Shirley Whiteside

| Letters

I forgot to pay my income taxes this year.

Why would a person do that, you say? Won’t they just steal it from you anyway? Let’s just say if all we have is today, it was what was right for me today.

I was anxiously looking at the tax form on April 15—like a lot of Americans, judging by the lines at the Post Office at 10PM—and the first phone interruption came. It was a fundraising call from a national relief organization anticipating doing relief work in Iraq—a nation just bombed with weapons paid for by the same US tax dollars that I was preparing to send in. After destroying the infrastructure of this oil-rich nation in 1991 my country proceeded to enforce an embargo on them, denying them access to basic medical, educational, and nutritional supplies. The U.N. estimates on how many children died because of these sanctions every day were so staggering I don’t even want to think about it. Not too many people did think about it.

Anyway I was sitting at the table looking at my W-2 form when the next call was that a friend had passed away. Last time I saw Tom in the flesh he was in a wheelchair at a peace rally when the US 2003 encore-presentation attack on Iraq was still forthcoming. He had recently had a bad stroke. A carefully thoughtful man, he based his ideas on listening and not being afraid to ask questions. He was a kind and generous man who loved to visit, and knew the things in life that were good. I met him when he came after work to serve food at a soup kitchen. After clean up sometimes we went to happy hour and worked out the world’s problems.

I think Tom would support my forgetting to pay. I quickly lost what little interest I had in the whole W2 thing.

My nation harbors more Weapons of Mass Destruction than absolutely any other nation in the world. This remains a frequently ignored fact. Some people ardently believe these weapons and the willingness to use them makes us strong—I believe quite the opposite. The aggression used by my own government in trying to impose its will on other nations offends me. Even people in Iraq or Colombia or Cuba are part of the same world family as I am. I transport myself to some imaginary place where one or two billion dollars a day is spent to care for the weakest among us, or educate the children, or create renewable energy and transit systems that provide community-building options.

We are watching our nation wield aggression on the world on TV—content with nothing less than world military domination. This is an affront to my spiritual and religious beliefs. I am awed by the sacrifices people in other nations make to confront violence and generate change. Here all we have to do is agree to pay for war—in conservative estimates 47% of our tax dollar.

At the same time people right here are huddled in alleys and dumpsters trying to keep warm because they have no right to shelter. U.S. high school students can’t find their own country on a world map.

We tout ours as a democracy, forgetting that most people are either too cynical or too disinterested to simply vote. The same companies own the media and the voting machines. Few citizens take advantage of our rights beyond voting, to speak out through our media, public events, contacting elected officials. What a respected right this is. Now the U.S. is establishing new laws that infringe on these rights. The economy is in a shambles. In most states budgets are being balanced on the backs of the poor, more literally than I can recall.

Is it even possible that a good citizen, such as myself, would not cooperate with paying a silly tax? I am a conscientious objector to war. I will not pay voluntarily. It just seems like there are other, more important things to do with time and money. It is a luxury for me to send 2/3 of the $286 the U.S. government thinks I owe to the American Friends Service Committee for the service work they are doing around the world. The other 1/3 will go to Denver Urban Ministries, a local group struggling to stock their food bank shelves, while we wait for justice to flow like water. I wish I could reapportion the entire $459 billion allocated by Congress for current military costs—which does not even include the extra $75 billion, so far, borrowed against the poor of the world, for the present attack on Iraq, or the old war debts.

I’m going to go to Tom’s funeral today to celebrate embracing the power of positivity at all the beauty and goodness in the world, and how to not be afraid of acting with loving rage against the machine.

All of us can do something to honor the call of our heart, whatever it is. Hopefully, with that mere act on each one’s part, the world will know more peace.

That’s how Tom lived. And that is why I forgot to pay this year.

Shirley Whiteside, 4/17/03