A Sense of Freedom

Marion Bromley (1913-1996) was working for the Fellowship of Reconciliation in the 1940s when she met Ernest Bromley, who was circulating a statement about refusing to pay for war. She and Ernest married not too long after that and made their way to Cincinnati, Ohio, where they lived the rest of their lives. They are two of the founders of the modern day war tax resistance movement. Marion gave the keynote address at the 1991 New England War Tax Resistance Gathering in Voluntown, Connecticut. The following thoughts on WTR came from the last section of her talk, originally called “80,000 Days of War Tax Resistance.” (Note: A longer excerpt of this thought-provoking speech was published in NWTRCC’s More Than a Paycheck newsletter in December 2005.)

Now sometime in the last 20 years or so I’ve stopped feeling it was my responsibility to save the world. I don’t feel I have failed my life’s mission because people still go on paying for war. Better people than I am go on paying for war. Most of the time I know I am responsible for myself, not for the actions of others. I’ve done some “organizing,” getting other people to meet and plan some event; I prefer not being in the role of urging other people to do something. And I certainly have learned that except in a general way of helping to put tax resistance into the literature and speech and consciousness of anti-war people, I cannot persuade other pacifists, who care as much about the suffering of warfare as I do, to stop paying for what they abhor. Mostly I remember that.

But sometimes, when I see what can happen in, for example, Czechoslovakia, when people get in the streets and refuse to cease their clamor, and bring about some important changes in their political life, a little hope flickers in the back of my eyes somewhere about what could happen if people really knew they could prevent war. They could stop the murderous adventures of the U.S. in such places as Grenada, Panama, and the Persian Gulf. They could cause the energy, the brains, the national resources of the country to be used to meet the basic needs of the poor, the cities, education, food, sensible health care, housing. They could force the empire to withdraw its tentacles from those bases all over the world…stop arming the world in the profitable grossest of all national products.

Maybe that represents an unrealistic goal. As I said, mostly I don’t feel it’s my responsibility to cause that to happen. I’m not suggesting anyone else should take responsibility for that. All I’m trying to do is recognize where we are. Or, as they say these days, “where we are at.”

When I happen to be in a group that is singing, “All we are saying is give peace a chance,” I feel I’m being somewhat hypocritical. I want much more than the absence of warfare. I want a much different society from that I happen to be living in.

I don’t want to leave the impression that a change of national leadership, such as was accomplished in Czechoslovakia, is the kind of revolution I’m interested in. When I happen to be in a group that is singing, “All we are saying is give peace a chance,” I feel I’m being somewhat hypocritical. I want much more than the absence of warfare. I want a much different society from that I happen to be living in. People often ask why I don’t have such-and-such a bumper sticker on our car. I explain that if I were honest I would have to have the car covered with stickers, windows and all. I’m not an unhappy individual. But I’m far from satisfied.

However, our theme this weekend is taxes for war. Maybe if we can’t figure out how to start a massive rebellion against taxes for war, the next best thing is to figure out why we have not been joined by a least a few hundred thousand people who have decided to stop paying those taxes. How come we took that matter of paying for war seriously enough to take some action, and so few of our comrades have done so? Are we really different? Do we care less, somehow, for clothes, or cars, or fancy homes, and so on? What makes the difference between a refuser and a conscientious serious person who continues to pay?

One thing I’m clear about is that I’m not “into” sacrifice. It seems to me the assumption that I should take some punishment onto myself to make amends for the evils of society is somehow a denial of one of my deepest convictions-the absolute equality of all human beings. It seems to me to demean others to feel I’m so morally superior I have to serve as the sacrificial lamb. Any steps I’ve taken against the practices that are so obviously evil seem to me to be more from my desire to be free. I know my resisting taxes hasn’t had a fig’s worth of significance in changing anything. I look upon it as my feeling a little more free because of that step. And I know for sure that I haven’t made any sacrifices. I only wish I could convey that sense of freedom to others.

A 1991 reunion of the founders of the modern war tax resistance movement: Wally Nelson, Juanita Nelson, Ernest Bromley, Marion Bromley, Maurice McCrackin. Photo: Ed Hedemann.