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NONVIOLENT ACTIVIST: The Magazine of the War Resisters League

March-April 2005:
Dispatch from Fayetteville
More Tsunami Fallout
War Tax Resistance on the Rise
Activist Reviews

War Resisters League
The Nonviolent Activist

Refusing to Pay
War Tax Resistance on the Rise

By Ruth Benn

Anger, disgust, sadness—and anticipation at the idea of taking a new step to resist the war in Iraq: Organizers in the war tax resistance community are hearing all those emotions these days.

“This past year, I earned $18k or so, and now the IRS table tells me I should give Cheney, Rumsfeld and Rice $2k. If I could do whatever I wanted to, I would simply redirect those monies into unmet local needs ... like low-income housing assistance, ... transportation alternatives ..., education assistance and library funding … . Is there a well-researched way to redirect imperial funding back into the localities that are being drained to support imperial expeditions?”


War tax resistance is not usually the first step people take in protest, but over time it is an action that begins to make more sense, as they ask themselves, “How can I work for peace and yet pay for war?” The longer the war goes on, the more stark this question becomes—and the more ready people are to take actions that had frightened them previously.

Since last November’s elections, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee office has seen a definite increase in interest in war tax resistance, and this is confirmed by reports from our network of counselors and groups around the country, as well as by the response to our website (www.nwtrcc.org). In May 2004, visitors to the website averaged about 150 a day. From October to December, the number of visitors steadily increased to 200 a day.

War tax resistance is also a popular subject on WRL’s website (www.warresisters.org). WRL’s single most popular page, which averages about 700 visitors a day, has been the annual “pie chart” analysis of military spending (www.warresisters.org/piechart.htm); surprisingly, it gets even more visits than does WRL’s home page. Immediately after the November general election, seven of WRL’s top 30 (out of more than 400) pages on the website were ones that dealt specifically with war tax resistance, led by “how to resist.” Just a month before the election, only three war tax resistance pages were among WRL’s top 30. Looking at a different measurement, about 25 percent of all those who enter the WRL website do so through the pie chart page, while 20 percent enter through the home page.

“I’m 83, have stock and bond investments ... , and I have always paid [federal taxes], even though I have been a peace activist and antiwar person all my adult life. This year the Iraq invasion and the war profiteering have been too much for my conscience, so I just quit paying.”


Late last November, Voices in the Wilderness activist Kathy Kelly wrote in an article called “What We Can Control,” “From most of us, what is required is not our bodies and not our consent—it’s our money. This is what we have power over.” The article was posted on the alternative media website, Counterpunch, with a link to NWTRCC’s site, and the upswing in visitors began, with a whopping 800 visitors two days in a row.

It wasn’t long after that that writer Greg Moses (see NVA, Winter 2005) wrote a moving article, “Ask Not Who Bankrolled Falluja: War Tax Resisters Opt Out,” in which he describes the U.S. attack on Falluja as “a campaign of, by, and for the sheer effect of terror.”

So who made Falluja possible?, he wrote. Who enabled budgets to be filled with imperial plans? American taxpayers did. The moral tracer on this funding leads to me and you, the co-investors who backed this pre-holiday discount on the lives of Fallujans, thousands of lives, forever lost and unlived. To pay for this moral bankruptcy, we got up in the morning, worked all day, and sent money to the war machine.

That article was posted on many websites with mention of NWTRCC—and another series of e-mails and calls came in.

A New Kind of Tax Return
At the end of January, NWTRCC announced its new Peace Tax Return (see NVA, Winter 2005). Rather than being ignored by the press, as usual, the announcement got a lot of attention, including some angry reactions in response to stories in the more mainstream press. Our biggest response came from Amy Goodman’s report on the Peace Tax Return on “Democracy Now!” That resulted in more than 2,200 visits to the NWTRCC website the first day, followed by about 800 visits each of the next two days—far in excess of the now “normal” 200 visits a day.

In this first year of its release, we don’t know if the return will catch on as a campaign, but a similar form has worked well in England, so this is a worthy experiment. Probably the biggest war tax resistance campaign in U.S. history was the phone tax resistance during the Vietnam War. There is no doubt that the number of resisters at that time was a critical part of the whole antiwar movement, and the fact that the IRS even took property for small amounts of resisted phone tax showed how disturbed the government was with those modest acts of war tax defiance. It’s important to point out that it’s not the amount refused—certainly not enough to shut down a war— that was important, it was the act of resistance that was crucial.

Recently there have been efforts at other campaigns, all of which NWTRCC has supported. One Million Taxpayers for Peace, www.onemilliontaxpayersforpeace.org, began in Sonoma County, CA, after September 11, 2001. The Axis of Peace initiative in the northwestern part of the country—it was started by WRL locals in Portland and Seattle—asked people to resist $9.11 or a similar number representing 911 and the U.S. military actions thereafter. Hang Up on War, www.hanguponwar.org, a web-based telephone tax resistance campaign, began in the fall of 2003 through the initiative of the Iraq Pledge of Resistance. Whether the Peace Tax Return will be the one that catches on widely is still open to question, but again, the longer the war goes on the more certain it becomes that stronger steps will be taken to protest this use of U.S. tax dollars.

Herding Cats
The Peace Tax Return was a response to a few things we hear regularly:

“I’d resist if there was a campaign I could join.”

“When the IRS calls, it’s down to me.”

“How many resisters are there, anyway?”

The last question is hard to answer; counting war tax resisters is a task that has been compared to herding cats. It is also one for which we have limited resources. (If a reader of this magazine would like to take on such a survey project, please contact NWTRCC.)

There are various categories of resisters, some more visible than others:

  • Those who file and refuse to pay. These resisters, who generally send a letter in with their tax forms each year telling the IRS about their resistance, may be the easiest to count. They are less afraid to be visible, because they have already told the IRS what they are doing. However, finding them is another thing. Many have been resisting for so long that using the Peace Tax Return or joining a new campaign is not something they think about. They might respond to a survey if we manage to get it into their hands.
  • Those who resist a very small amount. There are thousands of telephone tax resisters. We know this, in part, because the phone companies often tell individuals to call the WRL or NWTRCC for “the official form” to send in with their bill payment. Many of these people will say, “I’m not really a war tax resister,” thinking that it only counts if one resists 100 percent of one’s income taxes. These people might be willing to be counted, but many have been doing it so long that it doesn’t occur to them to sign up on the Hang Up On War website or make themselves more visible.
  • Those who don’t file. Many people who don’t want to pay for war do so by staying off the radar of the IRS, by not filing, making money off the books, or free-lancing and not reporting their income. Because these options may be illegal and require some measure of discreetness, making the protest public becomes more problematic.
  • Those who live below taxable income. This category may cross with the nonfilers, but generally the people in this category are more vocal about their protest because their protest is legal. Many of these people might be ones who would like to make more money if they knew they could keep it from war. Others are more anarchistic and are not especially inclined to contribute to the government for any reason.
  • And of growing interest: Those who use legal methods to reduce their taxable income. These are people who under other circumstances would not be looking for every deduction or investment possible in order to conscientiously pay less to the government and thus to war. They might explain to the government: “By putting more in my pension plan this year I am paying you $300 less, because I don’t want it to go for war.” Some will argue that this is not resistance, but then the government is probably not happy to lose that $300 either.

Discussions among war tax resisters often include the visibility question. Some ask, if our protest is not a visible one that registers an impact on the government, then is there a point to doing it? Others feel in their hearts that the important thing is to keep the money away from the war machine, and if it means living on less than $8,200 a year (for single people in 2005), then that is the point. Still others feel that while it is important to reduce one’s connection to war, being confrontational—which is hard to do if you’re anonymous—with the war-makers is also a key component to making change.

In the end the intention is not to judge how people choose to resist the war—but that they find a way to do it! Refusing to voluntarily pay over taxes to war is a protest almost everyone in the United States who works or owns a telephone can do. More people are thinking creatively about how to support each other in war tax resistance, such as pooling resisted funds in small groups and making a collective contribution to an aid project or human needs program. This way you can count 10 or 20 people around you who you know have taken this step, and this group then becomes a support network if the IRS comes calling.

“So how many war tax resisters are there?” The question remains unanswered for now, but with things going the way they are, ask in a year and we might have some real numbers to report.

For more information or to get ready to resist 2005’s taxes,
get in touch with NWTRCC: (800)269-7464; www.nwtrcc.org.

Former NVA editor and National Office Director Ruth Benn is now on the staff of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. Longtime war tax resister Ed Hedemann contributed web statistics and commentary to this article.


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