another told the clerk that they didn't make enough to file a 1040. They had no pay stubs, but did photocopy some checks received from clients. "When you have to apply for food stamps, the case workers know you are pretty poor," he said. Please contact the NWTRCC office if you have more information on this topic.
Thanks to all of you for your continued support. Summer is always tight financially, so we are especially grateful to the June through August donors and to these affiliates and alternative funds for recent payments:
CMTC Escrow Account
Sonoma County Taxes for Peace
War Resisters League National
Western Washington Fellowship of Reconciliation
NWTRCC’s Network List of Affiliates, Area Contacts, Counselors, and Alternative Funds appears on the “Contacts and Counselors” page at nwtrcc.org, or request a list from the NWTRCC office.
Please let us know if you are interested in being a contact on our network list: firstname.lastname@example.org or (800) 269-7464.
Advertising rates for this newsletter can be found at nwtrcc.org/ads.php or contact the editor at (800) 269-7464.
For the first time since 1984, the International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns will be held in Latin America. It will be hosted by Acción Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia (ACOOC) and offers a wonderful opportunity to learn about the vigorous anti-militarist movement in Colombia. NWTRCC will be sending David Gross as our representative, and we hope everyone interested in the links between militarization, taxation, and conscience will make an effort to attend.
Sessions will take place at Casa Kolping in Bogota, and accommodations are at Hotel Teusaca, a short distance away. The conference is scheduled to be conducted in Spanish and English, with simultaneous interpretation. Interpretation in other languages may be provided if requested. The conference is endorsed by NWTRCC, Netzwerk Friedenssteuer, and Conscience and Peace Tax International (CPTI).
Organizers are seeking funding to underwrite the costs of the conference and to offer scholarships to help individuals from many countries attend. If you would like to contribute to the conference fund, please send a check to NWTRCC with "International Conference" in the memo, and we will forward the funds to organizers. You may also donate through Paypal or WePay on our website and include a note that it is for the International Conference. These donations are not tax deductible.
Watch for more details on the conference website, peacetaxconference.org, or contact Naomi Paz Greenberg in New York at 718-261-9382.
In February 2009 a group of 10 appellants and 200 supporters submitted a complaint to the German Federal Constitutional Court against the Federal Budget Act in their country. At the time Sepp Rottmayr from Munich explained the complaint: "The budget law, specifically the Federal Budget Plan, violates our beliefs directly, legally and at the present time. Among other purposes, our direct as well as our indirect taxes are used to finance military service including arms production." German law provides for conscientious objection to military service, and the group argued that military service by means of taxpaying necessarily burdens the conscience no less than military service by means of the draft.
In July the organizing group, Netzwerk-Friedenssteuer, a member of Conscience and Peace Tax International, finally heard from the Court, which said that it would not accept the complaint because no basic constitutional rights issue is involved. The judgment states that the appellants are not directly affected by the Budget Law, because parliamentary decisions over the use of some part of the tax revenue for military purposes in the Bundestag's budget removes it from individual taxpayer responsibility. The Court's conclusion cannot be challenged. Committee members say, "We share the disappointment at having once again to receive such a decision. Indeed, we will amongst ourselves moan and grumble about the—apparently irreversible— arguments; that helps the immediate feelings, and it may even be that in the moaning pointers will be found to new path."
The original petition can be read or downloaded in German on the group's website at netzwerk-friedenssteuer.de.
Say "war tax resistance" and too many people think salary levy, bank account seizure, calls from the IRS, jail—all the worst possibilities. Perhaps as resisters and organizers we have not been convincing enough about the positives, especially the redirection of those tax dollars from contributing to militarism to life.
More than 30 years ago WTRs began to set up "alternative funds" around the country as a way to pool resisted tax dollars, to provide a safety net in case of collections, and to make grants or loans from the interest earned by the fund. In 2010 we listed 21 funds in our network; today there are 18, with participation ranging from one or two depositors to more than 200 in the CMTC Escrow Fund.
When we wrote about the funds in 2010, the total balance was over $1 million, and it is about the same today. Granting was lower in 2012 though. This year about $18,000 was reported redirected through the funds. In 2010 that figure was $76,000. Two groups in our network, Portland and Eugene, do not maintain a fund, but both pool resisted tax dollars and make grants on tax day. This year their grants totaled over $12,000.
The health of the funds seems to be "alive and okay" but not thriving. In part this can be blamed on the economy; in 2012 interest rates were very low and even some of the larger funds decided they had to forego granting this year. A sizable number of people in our network keep their incomes low so as not to pay for war and violence, and many WTRs choose to make their own redirection choices rather than put their money in an alternative fund. Since lower participation in the funds seems to be a trend, the question to ask readers is why? Did you used to redirect to a fund and stop? What can we learn from each other about this trend?
Such questions go for our local groups also. Since the number of groups has declined along with participation in the groups, it follows that contributions to alternative funds would decline also. Is this an unstoppable trend? One of the priorities that came up at our May meeting in Chicago is to reenergize or rebuild local groups. Is this possible? Many report the same people have kept their group going for years. New people come and go but younger activists are not stepping forward to keep existing groups going as longtime members wear out.
Your comments on organizing in the 21st Century will certainly be helpful to our ongoing discussions and strategies. Please write to the NWTRCC office or send an email to email@example.com.
Meanwhile, here are some of the groups around the country that benefited from redirected tax dollars:
New England War Tax Resistance gave grants to Project Hip Hop, a youth-led organizing and civil rights organization; Reflect and Strengthen, empowering working class young women in urban Boston; Association of Haitian Women in Boston; Beantown Society, campaigns for justice and peace; Arlington United for Justice with Peace for a commemoration of the 100th anniversary of the Bread and Roses Labor Strike of 1912; New Politics journal; and, American Friends Service Committee, New England Region.
The War Tax Alternative Fund of Southern California WTR granted to groups that focus on youth, counter-recruitment, and alternatives to the military.
Conscience and Military Tax Campaign Escrow Account gave three grants to a project helping detained immigrants in New Jersey and New York, Companion Ministries in Kansas City, and the Military and Draft Counseling Project in Portland.
The Maine Fund for Life gave grants to Occupy Maine/Portland, NWTRCC, Peace and Justice Center of Eastern Maine, and Portland Permaculture, and they are using some funds to underwrite programs on WERU Community Radio.
The Oregon Community of War Tax Resisters pooled their resisted tax dollars and gave donations to Right2DreamToo, organizing homeless people; Children's Community Clinic; and the Military and Draft Counseling Project.
Thousands more were given by individuals around the country to more great groups. Thanks to everyone who puts their tax dollars where their hearts are! The list of Alternative Funds is at nwtrcc.org/alternative_funds.php or contact the NWTRCC office for a copy of the list.
Save the Dates! Friday, October 26 to Sunday, October 28. Friends Meetinghouse, 5 Longfellow Park (off Brattle Street), Cambridge, Massachusetts. For information contact: Alan Clemence, 207-631-1158, firstname.lastname@example.org, or Larry Dansinger, 207-525-7776, email@example.com
We were proud to see that two women in our war tax resistance network were given tributes in the March/April 2012 issue of timbrel: the publication of Mennonite Women USA, mennonitewomenusa.org. The issue, themed "Women who inspire us," included accolades for our friend Linda Gehman Peachy, who served as director of Women's Advocacy with the Mennonite Central Committee and helped raise awareness about cluster bombs when working in Laos with her husband Titus Peachey in the 1980s.
Carla Marie Rupp chose to write about Susan Miller, who is active with the Heartland Peace Tax Group in Newton, Kansas, and is a longtime activist with NWTRCC, including serving a term on our Administrative Committee. Rupp writes: "Miller's passion, advocating for peace and justice, goes way back to when she resisted telephone excise taxes that supported the war in Vietnam and succeeding wars. I like that she doesn't mind explaining her reasons and acting on them."
Read the issue online at the web address above, or to find out about ordering a copy contact Mennonite Women USA, 718 Main Street, Newton, KS 67114-1819, 866-866-2872.
We wrote about "peace mom" Cindy Sheehan's tangle with the IRS last winter and spring, and her writings on the case are linked at nwtrcc.org/latest.php. At the April 19 court hearing where Sheehan used the 5th Amendment to respond to the IRS, the judge ordered her to return to the IRS office and respond line-by-line with the 5thAmendment to questions on an IRS information form. Nothing more has been heard from the court, so apparently the ball is back in the IRS's corner. Of course, they are keeping up their collection efforts. If you would like a print copy of Sheehan's post-court article, please contact the NWTRCC office at 800-269-7464.
and that was an important event in your life. You can let your Facebook friends know about it – and maybe inspire them to make such an event part of/their/lives – by following the instructions on nwtrcc.org/LifeEvent/ to add that event to your Facebook timeline.
NWTRCC has a stock of our Practical Series on War Tax Resistance—except for #6 on Organizational War Tax Resistance, Employers, Contractors, and Financial Institutions. We need to update this booklet, so if you have stories about a supportive an employer or an organization that has an active policy on war tax resistance, please contact the NWTRCC office. The other booklets that are available (please add a postage donation) are:
#1 Controlling Federal Tax Withholding 75 cents each The whys, hows, and possible consequences of "W-4 Resistance" if you have federal income tax withheld from your wages.
#2 To File Or Not To File An Income Tax Return 75 cents each The philosophical and practical pros and cons about whether or not to file an income tax return.
#3 How To Resist Collection, Or Make the Most Of Collection When It Occurs 75 cents each IRS collection process, how to prepare for the possibility of collection, how to prevent collection, and how to use the opportunity of collection to witness to your convictions.
#4 Self-Employment — An Effective Path For War Tax Refusal $1 each Includes information on IRS regulations concerning self-employment, possible consequences, and common occupational areas for the self-employed.
#5 Low Income/Simple Living As War Tax Resistance $1 each The whys and hows of reducing your income in order to keep money away from the military and to live a more sustainable lifestyle. Tips for filers on taking advantage of IRS deductions and credits to lower taxable income.
#7 Healthy, "Wealthy," and Wise: Aging and War Tax Resistance $1 each Includes tips for health care on a tight budget; money issues including social security, inheritances, trusts; and stories from three resisters over 65.
Contact the NWTRCC office for bulk rates; 20% discount on bulk sales for affiliates.
A Persistent Voice: Marian Franz and Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation
Ed: David R. Bassett; Steve Ratzlaff; Tim Godshall, 2009, $19.95 (includes postage) from NWTRCC.
From 1982 to 2005, Marian Franz led the American effort to allow those conscientiously opposed to participation in war to pay taxes into a fund for non-military purposes only. This book compiles the best of her writing from over 20 years' worth of inspiring and informative newsletter columns. Additional essays submitted by several of Marian's colleagues reflect on the rationale for, history of, and challenges facing the movement for conscientious objection to military taxation.
"Render Unto Caesar," all about war tax resistance by British blogger The Irreverent Reverend Nemu, appears in the June 12, 2012, Occupied Times from the UK. Read it online at: theoccupiedtimes.co.uk/?p=4763 or contact NWTRCC for a copy.
"General Sam Wants You! (And Your Tax Dollars)" by Kyle Chandler-Isacksen in the April 2012 Friends Journal starts off, "Imagine this year that we will all be paying our taxes in person, with cash." Look for it at your library or contact Friends Journal to find out how to get a copy (800) 471-6863 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's no small feat to keep an organization like ours going for 30 years. Many groups have come and gone, grown and shrunk, in that time. Walls have come down—and gone up. Hope has risen with the end of a war—only to be shattered by bombs trained on a new target.
NWTRCC has pushed along steadily, sticking to our unwieldy name, because that name describes what we are about—serving as a coordinating committee for the groups and individuals who participate in and support war tax resistance. Yes, we would rather be celebrating the end of war than our 30th anniversary, but as long as it's here, why not give ourselves some credit for being in it for the long haul, being there for each individual who struggles to find a way to stop their complicity in state violence.
Help us celebrate NWTRCC's 30th birthday this fall. Join us in Colorado Springs for our fall gathering or see the back cover and place an ad in our anniversary newsletter. Help NWTRCC carry on with your participation and feedback. Contact the office if you have ideas for how to carry on and strengthen our struggle in the coming years.
Save the dates and make travel plans now for our next National War Tax Resistance gathering, November 2–4, 2012 in Colorado Springs.
All are welcome! Our program begins with dinner on Friday, November 2, followed by presentation and discussion. Saturday's program is mini-conference style with workshops and plenaries related to strategies and organizing around war tax resistance and peace. NWTRCC's business meeting (open to all) is Sunday morning, November 4. We end with lunch on Sunday. It is possible we will add a vigil or action Friday or Sunday afternoon. Those flying should arrive at the Colorado Springs Airport. Denver is 2 hours from Colorado Springs. For more details and registration information see: nwtrcc.org/meetings.php or call 800-269-7464.
Once again NWTRCC will be tabling at the Shut Down the School of the Americas vigil. The dates this year are November 16–18 in Fort Benning, Georgia. Mark your calendar and be in touch with the NWTRCC office if you would like to help leaflet or table.
By Seth Berner
My name is Seth Berner. I'm a poverty lawyer and general human rights activist in Portland, Maine. At some point I realized that I could not act for change and help those in need if I blindly supported the status quo and despair by automatically paying all the taxes my government wanted me to pay.
For some people the next step is easy—just stop paying taxes altogether. This is not a solution for me. I'm not opposed to taxation. On the contrary, I believe that governments should exist to help those in need and provide and regulate programs essential to the public good; and that government cannot do its job unless those who can contribute to their cost. It is not taxation I oppose, but the way in which our governments spend our tax dollars.
And so for 20 years I have scrupulously calculated my tax obligation and withheld $50 to $100 from what I send in to the IRS. This act of conscience is symbolic in the sense that it will not change anything by itself; but also of sufficient magnitude that if others followed my example the government would notice. One hundred dollars withheld will not put an end to the feeding of the military-industrial complex and too-big-to-fail corporations, but neither will it cripple the social programs I believe in. One hundred dollars withheld is not enough to interrupt the harm that is being done, but 100,000 people times $100 will catch our government's attention. Since the goal was never to enrich myself I have always turned over as a donation every penny I have withheld to a group distributing funds to groups working for positive social change and aid to the needy.
And since the other goal was to be part of a movement I have always made public what I do. Each year I enclose with my tax return a letter to the IRS explaining why my payment is not in full, and that letter gets copied to my elected federal officials; the media; and other groups and people I think might want to know. When NWTRCC contacted me about my tax resistance I was asked if I was worried about "coming out of the closet," if that might jeopardize my professional career. Of course, I do not want to lose my license to earn a living and have always balanced my needs against the needs of society, but I have never considered my tax resistance as something that should be done in secret: being public and informative is a major part of it.
I am not a hero. I am not terribly brave. Part of my decision on how to do tax resistance was my concern that I not hurt the safety net I think crucial, but in honesty part has been a desire to not hurt myself more than I can afford to lose. How much we can afford to lose is a personal decision we each must make. For some, giving everything away is an option. I am not so noble. I do not want to spend a long time in jail. I do not want to live in abject poverty. I file my returns honestly so I cannot be tried criminally. I am willing to live on an income below the poverty line; I am willing to not get the "refunds" candidates promise when they are trying to get elected, because they are seized to pay back taxes; and I am willing to risk having my bank account seized to pay back taxes. I do more than most, much, much less than some.
There is no one right way to make the world better. I think that symbolic public tax resistance is a very good way. I try to teach others the risks and rewards. Soon, hopefully, enough others will join me in doing it and saying why that our government will get a message that the public wants something other than what we are being given, than what is being done in our names.
It will be a great day when schools get everything they need and the military has to hold bake sales to buy whatever they want. That is the kind of government I would gladly support in full.
Seth Berner is running for the Maine Legislature in the November 2012 elections. Check out his campaign information at sethberner.com.