The following is the text of the speech given by Clare Hanrahan of the Taxes for Life! group in Asheville, NC, at the Day Without a Pentagon action in Washington, DC on October 19, 1998. Reprinted from the December 1998 More Than a Paycheck newsletter.
Greetings from the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee and the Appalachian bioregion, my homeplace, in Asheville, North Carolina. It’s an honor to be here. As I speak, I am mindful of my older brothers, Daniel and Thomas, whose lives as teen-age soldiers in Viet Nam were utterly changed. Their youthful idealism was distorted by the military into the service of death. They returned, wounded in body and spirit, with Agent Orange toxins coursing through their systems. Then, one after the other, they died.
I have refused to pay war taxes since 1981. That’s the year I took the pledge. That ís when I decided to break the deadly habit of paying for war. Since then my life has been an experiment in revolutionary poverty.
It is not just our federal taxes that fuel war, but our lifestyles of waste and habitual consumption — this privilege that we maintain on the backs of the destitute of the world is upheld by the pentagon and its deadly force.
I live on the economic edge, not with the destitution of the oppressed, but as a liberating choice. I’ve survived half a century, I’ve raised a fine daughter, I’m a writer and a gardener, and I get around town on my bicycle. I’m self-propelled and self-employed. And in the spirit of Emma Goldman, I dance at every chance.
I’m one of over 10,000 people around this country who identify themselves openly as war tax resisters. Some file and refuse to pay. Some refuse to file or cooperate in any way. Some refuse a portion of federal taxes, some refuse to pay any at all.
Most war tax resisters are also Peace Taxpayers, we redirect war tax dollars to fund community need. Thirty-two local alternative Funds each year deliver more than $50,000 in refused war taxes to support constructive projects. This is money lost to weapons making and war.
Many other peace workers support the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund in an effort to gain legal recognition for the right of conscience in matters of paying for war. I am glad so many are working so hard to keep this issue alive in the halls of Congress .
But we cannot wait until Congress says it is ok not to pay for war. The time to break the addiction to militarism is now. The bombs are falling now.
We know that as much as fifty percent of each tax dollar extracted from the wages of working people is spent here by the Pentagon, either to pay the debts caused by past wars, or to prepare for future ones.
This militarism, according to the writer Dorothee Sollé, is an inevitable by-product of the economic system in which we live, and “the bombs are falling now.”
“We are already waging war against true life,” she has written. “We are waging war against the natural world that we exploit. We are waging war against our own need to live a simpler life. We live in a state of cold war between the rich and the poor, and the poor are perishing in it. The bombs are falling now.”
Militarism is killing us. What then shall we do?
As we gather here today to block the doors to the Pentagon, to declare a day without out the pentagon, to say NO to business as usual, to shut it down, we must remember that there are people working inside this building who truthfully feel they are laboring in service of peace, ensuring our freedom to gather here together and register our dissent.
As we attempt to block the doors to their workplace, the source of their livelihood, as we ask that they stop participating in this business of death, I must ask: Are we also willing to take on the risks of peace? Are we willing to risk our economic security and privilege to obstruct this business of death?
Who will block the doors to the post office on April 15 when we voluntarily submit our taxes on the demand of the IRS? The taxes that fuel the Pentagon? How long will we continue paying homage to Caesar when it is Truth that must be served?
And the truth is: We are all responsible for the militarism that is crushing the world, defiling the good earth, raining death on countless innocents, targeting not the dangerous leaders whom we fear, but the women and children, the old and infirm, as well as the teen soldiers. All fall victims to our weapons of mass and indiscriminate destruction.
It is our duty to withdraw our cooperation, to withhold our support. As global citizens we are complicit in these crimes against humanity, these war crimes. We cannot say we didn’t know.
How long, I ask, will it take those of us who know the futility of the pentagon’s wars, how they rob us of our highest and best, how they kill and rape and maim, tear apart families, lay desolate the land, leave orphans and widows and broken and discarded veterans wandering our streets, filling our jails, or bombing our own communities.
How long, war tax payers, will you persist in this deadly submission?
Leo Tolstoy, has said, “The freeing of people from servitude, from ignorance, cannot be obtained by revolution, syndicates, peace congresses …but simply by the conscience of each one of us forbidding us to participate in violence and asking in amazement: Why are you doing that?”
We peace seekers show more fear of the IRS and its threat to our property and privilege than a willingness to take even a modest financial risk in support of peace. And many of us who find employment within our own movement are faced with the dilemma of having our peace organizations deduct war taxes from our pay and submit them to the IRS. Why are you doing that?
Dorothy Day understood that “…the war, the racism, the poverty in the world … is not going to be changed just by words or demonstrations. It’s a question of living your life in drastically different ways.”
Our gathering here is a powerful way to make visible our dissent. And it is important that we show ourselves to each other and to the world. But this is not enough. We must help each other break our deadly addiction to a consumer lifestyle that fuels the devastation, and to paying the war taxes that uphold this “filthy rotten system.”
Juanita Nelson, a war tax refuser for over fifty years, has said, “I was in pursuit of a life that holds up to the light practically every breath that one breathes in terms of nonviolence, in terms of how the practice matches the preachment.”
If we are determined to bring an end to war, we need to make the decision now to take one more risk for peace. Look at the power of this assembly. We are the hope. Take a deep breath, claim your freedom, seize your power. Look your fear in the eye. Step a little closer to the edge.