In my 8 years with the war tax resistance community, I’ve heard a lot about the value of using our real names and sharing our stories in public. Lately, as I’ve pondered the barriers to resistance, I’ve concluded that the ideal of going public needs re-examination.
(Please note: I originally drafted this essay prior to the launching of a few different public pledge efforts. This post isn’t a direct response to any of them. This writing is also informed by recent discussions about privilege and resistance.)
A public resister can inspire others, spread information, publicly redistribute their taxes, and build networks of resistance. Should they end up in a collection situation or tax court case, they can gain support from broader communities.
But a public resister can also face challenges, and I would argue these challenges have increased significantly since the popularization of the internet.
Now, every mention of a war tax resister’s name online is searchable. An employer or landlord only has to search the internet to find evidence of their resistance. This can present great risks to someone’s housing or livelihood. Folks living in supportive communities, with at least some access to wealth, are going to have an easier time getting through this type of risk. Such people may be more likely to resist publicly anyway, perpetuating this ideal.
In addition, people of color and people who are already targeted by law enforcement for their political organizing may not wish to go public, to avoid attracting attention from police or the IRS.
I know that many long-time resisters have already faced these types of consequences for their public resistance. Still, before the internet, it was more difficult to find out much information about another person, absent paying for background checks, and/or accessing newspaper archives or other public records.
Many are simply not willing to have their names plastered over the internet as war tax resisters. Their resistance and redirection is nonetheless valuable. For example, NWTRCC includes many important stories from anonymous resisters in our Practical War Tax Resistance pamphlets.
War tax resisters, as well as peace activists generally, have often lauded open, public civil disobedience. There are important strategic reasons for being visible. There are also important strategic reasons for using pseudonyms or first names, and doing one’s resistance and redirection in a way that isn’t visible to the whole world.
Post by Erica
6 thoughts on “On being a public war tax resister”
I welcome serious debate about the long term and you might say entrenched culture of war tax resistance. When we admit that there are maybe only 10,000 of us doing this, we are really admitting our failure to be a significant social change movement. We are doing something that mostly benefits our own sense of morality. Maybe we are doing something by redirecting some money to good causes. But it is mostly a very small amount. I have redirected almost $150,000 in the past year and it only amounts to some fraction of the cost of one missile or almost any other implement of war. And yet what if I had done all of this secretly or anonymously? I absolutely understand that as a white male in the United States I have lived a privileged life. I am actually hoping that the government will act against me because of my WTR civil disobedience. My position is to ask what is the point of my having done this if I don’t get the government’s attention? But I also have to ask what would it mean if a lot more people did WTR quietly and personally? When would it ever reach a point where we would withhold enough money that it would have an actual financial impact on the government? I know some people think it is time for a general tax rebellion. Personally I don’t see the momentum for that or whether it could realistically build on the WTR movement. What is happening in the political sphere right now seems like it would make the time ripe for that type of action. But it also seemed like it would lead to many more people taking the action of WTR. And I have not seen any evidence of a significant increase in resistance this past tax day. Clearly a lot more people looked at the option of WTR. But did more people actually resist either openly or quietly?
Thanks for your comments, Larry. I don’t intend to diminish the value of extremely public resistance like yours! I think the word “public” might have appeared to oversimplify my point a bit. Getting the government’s attention is different than getting the public’s attention, when it comes to putting your resistance all over the internet. For you, that’s important, and that’s great. For young people, or people with jobs they must keep to support themselves or their families, or others, going full public in the internet age has different repercussions.
I want to examine the ways in which our war tax resistance culture could be putting people off of joining us. Can a resister, for example, use a pseudonym when speaking to the media? Can they pledge to resist war taxes without having their names published on the internet? When a war tax resister is resisting because they don’t wish to pay for their *own* oppression as a person of color, or in solidarity with their community of origin that is targeted by the US military in another country, they may feel that the cost of having their name in the media is too high. But maybe they are still redirecting taxes, or depositing them in an alternative fund, or telling people in their immediate communities about their resistance. Maybe they are republishing their letter to the IRS under a pseudonym. Maybe they don’t feel compelled to sign a public pledge – but they are still a resister.
I wish we could know what the results were of Tax Day this year. I do know that tax resistance was catching many people’s eyes at a time when resistance itself is constantly discussed. So my hope is that we will actually see much larger results next year – if we work to make it happen!
I certainly agree that people of color and others who already have bullseyes painted on them are justified in not being public about their chosen modes of resistance. But that seems to make a case for even greater responsibility for those of us with privilege of any sort. In this, I follow Rabbi Herschel: “In a free society, few are guilty, and all are responsible.” It can be argued that we do not live in a free society (at least to the extent that we elect to follow ‘the rules’ – including paying those taxes that are used to oppress others and desecrate the planet.) There must be some point at which anger at injustice overcomes fear, at least for the privileged.
Yes, absolutely – thank you for your eloquent words!
To rephrase some of the questions behind my writing this post: Is there room for being a movement that both honors solidarity actions and resistance led by those who are targeted? Can we change our orientation as a movement to do both? Or are we going to be substantially focusing on public acts of resistance by predominantly white folks from predominantly middle-class backgrounds? What does it look like to support the war tax resistance of folks who aren’t white and middle-class? I think our collective redirection efforts this year are a step in the right direction of examining these issues!
I want to interject the matter of the Earned Income Tax Credit. The EITC is part of the tax code and has been for quite a while. Apparently it has maintained bipartisan support consistently. It applies basically to low income people who have earned income. It is a tax credit in that people who qualify actually get money from the government. I am honestly not quite sure how this fits into the WTR community or movement. I wish I could figure that out because I just have this gut feeling that it could be a positive addition. I also suspect that this is a tax benefit that many eligible people may not know about or obtain. Again, I am not sure how this fits in but I just wanted to put this thought out as a place marker for people to think about.
I think that effective, movement-building war tax resistance requires organized public redirection of war taxes through mechanisms like alternative funds that will protect individual privacy. There is a high cultural value placed on “fairness” in this country – and people (including Trump) who do not pay their “fair share” for government services or can be (wrongly) perceived as not paying their “fair share” (undocumented immigrants) or war tax resisters (like my daughter’s mother) are quickly dismissed.
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