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

Focus, Variety and Change

By Daniel Woodham (USA)

2.2.2 

My name is Daniel Woodham and I am representing the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) of the USA. In the recent national meeting of NWTRCC in April of this year the question was posed what different war tax resisters would say first thing to the people here at the international gathering. Here are the responses:

Though these comments are somewhat humorous they are also serious. Never before has one nation spent so much on war in such a short period of time as the US has since the beginning of the Iraq war. At the same time, never has the domestic situation in the US been so desperate concerning rising homelessness, unemployment, hunger, and people without access to health care and education. One might say the US is the wealthiest impoverished country on earth. Disparities between the rich and the poor are growing with each month and each tax cut for the wealthy. And perhaps not since the Red Scare of 1950s McCarthyism has the US curbed individual civil rights so much as it has under the Patriot Act and the Department of Homeland Security. Now even protesting in the street is in danger of being labelled as terrorist activity.

NEWS FLASH FROM THE USA:

The War on Terror is not working! There seems to be even more terrorism in the world today than before 9/11. Perhaps this means that solving the problem of violence with more violence is not effective.

There has never been a time in my generation riper for widespread war tax resistance as there is now. And it is in this context in a society as fearful and oppressed as the US is today that I base my comments about Focus, Variety and Change for this panel.

FOCUS

There are several points of focus of the war tax resistance (WTR) movement in the US today. One focus is about nurturing the international solidarity felt at this time in the world-wide peace community and creating a global movement for peace and justice in which WTR can play a part. There is also the focus of getting the idea of WTR into the mainstream and helping people in the US to understand the connection between paying their taxes and paying for war. Especially with the peace activist community, there is also a focus to get peace-working people to include some form of war tax resistance in their protest actions. After all, it makes sense that if one is working for peace then one should stop paying for war. Lastly, the ongoing legislative efforts of the Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund are a focus for many war tax resisters but Marian will be covering that subject.

The international solidarity and support experienced from groups around the world in the build-up to the Iraq War was a huge booster shot in the arm of the progressive movements in the US. One might even say it foreshadows a new age of progressive solidarity and collaboration, largely due to the use of the internet. Keeping this solidarity alive and thriving is the first focus of WTR work in the USA. This conference feeds this focus as do the many websites set up by WTR-related groups. The interviews between people in the USA and other countries are also being conducted with the end of international connection and increased solidarity in mind. We hope to continue to find new ways to increase the peace internationally and some of the workshops will be focusing on this.

The second focus is WTR and the US mainstream. In reality there is a lack of knowledge of war tax resistance in the US population. Most have never heard of such an idea as not paying part or all of their taxes or, even if the notion has been proposed, there is general fear about losing one's home, job, car, or even being sent to prison. Therefore local actions across the US focus on education about WTR through leafleting, street theatre, and public poll penny polls where people can vote how they would have their taxes spent if they had the chance to decide. These actions mostly take place on or around Tax Day which is about April 15 each year. This past Tax Day more than 50 actions took places in localities across the US.

The final focus I'll cover is the work going on with other groups working for peace. There have been efforts for a few years now to spread the word about WTR at the annual protests seeking to close the School of the Americas. This is a military training school in Georgia which trains military personnel from other countries in torture techniques and counter-insurgency. Response has been good. Links are also increasing between the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a peace action group which is a program of the Quakers, one of the traditional peace churches. They have a high-profile case at present because of supporting employees who refused to pay for war. I know where I have lived in Portland OR we have held joint actions with several other progressive groups on or around Tax Day. This is the case for several other local WTR groups as well.

CHANGE

Much has changed in the US since 9/11/01 and WTR is also changing.

WTR in the US was at its height in popularity during the Vietnam War era and then also quite widely practiced during the 1980s Reagan era of the cold war and nuclear weapons build-up. But it took a long time to become popular during those times. It is only 2.5 years since 9/11 now and the present interest is already large. But this interest nationwide is sporadic and largely practiced by individuals not part of organized WTR groups.

Another element of change is that WTR in the US has entered the age of the internet. NWTRCC's website has received tens of thousands of visits since 9/11, especially during the build-up to the war with Iraq and during the first month or so of the war. Discontent with the Bush administration and its policies has increased but WTR is difficult to convince people about, even those who work for peace.

The change in the level of fear in the US is another factor we must consider. Fear has  been high in the US in recent times anyway but now the media is constantly talking about the Orange alerts issued by the Department of Homeland Security. These are publicized in the newspaper, the TV news, in the airports and even on public transportation in some cities. Thus the public is kept in fear and is more easily swayed to back the government and to not protest in any form, including WTR. Most people who have heard of doing WTR still have the idea that they will go to jail if they resist taxes conscientiously. In fact there are very few such cases of this type of prosecution in recent times.

There is also an increased polarization in the USA. More people are turning against Bush and even against the war in Iraq but continue to support him because of the idea that he is President, the head of our government and is perhaps the only way to stop Al Qaeda. Facing a complicated military engagement in Iraq and a huge national debt, people remain mute, fearing perhaps horrible consequences for the US if we get rid of Bush and get out of Iraq. Many families have children or other relatives in the military and so do not protest the war for this as well.

To deal with these levels of polarization and the increased fear in the populace in general, a number of lower-risk WTR initiatives have come into being before and during the Iraq war. This included increased publicity about phone tax resistance (NWTRCC's Hang up on War campaign). Resisting token amounts from federal taxes was a strategy used as well -- (such as $9.11 in the Axis of Peace Campaign in theNW USA or $10.40 (the number of the federal income tax form) in the Million Taxpayers for Peace campaign nationally.

This presidential campaign changed all previous campaigns with candidate Dennis Kucinich's statement that Now is the time to outmode war. Though his campaign was grossly underrepresented by the popular media, this is the only time that a person running for such an office has publicly held this opinion. ( www.Kucinich.US) { www.dennis4president.com/ -webweaver 12/2007}

This news just in: Julia Butterfly Hill won notoriety in the late 1990s helping to save old growth forests and this year, like singer Joan Baez protesting the Vietnam War in 1964, she became another high profile figure in resisting payment of about $100,000 in federal taxes. She did this in conscientious protest over the Iraq War. Together with her group Circle of Life, NWTRCC has co-launched the Activism is Patriotism campaign. Because the collaboration is connected to a resource rich website and a mass publicity campaign between now and election time in November, they estimate 20 million people will be reached with access to info on WTR and other ways to make a difference in this election year in the US.

(www.activismispatriotism.org). 

VARIETY

Variety is the name of the game in US WTR where a cultural plurality exists in many places already. Even though most people who engage in WTR are older and white, there seems to be growing interest amongst younger people, especially those that are white and entering the job market in some of the more progressive US cities. Thus there is variety in the ways people do WTR and also the ways WTR is publicized nationwide.

The different WTR initiatives which sprang up in the US in the build-up to the Iraq War and also during the war are newer low-risk campaigns for engaging in WTR for the first time.

Public information has become more widespread in recent times about how to do W-4 resistance so that tax monies are not withheld from one's pay check in the first place. The same forums have presented easy-to-use information on how to resist the federal tax on phone bills.

Some people who resisted only the military portion of the federal tax for several years have been pushed to resist payment of the entire federal tax since Bush instigated the Iraq war.

Tax Day actions in the last few years have received increased attention by local popular media as well as internet-based forums on some more widespread articles on WTR (One Yahoo forum, for example, had some 13,000 responses a few days after an AP article on WTR).

Many resisters in the US do not file their tax forms and try to remain as invisible as possible to avoid collection. This can work quite well if a person has their own business and does not make more money than poverty level wages each year over the table – this means less than $7500. It is possible to be creative and barter for one's business services, to be paid in cash or just to live simply and make do with less income. Not very easy in the US but possible.

Many resisters also file their tax forms without paying part or all of the tax. In this way they take part in the government's statute of limitations of ten years for collecting the unpaid tax (plus penalties and interest).

Many who resist paying for war also make use of escrow accounts (or Peace Funds) for some or all of their redirected tax monies. This provides safety from collection by the IRS, keeps money accessible in case the resister decides to pay the IRS when threatened with collection, and most funds redirect the account's interest to peace and social justice concerns.

THE FUTURE

With a view to the future it could be said that two things might be good to focus on in the US WTR movement. The first is to exercise CREATIVITY whenever possible. When creative street theatre action takes place and the press is alerted in advance, news coverage usually happens despite the press's usual conservative slant. Combined with offering informational workshops free to the public there is a potential for growing a small movement. People discover that WTR not only exists but they find the way that it can work for them. After all, when one's conscience rings a bell for change, the person is ready for change and will seek information wherever possible.

A second focus would be NETWORKING. As mentioned earlier there are many groups which are linking with the war tax resistance issue to take on growing militarism, readdressing the question of how to work against terrorism and getting rid of the non-elected US President Bush. If we can outline, perhaps in some of the workshops of this conference, some ways of increasing international networking, we will go far to creating the way to a more peaceful world without war.

SOA (School of the Americas) Watch

Circle of Life (Julia Butterfuly Hill's organization)

Possibly MoveOn.org (on-line activist group which seeks to dethrone Bush and was active before and after the Iraq War trying to stop it)