Tenth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns - Brussels, Belgium 2004

Focus, Variety, Change: the Future of the WTR-PTCs

Panel Discussion

By Marian Franz (USA)

2.2.1

Our fundamental focus and priority must always be the victims of military violence.

We speak on their behalf. They must be foremost in our thoughts as we lobby and plan our campaigns.

Growth of Influence

We have met together every two years since 1986. If we had not done so, there would be no CPTI, no consultative status with the United Nations, and there would be none of the surprises that we have experienced.

We have collectively dropped a pebble into the water. The concentric circles continue to form in ever expanding rings of influence. For us in the USA the movement began with the support coming mainly from the historic peace churches (Quakers, Mennonites, Church of the Brethren). Then the denominations with millions of members such as the Presbyterian Church the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ took formal actions of support. Later, groups who are not pacifist added their support. Even if they will never use the COMT provision of the bill, they view the legislation as a protection of freedom of religion. 

There is a growth in the membership of the various organizations and an increase in the number of readers of our various newsletters. There are more organizations which openly endorse our movements. The boards of directors in our various organizations have grown to represent more religious, civil liberties and peace organizations. Boards gradually take more responsibility upon themselves, and are active in serving on various committees (outreach, finance, fund raising, lobbying, long-range planning, etc). 

Surprises

By focusing on the victims of military violence we have encountered surprises along the way. For example, a New York City Council member is urging support for a Resolution in support of the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act. This resolution was an action that we did not plan, and has resulted in the formation of a New York City Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund. A number of local forums and panels have resulted. 

Successes

In Italy, fourteen people who refused to pay the military portion of their tax were tried in court for inciting others not to pay. They were acquitted. The government  appealed. They were acquitted again. Now campaigners against taxation for military purposes are able to make tax payments to one of four Italian non-governmental organizations actively working for peace in different parts of the world. Some Italian citizens pay the military portion of their tax directly to the National Bureau for Civil Service and Non-Violent Popular Defense. Italians attained this right through through the courts, not through legislation. 

We have drawn attention to our cause and increased participation in religious, peace and civil liberties groups. CPTI has also won consultative status in the UN and gives yearly oral and written testimony before the UN Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. It also presents forums to NGO groups at the UN in New York City.

Failures

We have failed to pass peace tax legislation in any country. If I am correct, the greatest percentage of support from parliaments in 18% which was attained in the UK. (In the USA our peak is 13% in the House and 4% in the Senate). We have failed to end war. We have failed to stop the incursion into Iraq. Yet, because of us, the voice of conscience is heard.

Changes along the way

In the USA our peace tax fund legislation formerly told the government on where the war tax money of conscientious objector should go. We were told we were trying to do two things—to say where the money does not go and to say where the money does go—and that was one too many. The latest version of our legislation says that all of the money of conscientious objectors to military taxes can go to anything but any military purpose.

Reaction to external events

The terrorist attacks of September 2001 on New York City World Trade Center towers and on the Pentagon in Washington, DC have changed the mindset of our government and caused it to go to war even in spite of UN disapproval. 

As a lobbyist I am still treated courteously on Capitol Hill offices of the US House and Senate. Three days after the terrorist attacks I returned to lobby members of Congress. In the office of one Republican member of Congress I was told that the wisest thing for me would to keep quiet and lie low for a while. Nevertheless I continued to insist that there are reasons the conscience can forbid retaliation. The person then told me, I want to take back what I said. You should keep talking. Just explain it to other people the way you explained it to me.

The Future

Military weapons kill in two ways. When they are used they maim and kill. Even if they are never used they have already killed because of the resources that have been diverted from housing, healing, education, and feeding the world's population, and thus preventing future wars. We need to focus on those victims who lack essentials because resources have been diverted to military spending.

Our focus will direct us to do whatever conveys our message and brings attention to the victims. We wake up each morning thinking about how to sensitise members of our parliaments and the public about the suffering caused by military violence. When we give clear voice to our own conscience, we cause people to examine theirs.

We still have a mountain to climb.  In mountain climbing one foot is always securely placed. The other is always searching for higher ground. When the foot of action has found an effective place, the foot of our inward growth must search for higher ground because of the action. That contemplation prompts a new level of action. Those steps must be repeated to find advancement.

Again, our focus must always remain on the victims of military violence. They are the ones who prompt and direct the conscience. They quicken the conscience.