This hasn’t been a typical year for war tax resistance by any stretch of the imagination, and that includes the atmosphere after Tax Day! Even after Tax Day this year, people are fired up about resistance, funding work for justice and peace, and building a better world.
For example, Michael McCarthy wrote this week about the folly of making and selling weapons to ensure national security:
This Pentecost season when we call on the Holy Spirit to renew our faith, let us resolve to take steps to stop giving Caesar our first fruits of federal income tax with which to make war, and convert these monies to God’s peacemaking purposes.
For the practical measures, risks, responsibilities and spiritual benefits please contact the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee — nwtrcc.org — and seek prayerful informed support within your faith community. Whether conservative, liberal, tea party, radical or independent, some real investigation of national and world affairs shows how badly our money is being spent.
It helps that this year is the bicentennial of Henry David Thoreau’s birth. Thoreau’s work “Civil Disobedience” is celebrated among many war tax resisters as helping convince them to resist. (See last week’s blog post on Thoreau for more.) However, Holland Cotter asserts that Thoreau’s real radicalization happened a few years after he was jailed for one night for poll tax resistance, when he began to speak out and act against slavery:
The Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, securing the return of runaways, tipped him over the edge from outrage to activism, though his upbringing had primed him to make the move. His mother was a founder of the Concord Female Anti-Slavery Society; his older sister, Helen, was a friend of Frederick Douglass; the family home, where, aside from two years at Walden, he lived till he died, was a stop on the Underground Railroad to Canada. Given this context, his night in jail, in 1846, for refusing to pay taxes to a slavery-supporting government was a less sensational event than history has tried to make it.
(To be clear, Thoreau’s tax resistance was due to multiple issues, including the Mexican-American War alongside slavery. And although Thoreau stood against slavery with increasing fierceness throughout his life, he also perpetuated ethnic stereotypes and slurs in his work, most of which were against indigenous people and Irish people.)
Last week, the website OZY featured a variety of comments on whether people should resist taxes for things they don’t believe in. Along with a longer comment from war tax resister Larry Bassett, OZY included this comment from Paul McAndrew:
Quakers have been challenging the government by holding back taxes deemed headed to the military for years. Many fought all the way to the Supreme Court, and decisions ultimately favored the government. At street fairs we did “bean polls” — giving people 10 beans to split up as they desired into 10 jars labeled Military, Education, Infrastructure, Agriculture, etc. — and the preferences for tax distribution never matched the distribution our representatives seemed to believe we wanted. Which raises the question, who are our representatives working for?
The week before that, OZY had interviewed Gloria Steinem, who resisted taxes during the Vietnam War, about her idea to refuse to pay taxes and redirect them to Planned Parenthood. (The article doesn’t state whether Steinem followed through on her pledge to refuse some portion of her income taxes this year.)
The pro–Vietnam War forces legislated where our taxes went and rarely informed voters of their impact on either Vietnamese or U.S. lives. Today is similar. If people knew the consequences of refusing federal funds to poor women dependent on Medicaid for legal abortions and could withhold their taxes, I believe the other side would lose.
Currently, withholding taxes would make even more sense because the problem is less what our tax dollars are going for than what they are not going for. Instead of keeping the money, we would send it to, say, Planned Parenthood or Head Start or libraries or public schools, thus benefiting those programs.
There are always three crucial keys to this or any other civil disobedience: nonviolence, knowing the penalty and being willing to pay it.
Although interest in war tax resistance remains high, let’s look forward to the 2018 tax season and see how much action this interest is able to generate!
Post by Erica