War Resistance Beyond the Rally
Transcription of NWTRCC’s Google Hangout #2
Erica: My name is Erica Weiland, I’m the social media coordinator for the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, and today we’ve got the Google Hangout called War Resistance Beyond the Rally. We’re going to be talking with two executive directors of some great anti-war organizations: we’ve got Jack Payden-Travers from the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, and we’ll have Maria Santelli from the Center on Conscience and War. So, if you have any questions as the panel proceeds, you can type them in the Q&A box that you should see on your screen, or an icon that you can click on to enter questions. If, yeah, and we’ll answer those questions at the end of the presentations.
Erica: All right. So, I’m going to talk a little bit about what the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee is, what we work on, what we do, and why we think it’s important and something that folks should consider for – as a potential way of protesting war individually, collectively in a way that demands that the military-industrial complex pay attention.
Please note that any opinions that I express here may not correspond exactly with the entire body of NWTRCC, it’s a diverse organization, people that have many different, many different viewpoints.
So first I want to tell you a little bit about NWTRCC, that’s the short form of our long name. NWTRCC grew out of the National Action Conference in September 1982, which was called by the War Resisters League and the Center on Law and Pacifism. War tax resistance had been highly visible during the Vietnam War, as I’ll talk about a little later, and it was growing again with the election of Ronald Reagan and an increasing mood of militarism in the country. War tax resisters felt that a network was needed to share information, and coordinate actions, and develop resources for war tax resisters. At that time there were no such networks, although there had been in the past; during the Vietnam War, there was an organization called National War Tax Resistance, for example.
Today NWTRCC is supported by more than 45 national and local affiliate organizations along with a nationwide network of individual counselors and activists. NWTRCC has a small office that’s staffed by a paid coordinator and a paid social media consultant, and much of the work is done by volunteers as well.
We’re a small budget organization – and we’re doing – and we’re the only national organization that’s focused on war tax resistance.
So then you might be asking yourself, what is war tax resistance, what do war tax resisters do? Briefly, in the U.S., war tax resistance is the refusal to pay some or all of the federal taxes that pay for war, the primary ones that we focus on are the income tax that many people pay every year on April 15, and the excise tax on local telephone service, which many, if you have a local landline telephone there is an excise tax on that service that was initially created to fund war.
Currently, war tax resistance in the U.S. is primarily organized around the federal income tax. While it’s possible to legally refuse the income tax by lowering your taxable income, war tax resistance often involves an act of civil disobedience.
So methods of war tax resistance can be legal or illegal, with a wide spectrum of risk, with a variety of potential consequences. You can legally refuse the income tax, as I said, or commit an act of civil disobedience. You can take actions along a spectrum of risk, from resisting a small amount of money, many people resist, say $10.40, many people resist, say $50, others resist a percentage equal to the percentage of the federal budget that goes to military spending, and some refuse to pay all of their federal income taxes, believing that any money that they pay to the government, still half of that goes to war.
So people all over the U.S., earning different incomes and in different family and life situations, practice war tax resistance. Some resist for reasons of conscience. Some resist in hopes of growing a movement of war tax resisters to reduce or stop war spending. Some refuse war taxes to create a legal precedent for “peace taxes” that can’t be spent for war, and there are many more reasons. We have a great video you can watch online free or buy a DVD of, that’s called Death and Taxes, and it has many great stories of war tax resisters and why and how they resist.
So this isn’t just a new movement, war tax resistance, it’s an act of civil disobedience with a long history in the U.S. America’s most well-known war tax resister was Henry David Thoreau, whose refusal to pay his poll tax because of the Mexican-American War earned him an night in jail and the experience that led him to write his essay, Civil Disobedience. As I mentioned before, during the Vietnam War many authors and artists and activists signed public statements refusing to pay some or all of their taxes because of the war. This included people such as James Baldwin, Joan Baez, Philip K. Dick, Allen Ginsberg, Noam Chomsky, Kurt Vonnegut, Howard Zinn, and Gloria Steinem. In 1981 Roman Catholic Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle urged citizens to refuse to pay 50% of their income taxes to protest spending on nuclear weapons.
Many war tax resisters today were inspired by U.S. funding of military juntas in Central America. Many war tax resisters were inspired by the first Gulf War and the second Gulf War, and everything that’s happened since.
We believe that the ability to openly withdraw consent is essential. That if protesters concerned with women’s suffrage, labor, civil rights, etc., gay rights, hadn’t committed civil disobedience, those movements might have well had very different results. So we believe that this act of civil disobedience, of resisting war taxes, is an important way to draw attention to the issues, and to, and to compel or – or request big changes.
While some taxes may be neutral, those that contribute to killing are not, we believe. Not all taxes are war taxes, but NWTRCC’s focus is on the federal taxes that pay for war. Although some war tax resisters also consider state/local spending on militarization and some have adopted forms of resistance that also oppose state and local taxes that go to things like National Guard, militarization of the police, and so on.
Other taxes that could contribute to military spending include corporate income taxes, some excise taxes (e.g., tobacco, alcohol, in addition to the telephone tax), estate and gift taxes, customs duties, and well, no doubt much more.
Again, the largest and most important war tax is the individual income tax, of which around half pays for military expenditures. This amount varies up and down year to year, but this year it’s about forty five percent, in prior years forty-seven percent, fifty-one percent, all depending on what the federal budget looks like that Congress has created.
War tax resistance is also not just about simply refusing to pay taxes. Rather than keep resisted taxes, most WTRs do one of three things, or a mixture of these: 1) they redirect that money to programs most in need of attention, 2) they put the money in an escrow account or, which is also called an alternative fund, of pooled resisted taxes which grants the interest to community organizations and keeps the money in an account that’s not associated with the resister’s name, or as some resisters do 3) set the tax money aside in a bank account or other location and wait for the IRS to come and take it. So they’re refusing to pay voluntarily, but they have the money there waiting, if the IRS decides to take enforcement action.
So when we talk about enforcement action, we usually come across concerns about consequences of war tax resistance, specifically the negative consequences. While we at NWTRCC and war tax resisters in general believe strongly in war tax resistance, of course, the IRS considers refusal to be illegal, there are laws about that on the books, and their potential consequences such as the aforementioned seizure of the money you resisted and so forth. However, we think that the benefits and hazards of refusal tend to outweigh the benefits and hazards of compliance. Some war tax resisters have had houses or cars seized. There’s a movie called An Act of Conscience, which documents the resistance action around Randy Kehler and Betsy Corner’s house, and the stand for war tax resistance that was taken there, and the fallout of those actions and how everything wrapped up. It’s a really great film.
Most – so, some war tax resisters have houses or cars seized. Most war tax resisters receive correspondence from the IRS at some point in their resistance, if their resistance involves filing but not paying, or not filing and somehow catching the IRS’s attention. For example, if you suddenly stop filing, the IRS may catch on to that, but it’s really hard to say. A lot of times the IRS is really arbitrary, they don’t have as many agents for enforcement actions as people that they want to go after, so it’s not a one-to-one link between the action that you take and the consequence that’s threatened. The IRS can levy bank accounts and retirement accounts or garnish wages. They can go after income, try to levy from your independent contractor if they know who your clients are. So these are risks, but they’re risks that we feel are minor in comparison to the risk of continuing to cooperate with the war machine, and the immense military budget and all the fallout from the military-industrial complex.
Many war tax resisters see positive consequences too from their resistance:
- The satisfaction of acting in accordance with their conscience and beliefs, being able to live with yourself from day to day knowing that you’re acting in accordance with your conscience.
- The solidarity of resisting in a community that NWTRCC has, the ability to contribute more money to worthy causes that are really focused on health and human services and housing and compassion for people overseas rather than weapons for people overseas.
- Participating in a segment of the antiwar movement that believes in taking nonviolent action against militarism — that’s different from participating in a rally or a march — is also very positive for many war tax resisters.
I just want to close by suggesting that one way that you could consider getting started with war tax resistance is through W-4 withholding. During every payroll period, employers send a portion of employee salaries to the federal government. This procedure, is called “withholding” and it’s meant to add up to the worker’s total tax due for one calendar year. Thus when income tax forms are filed on April 15 taxpayers, according to the IRS, should owe or be refunded only a small amount – the difference between what was withheld and what’s actually owed. So paying federal withholding throughout the year gives the IRS your money ahead of time. However you can use that W-4 form to increase your withholdings – or decrease your withholdings, rather – and create that option for yourself to resist an amount of war taxes at the end of the year. We have a lot more information on our website, www.nwtrcc.org, about W-4 withholding and other types of resistance.
So if you feel inclined to research this further, know that our network is broad and our ways of resisting are many. We help current and prospective war tax resisters with questions about resistance, we have pamphlets and leaflets and webpages with detailed information on different ways to resist, and we hold regular meetings of war tax resisters in different places around the country. You can contact our counselors and affiliate groups in many states and cities to connect with other resisters and ask questions. Again, our website is www.nwtrcc.org. We’re eager to build an effective and active movement of resistance to war and war taxes in this country, and we hope that you’ll consider joining us.
All right, so, I am going to move on now to Jack Payden-Travers, who is the executive director of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund.
Jack: Hi, Erica, good to be with you today. I want to just explain a little bit about our organization. We were founded in 1972, that’s when our first bill was actually introduced into Congress by Congressman Ron Dellums, and that bill was called the World Peace Tax Fund bill. The organization itself came out of a group of Quakers and other people in Ann Arbor, MI who because of their opposition to the Vietnam War, were concerned about continually paying others to fight that war. And so they sought a legal option to paying for the Vietnam War, and as a result, we had the first bill, the World Peace Tax Fund bill introduced on Tax Day in 1972. We’re 42 years old now, the bill’s been before Congress any number of times, and we have had as many as 58 cosponsors in any one particular congressional session. Right now we’re down to roughly 9 cosponsors and our main sponsor is Congressman John Lewis, the civil rights champion from the 5th district of Georgia. And we believe that paying for war is a form of participation in war, and that’s why those of us who are conscientious objectors to military taxation feel that the right of conscientious objection needs to be extended from just the soldier who fights the war to the taxpayer who pays for that soldier to fight the war, and pays for the armament companies that build the weapons and the people who fly and the communications specialists and everything that goes into war. Because at the present time, we’re living in a society where American taxpayers work roughly six months of the year just to pay for America’s warmaking machine and we believe it’s time to end that. [Editor’s note: The share of each income tax bill that goes to the military is around 50%, so six months of income taxes pay for the military.] There’s a physical cost to war that the soldier, the veteran, the conscientious objector, the resister, all have to pay.
But in addition, there’s a psychological cost that all of us as taxpayers pay every year. Because we live in a situation now where we like to say that we’re innocent bystanders, but there’s really no such thing anymore in the internet age, in the age of reality TV, in the age of YouTube videos that are made in Iraq and Afghanistan, there’s really no such thing as an innocent bystander. We rather are now living in the age of the guilty bystanders, and those of us who support the Peace Tax Fund refuse to be guilty bystanders, and we really don’t believe that our money should go towards creating violence and causing death.
And just a personal, thing, because I think I represent many of the people who are members of the Peace Tax Fund, I was an conscientious objector to Vietnam, I ended up refusing induction into the armed services because the draft board refused to recognize my conscientious objector status. And so in 1970 I refused to take that one step forward and join the U.S. military, but every April 15 since 1970 when I refused induction, I feel like I’m being issued another induction order on Tax Day when I have to pay my taxes. And the country once again asks me to take one step forward and join the finest fighting force the world has ever seen, the United States military. And every April 15 my wife and I refuse to take that step, and we instead send our taxes in, but we withhold a certain portion of our taxes, and of late we have joined a movement called $10.40 for Peace, and we withhold $10.40 from any monies that are owed to the U.S. government and we redirect that to a life-affirming fund. We send it – last year we sent it to the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund, but we’ve sent it to – we’ve sent our tax resisted monies to local soup kitchens, we’ve sent it to free clinics, medical clinics, over the years, and there hasn’t been one year since 1970 that there hasn’t been some reason why we felt compelled as conscientious objectors to war to withhold that portion of our taxes. And I would point that the Peace Tax Fund, which is now called the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund bill, would keep your money from going to the Defense Department, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Selective Service system, the Department of Energy’s nuclear weapons budgets, activities — military activities in space conducted by NASA, foreign military aid, and the training, supplying or maintaining of military personnel around the globe. So there are 8 different areas that our bill would prohibit our – our tax dollars from funding, and we think that’s a right that people should have. They should have a right to resist con – military taxation, if they’re conscientious objectors to war. So that might be a time for me to lead into Maria Santelli, who’s now joining us from the Center on Conscience and War and we’re going to switch seats so she has a good background for the camera [background talk]
Erica: Just a moment. I’m having some trouble loading the Q&A application, so if you are listening in and you have a question for our panelists, I’d like to ask that you comment on the Google Plus page or on the YouTube page, where you are watching this from, so you probably have a screen that’s opened up that has the video in it, but behind that should be the Google Plus events page, and if you just leave a comment on that page or on the YouTube site where you’re watching, then we’ll be sure to see that and answer any questions at the end, so now I’m gonna transfer it back to Maria. Thanks for being here, Maria.
Maria: Thank you Erica, thank you for your work, thank you Jack, and thanks to the work of both of these organizations. I represent the Center on Conscience and War today, sitting here, I also represent myself as someone who has, I guess people term it, sort of passively refused taxes – for the vast majority of my adult life I’ve chosen to live in voluntary poverty so I’m not on the hook, and I don’t pay taxes, I don’t pay war taxes, so um, that’s been a choice that I’ve made in my life and it’s been something that I’m very proud of because I am a conscientious objector to war.
And my organization exists – has existed for 75 years, and exists simultaneously with the right of people in this country to be conscientious objectors to war. We helped to put in the language in the 1940 draft law that instituted protections for conscientious objectors before that there were no protections for conscientious objectors and people who refused to put their bodies into war were beaten, apprehended, sentenced to death, many died as a result of their apprehension or confinement, but no one was actually executed for being conscientious objectors. But that’s a shameful history that we have in a country that is, you know, purported to be founded on religious freedom. So that’s why this bill is very important and it’s something that I think a younger generation, like so many of the past battles that we’ve won that have been so hard fought and that we’ve won, a younger generation has kind of forgotten about them, but I think it’s pretty impressive and pretty incredible that we actually have a bill in Congress to protect somebody’s religious, moral, or ethical freedom to object to participation in war. So I hope that people listening will share that message, will raise the profile of conscientious objection so that we all understand what it means, and we all take that moment for conscientious reflection.
Maybe you feel like you’re not at that place where you would define yourself as a conscientious objector yet, I think we’re all there innately, I think that each human being understands that taking another human life is a violation of our moral code as a species. I think everyone knows that and understands that. But do we put the language of conscientious objector on it or on ourselves. So I invite people to bring a new phrase into their vocabulary, and let’s call that conscientious reflection, because once you take that moment of conscientious reflection, once you allow something to filter through the conscience, you cannot deny whether it is morally wrong or morally correct. The conscience is that powerful, and we see it with case studies of our military conscientious objectors that we work with every day.
Just in case people aren’t aware, in the absence of a draft, there are still conscientious objectors in the U.S. military, despite the fact that it’s a voluntary military, there are still people who filter their actions as U.S. servicemembers through their conscience and realize that what they’re doing is morally wrong, and they draw the line and they say no. And there’s a legal process based on that old draft law that our organization helped draft in 1940 by which they can apply for discharge.
So the whole point of a penalizing system that forces us to pay taxes, the whole point of an automatic withdrawal from your paycheck so that you never even see the money, it’s just absent to you, you don’t even calculate it into your monthly budget.
Military training is another example I’m quite familiar with. The whole purpose of all those automatic rote reflexive penalizations, you know, penalizing systems that we’ve instituted in our culture are intentionally to circumvent the conscience. Something our conscientious objectors in the military get told by their commands all the time when they start to have doubts is “Get your head in the game, get your head in the game” because they can tell that their head’s not in the game, actually what’s happening is that they’re having that conscientious reflection, and they’re no longer just responding reflexively and responding by rote. Another thing that our service members are told, which sounds like it’s kind of the opposite, but it actually has the same meaning, “Don’t think too much, don’t think too much” because that is code for saying don’t let it filter through your conscience, because if you do, you’re gonna make the right choice, the conscience can be deadened, but the conscience can never be fully taken out of the equation. So my invitation to the audience to anyone who may view this later, is take that moment for conscientious reflection. And maybe it’s not right for you, maybe it’s not right for your family or for your personal situation to be a full-on conscientious objector to paying war taxes, but at least if you take that moment for conscientious reflection, you’ll know what is right, and what your ability – what your conscience will allow you to do. And I’ll leave it there.
Erica: Great. Thank you so much, that was Maria Santelli from the Center on Conscience and War. And thank you so much to Jack Payden-Travers as well, from the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund for joining us today. I’m just going to take a moment right now to see if there are any comments or questions that came up, again, if you missed it before, we’re taking comments or questions on the Google Plus page where you came to this event or on the YouTube page where you are watching this. So I’m going to take just a moment here for that, and oh, if, Jack and Maria, if you could share the web address for your organizations so that people can know where to find you.
Maria: Our address is centeronconscience.org.
Jack: And the website for the Peace Tax Fund is www.peacetaxfund.org. So one word, peacetaxfund.org. And I would point out to people that if they want to contact their congressperson, August is a great time to do it, they’ll be back in their districts, and they can ask their congressperson to cosponsor HR 2483, the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund bill.
Erica: OK. Great. Thanks, and I’m not seeing any comments or questions, from our audience, but thank you to the folks who have joined us today for this presentation, and we urge you to check out our organizations and learn more about acting in accordance with your conscience and how you can conscientiously object to the war machine. So thank you so much for being here and have a great day.