Individual Choices and Movement Building: Shall the Twain Meet?

| Real Life Stories

War tax resisters do not tend toward weeping over the latest news that the IRS budget is declining, that it is short staffed and has lots more work to do thanks to the Affordable Care Act. As a resister with ten years of tax debt myself, I’m not in a big rush for them to get more active on my case. But there are days when I think that my life is too comfortable and too easy; should I be doing something to push the envelope more, to get in more trouble and bring more attention to war tax resistance?

I was just talking to a longtime war tax resister (WTR) who noted that she had not been bothered much by the IRS, but she had quit jobs to stop levies, never owned a house, and never established a career because she knew her salary would be garnished if she chose career employment over keeping her money from war. She’s had to accommodate her refusal to pay for war in ways that many people do not understand.

Now she’s about to take Social Security, earned through various jobs during her working years. She had questions about the potential levy on her benefits (through the Federal Payment Levy Program; usually an automatic 15% of the payment before it’s transferred to you) and choosing between direct deposit (she’s never had a bank account in her name) and the debit card option — Social Security has gone paperless.

However, one WTR counselor she spoke with questioned her choice: why take the government’s money and involve yourself in the system at all? This question comes up regularly in our circles in serious, searching discussions about cooperation with a system we abhor in so many ways. Social Security staff say “it’s your money, set aside for you, why wouldn’t you take it?” The fact that the government borrows from the trust fund for purposes including the Pentagon may be an equally good reason to get your money out of the government coffers.

Generally, it’s best not to judge other people’s financial choices unless you know a great deal about their situation, but it is example of why war tax resistance organizing gets messy. We’ve had many fits and starts with a variety of campaigns and calls for unity — resist a small amount, file, don’t file, ignore them, stay out of the system, write them every day… As organizers we say it’s like herding cats ( ok, I couldn’t help that link; pretend that WTRs produced it). The individual choices are so varied and dependent on individual circumstances that it’s hard to develop a unified campaign.

Personally, I feel pretty clear about my war tax resistance choices. As an organizer who wants to see the military budget slashed and the war machine dismantled, I feel less clear how to get there and how to strengthen the role of WTR along that path.

Today we are seeing widespread use of nonviolent direct action — in response to police killings, to bad immigration policy, to state government policies that hurt workers and the poor, to oppressive governments everywhere. I’m encouraged that activists in Hong Kong have found and been inspired by resources about war tax resistance in the U.S. Should we be doing more to grab onto the energy for change that is building in the U.S. and abroad? Ideas welcome!

—Post by Ruth Benn