Q & A with Rev. Andrea Ayvazian
MTAP: Tell us a little about yourself.
Andrea: When asked about who I am, how to introduce myself, I fumble around and use some or all of these words – I am the proud mother of Sasha Klare-Ayvazian (now 24); I am a woman of faith, a long-time activist for peace, social justice, environmental sanity, and an anti-racist world; I am an ordained pastor in the United Church of Christ, a former Quaker, a singer, songwriter and poet. And I am the life partner and long-time fan of Michael Klare, who I admire enormously (Michael is Professor of Peace and World Security Studies at Hampshire College, an expert on global resource politics, and the author of many books including, most recently, The Race For What’s Left). I am currently the pastor of the Haydenville Congregational Church in Western Massachusetts. We are a growing, vibrant, Spirit-filled, gay-affirming, anti-racist, child-centered, justice-seeking, peace-loving, song-filled, ever thankful, stubbornly hopeful beloved community.
How did you first hear about war tax resistance (WTR)?
I first heard about WTR in 1981 when I attended a workshop on tax resistance led by a group of Quakers and held in a local UU Church basement. I had vaguely heard about WTR before then, at Quaker Meeting, but knew very little. The presenter was clear, helpful, specific and inspiring, and I left knowing I would become a resister in 1982 when it was time to pay my federal income taxes. I have been a tax resister since April 1982.
How did you first resist?
I began right out of the gate withholding 51% of the federal income taxes I owed which corresponded to the pie chart I got from the War Resisters League that said 51% of our taxes were funneled off to pay for war and the debt on past wars.
How have you dealt with fear of the IRS or the negative consequences of resistance?
For some reason, maybe because of my faith, I have faced very little fear around this decision and all its consequences over the years. I have not been frightened. In fact I have only felt empowered. I have been audited (a few times), had a lien put on my house (a few times), had many paychecks at many jobs levied, had money taken from my bank account (many years), and had the IRSthreaten to take my car (but I sold it practically overnight). For some reason, I have approached the threats, seizures and liens with surprising calmness (this is amazing because I am not a calm person!). I used to know the IRS agent assigned to my case by name, and I sent him peace literature, newsletters, and Christmas cards. Now all I get is computer letters, certified mail, and threats. I do not understand why I have not been more frightened over the years. I feel the strength of the witness and loving support from other tax resisters, especially David Hartsough, and Randy Kehler who is my son’s Godfather.
How has your style of resistance changed over the years?
My WTR has not changed over the years. I withhold a portion (usually 50%) of what the government believes I owe them every April. I keep a bank account. I earn a salary. They have to find and harass me for the money, or take my paycheck from my Church. I make no accommodation for theIRS – meaning I have not changed my lifestyle or avoided having a bank account or anything. I live my life, they do whatever they feel they must do. I know they are taking what I withhold plus interest and penalty, and I do not give that reality much attention or energy.
Do you have comments about how this form of resistance fits in the wider peace movement? Do you think of a “war tax resistance movement” or mostly the personal resistance?
I feel strength from the war tax resistance movement – and I think we are a quiet, strong, powerful movement. But I engage in this witness mainly so I can live with myself. Some people call this witness “a silent scream,” but I find that it quietly informs and strengthens all my other work for justice and peace. Plus in my own mind it makes me credible when I say I do not believe in war, will always stand against war, and will not pay for war.
Over the years, and it has now been over 30 years, I find that my WTR is simply a quiet part of my identity. It is like my ongoing activism around LGBT issues as an ally, it is like my continuing work to dismantle racism, it is like my ongoing work to stop global warming – these things are all part of who I am. I a grateful to the many, many brave war tax resisters, especially Wally and Juanita Nelson, who went before me and showed me the way and gave me courage. I am very grateful to those who have been harassed far more than I have and have been strong and brave and clear over many years. I believe WTR is an important, quiet, powerful witness. And I am proud to be among all those nationwide who say no to taxes for war – in whatever fashion they choose – and “choose life” as it says in the Hebrew Scriptures!