Resisting a Symbolic Amount

Why Symbolic Resistance?

Picture of the Yoders

Rick & Carolyn Yoder have been resisting a symbolic amount (about $200) each since they married in 1975.

Symbolic resistance is the decision to withhold a small amount of one’s federal income taxes (such as $10.40) as a symbolic protest.

Though many war tax resisters refuse to pay all or half of their federal income taxes, such bold actions can be intimidating to new resisters. (They can even be intimidating to long-time resisters!) There may be a variety of personal reasons for choosing symbolic resistance, the important thing is to Resist!

Consequences of Symbolic Resistance

Anytime someone refuses to pay taxes due to the IRS, there can be consequences. Nevertheless, the possible consequences decrease as the amount resisted decreases. For example, one must owe over $54,000 in federal income taxes to lose the ability to renew one’s passport or apply for a new one. Regarding that fear that one’s home may be taken, no war tax resister has lost their home since the 1990s. In order for that process to even be an option, one must owe more than $5,000.

The most likely consequence of symbolic resistance is a yearly collection of computer-generated letters from the IRS and some attempts from the IRS to collect the debt. (For a more comprehensive list of what could happen when someone files and refuses to pay part of their tax debt, click here.)

If a resister is collectable, it is likely the IRS will eventually collect the tax debt after expending significant resources. As long-time war tax resisters Rick & Carolyn Yoder explain, “The method the IRS used to collect the tax debt tended to follow the level of technology available. In the earlier days, it was a bank levy. When technology advanced, the IRS was able to coordinate with the Virginia tax system and take it from a state refund when we had a balance due. Since I went on social security at age 66, they began to take it from my Social Security checks since that was the easiest and most efficient.”

How to Practice Symbolic Resistance

Weeds grow through cracksPhoto

Symbolic resistance is like a very bothersome weed to the IRS, but every weed strains their limited resources. Photo by Ed Hedemann, 2017.

The most common type of symbolic refusal is to File and refuse to pay your taxes. This involves filling out a 1040 form and refusing to pay a token or symbolic amount (e.g. $5, $9.11, $10.40, $50, $200). If you normally receive a refund, find more details about how you can practice this type of resistance here.

To capitalize on your symbolic resistance, here are some actions that you could take:

  • Send a letter of protest with your 1040 tax form that explains your symbolic resistance. Enclose it along with (but do not staple it to) your form. Send copies to your elected officials.
  • Write letters to the editor protesting taxes for war and explaining your symbolic resistance.
  • Leaflet and protest before and on tax day.
  • File “Part A” of the Peace Tax Return.

For more information see the book War Tax Resistance: A Guide to Withholding Your Support from the Military, or contact a war tax resistance counselor.

Check out these stories on symbolic war tax resistance:
Rick & Carolyn Yoder: “Symbolic War Tax Resistance”
Shirley Whiteside: “I am a ‘Symbolic Resister'”

See also