It All Began with a Telephone

| History, IRS, Personal motivations

Telephone tax resistance

Fifty-three years ago, as a cash-strapped University of Texas graduate student, I relied on my office phone at the astronomy department to save money. Consequently, I didn’t also need a telephone at home. But I got one anyway. It was my gateway to resisting taxes for war.

The year before, I had refused induction into the U.S. Army, but that felt a bit hollow to then just turn around and pay the taxes that funded the war in Vietnam. Fortunately, in 1970 I learned of a nonviolence weekend in San Antonio, sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), which featured veteran war tax resisters, including Wally Nelson among others. I learned that refusing the federal excise tax on telephone service was an effective way to protest the war since in those days, it really irritated the IRS that lots of people were blatantly refusing these small amounts of money and getting away with it. Mostly. The IRS tried to make an example of a tiny number of people by seizing bank accounts, salaries, and even bicycles, cars, and houses for nonpayment.

Ed Hedemann’s first telephone bill. Photo by Ed Hedemann

I was among those selected when the IRS twice had my entire $250-a-month teaching assistant salary seized for a measly $5 in tax. Nevertheless, both times—many months later—they eventually refunded almost all of what had been seized because of the interest they gave me on the $245 excess amount seized, virtually wiping out the $5 excise tax!

Those were the only times they recovered my telephone taxes. Over all the years of nonpayment, I’ve accumulated $999.99 in telephone taxes diverted from the IRS. In addition, my total resisted income taxes has accumulated to $85,000.

Now decades later, as my income has diminished, so has my ability to owe—thus resist—taxes. Am I celebrating? No. I didn’t start resisting just so I could claim I wasn’t paying for war but also to register a protest. Consequently, I’ll hang on to my landline to make sure I never lose that special opportunity to emphatically say, “No!” to the IRS,* no to war, not with my taxes you don’t and, at the same time, conduct an action the government cannot easily ignore.

*It’s possible the telephone provider swallows my unpaid federal excise tax rather than hassle with reporting such small amounts to the IRS, despite my telling them every month to be sure to report my nonpayment to the IRS.

~Post by Ed Hedemann

One thought on “It All Began with a Telephone”

  1. Sue Barnhart says:

    Ed I’m tempted to get a land line again so I too can continue to resist the federal excise tax. One nice telephone worker told us exactly what to include in our note explaining that we would not be paying the unpaid balance of the federal excise tax and the current balance and Peg Morton and I made up a form that many of us in Eugene Oregon used. Then we would give all that unpaid excise tax that we all collected to a local good cause. It usually was a $100 to a few $100, depending on how many folks joined us each year.

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