Fifth International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns - Hondarribia, Spain 1994

Workshop 7: Facing the Risks of Doing War Tax Resistance

The preparatory document

Written by Joy Newall

Workshops, unlike seminars or lectures, must involve all participants in a shared topic. So this one will be designed to encourage input from all who attend. The end result will be a common agreement on our experiences and knowledge, giving us added strength to continue in the work we are all doing for freedom of conscience.

As individuals in the workshop, we will tell our stories:

  • Our own personal experiences and history as war tax resisters will be the richest ingredient of the workshop. Without each other's stories we are ignorant of the wide picture.

Working together as a global force:

  • As Canadians tax resisters, we are probably living in the most benign political regime in the world, and have few dangerous risks to take, other than financial ones. We must learn from others the level of fear and oppression still existing in their countries.
  • We will share these stories together, and come to terms with how we can help each other.

Pooling our resources:

  • Our Canadian experience can perhaps give guidance in our long experience with the courts and the various governments. We have learned how to lobby, and to network. We will examine this method of advancing the cause.
  • We will hear each nation's experience, it's successes and failures. We will commiserate and offer support where possible.

Summary:

  • At the end of the workshop, we should feel the strength of partnership and coalition as individuals working in our various countries on the same issue. We will have suggestions for the members at the conference on ways and means of continuing to help each other. Peace is not a national interest, it is a global function for survival.

The report

Moderator: Joy Newall. Conscience. Canada.

Participants: José from Spain, Bob from Belgium and Jim and Susan from the USA.

Overview:

We began the workshop with personal accounts of our own experiences with war tax resistance and a general picture of the situations in each country. Some of us began our tax resistance slowly, taking on greater risks over time, while others found that the first step of resisting felt the riskiest. For others, resistance has always been a fairly low-risk activity.

The general circumstances in each country certainly have a great impact of the level of risk which war tax resisters are inclined or able to take. For example, in Canada there was a period of years which a particular war tax resister's case was in court, when others were free to withhold taxes quite freely. Unfortunately, as soon as the negative judgement came, the government acted quickly against these resisters so that the level of risk rose drastically overnight.

Another factor which distinguishes different countries seems to be the particular regulations for collecting taxes at the source which make it much more harder in many areas for individuals to control the withholding of their taxes. Where there is more flexibility in controlling the withholding of taxes, there is a greater opportunity for risk taking.

While we didn't reach any conclusions regarding what encourages some people to take on greater risks, we did seem to agree that within any particular situation, risk taking, or more specifically, the persecution of a risk-taker, serves two functions: first it generates media attention which serves to raise the issues of militarism and peace for the general public, and second, it can inspire other people to take action themselves. Thus, the seizure of furniture in Belgium, the jailing of a resister in England, or the seizure of a home in the US can be critical points of opportunity for the peace movement.

The key to taking advantage of these opportunities lies in our ability to mobilize community support when such occasions arise. This support is important for various reasons: to help ease the burden which is being placed on the risk-taker and to show the government and the public at large that we will not allow individuals to be scapegoated; to use the enthusiasm and spirit of the moment to build the peace/war tax resistance movement: and to maximize the positive message which goes out to general public.

Conclusion:

Toward this end, we concluded that it would be useful to form a communication network among nations so that news of such critical moments of risk-taking could be quickly spread to other war tax resisters around the world. We suggested to the conference body that each country designate one contact person who would alert the other contact people (using mail, fax and/or e-mail) of any situation in their own country which required international support, and would likewise spread such international news among local war tax resisters whenever it was received. This proposal was approved by the general conference, and the network of contact people was named the International Support Group. Any country which has not yet designated a contact person and would like to do so should send the relevant information to Pedro Otaduy, from Pamplona, as soon as possible.

(Note: a first directory of this International Support Group appears at the end of these proceedings. It should be filled with people from more countries)

Main Page for Hondarribia