“The Customary Band of Pickets”

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Line of pickets at IRS NYC

Right, Catholic Worker musicians “Filthy Rotten System” join tax protest outside the IRS, April 15, 2021. NYC photos by Ed Hedemann.

WRL banner tax protest
Tax protest, NYC. April 15, 2021

No troublesome incidents of any kind developed in the course of the day, although the customary band of pickets turned up outside the Forty-fifth Street headquarters for an hour at noon. Recruited by members of the Tax Refusal Committee of Peacemakers, of Sharonville, Ohio, were representatives of the War Resisters League, 5 Beekman Place, and The Catholic Worker, 223 Christie Street.

They either refused to pay Federal income taxes or sympathized with those who did not because “the huge program of armaments can only lead to a third world war.” Weapons, it was claimed, eat up seven-eighths of the national budget. In Philadelphia, other groups of pacifists objected on the same grounds.

Published: March 17, 1953. Copyright © The New York Times

That pretty much sums up the 2021 NYC event, except that Peacemakers is no more, the IRS, WRL and Catholic Worker addresses have changed, and many other groups were out across the country, including:

Milwaukee tax protest 2021

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Eugene tax protest

Eugene, Oregon

As noted above in that quote above, a very high percentage of taxes paid for war in those years. The introduction to the Historical Tables, published annually with the federal budget, has an interesting section on trends that includes this:

“Throughout most of the Nation’s history prior to the 1930s, the bulk of Federal spending went towards national defense, veterans’ benefits, and interest on the public debt. In 1929, for example, 71 percent of Federal outlays were in these three categories.”

There are still many people who believe that that is all the government should do (until their Social Security check is taken away…), but, during the 1930s efforts to fight the depression with public works led to an increase in social spending. Social spending gained more ground in the 1970s after the Vietnam War ended, thus the pie chart today shows a lower percentage allotted to war. However, the charts in the historical table give you the actual dollar figures (in constant dollars) for so-called “national defense” spending.

1953: $52,802,000,000

2019: $686,003,000,000

There are billions of reasons to refuse to pay for war and institute our own systems of social spending. This year the Northern California People’s Life Fund announced grants from war tax resisted dollars of $2,500 each to 24 groups doing important work in our local communities. Individuals have until May 17 to decide what they are going to do if they owe federal income taxes this year, and the customary band of pickets will be out on May 17 along with other groups across the country to deliver the message again.

— Post by Ruth Benn