Tax Resistance: An American Tradition
Compiled and edited by Julie Norman
"If a thousand men [and women] were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood."
-Henry David Thoreau
A Long History of Resistance
War tax resistance. This controversial method of resistance has deep roots in the US. The Algonquin Indians' refusal to pay a Dutch tax to improve a colonial fort in 1637 is one of the first known occurrences. Shortly after, many of the newly-arrived Quakers refused to pay taxes for imperial expeditions into Canada, and during the American Revolution protested paying any taxes that directly financed military purposes. Quaker tax resistance continued through the Mexican American War, an unjust, imperial war that threatened to extend slavery across the continent. Henry David Thoreau also defied funding the Mexican-American war, and spent a night in jail for so doing.
The employee withholding tax was introduced in 1943, so for the first time a large percentage of the population was subject to the income tax. During World War II, a handful of individuals refused to pay their income taxes - but it was not until after the war that war tax resistance gained momentum and became a movement. The Tax Refusal Committee, with 41 tax resisting members, was formed in 1948 as part of the pacifist Peacemaker organization, and published information and support for resisters.
During the 1960s, the resistance movement grew from a few hundred to tens of thousands. Outrage at the Viet Nam War spurred this growth, and tax resistance was brought to the public's eye when Joan Baez announced her refusal to pay her taxes in 1964. Committees were formed, raising awareness and gathering signatures and support, and new methods were adopted. Refusal to pay telephone tax and inflating the W-4 form to stop withholdings were two new methods that drew thousands of new resisters into the movement. The Peacemaker, Catholic Worker, War Resisters League (WRL), and historic peace churches promoted resistance among members and communities, and by the 1970s, the number of known income tax resisters reached approximately 20,000. There were hundreds of thousands of telephone tax resisters - and with so many people owing individually so little money, the IRS was unable to pursue claims without losing even more money.
The number of resisters dropped with the end of the Viet Nam War - until Reagan and his arms race took center stage, sparking a new momentum among war tax resisters. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) was formed to provide information to those considering resistance and to provide alternative funds for people to send their money. When the Berlin Wall fell and the Cold War ended, it seemed there would be another "lull" for tax resisters. But, soon enough, George Bush Sr. was active in the Persian Gulf and war tax resisters were again growing in number.
The "War on Terror"
So, here we are deep in the midst of the "War on Terror," with no foreseeable end in sight, and with a war raging in Iraq, military operations in Afghanistan, and threats of military action against Iran. As citizens, all of us are complicit in some way in the Iraq War. Many of us have maintained our comfortable lives and have not been forced to face the destruction and death so common to Iraqis and US troops in Iraq. Despite our protests, our votes, our dialogue, the war still rages. Bush has not heard us; if he has, he has not listened. His unwillingness to listen to the people forces us to consider another method - one that he must hear.
As is apparent in the large pie chart (on page 6), roughly half of our tax dollars are spent on war. Resisting taxes is the most direct way many of us can resist compliance in the war in Iraq and other military arenas.
It is our money that funds this war. This is the most vital link we have, and it is one that, despite what we have been socialized to believe, we do have control over. If Congress won't say no to Bush, then we must.
Resisting War Taxes
There are various ways and levels of tax resistance. With any type of resistance, it is often important to publicize your actions. Include a letter of protest with your return, and send the letter to your local newspaper, Congresspeople, friends, and family. Suggestions for resistance from WRL and NWTRCC:
1) File and refuse to pay all or part of your taxes. This involves filling out an IRS income tax return (e.g., Form 1040) and refusing to pay either a token amount of your taxes (e.g., $1, $9.11, $100), some "military" portion (approximately 1% for nuclear warheads, 4% for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, 30% for current military spending, 50% for current and past military spending combined), or the total amount (since a portion of whatever is paid goes largely to the military). Redirect the money to a local group working for peace, nonviolent conflict resolution, social justice, the environment, health, education, the arts, etc. See nwtrcc.org/omtfp/imt.html.
2) File a Peace Tax Form. This is a form you can include with your tax return - to either protest paying your taxes, or to explain paying only part or none. See nwtrcc.org/peacetaxreturn.htm.
3) File a blank IRS 1040 income tax return with a note of explanation or don't file at all.
4) Earn less than the taxable income. Consider publicizing why you have chosen to keep your income low.
|Graphic: Mark Hurwitt|
5) Resist telephone taxes - join the "Hang Up on War!" Campaign. In July 2006, the federal tax on long distance telephone service ended - and was also removed from many cell phone plans, internet phone services, and mixed local/long distance calling plans. The tax does still exist on many local plans; so if you are paying tax on your local service, considering resisting it. This federal excise tax on phone service has long been associated with war spending, and revenues from phone taxes go into the general fund where they are available to the military. To refuse this federal excise tax, simply subtract the amount from your monthly telephone bill and include a note of explanation to the phone company each time you pay the bill. The phone company is required (by FCC regulations) to credit your bill and report this amount to the IRS, but not cut off your telephone service. For more details see nwtrcc.org/hanguponwar.org/howto.htm.
6) Minimize your withholding tax. One of the challenges in resisting taxes is getting the opportunity to do so if taxes are withheld from your paycheck. To learn ways to deal with this problem, refer to the WRL at warresisters.org/ how_to_resist.htm, or Nonviolent Action Community of Cascadia at seanacc.org/wtr-fly.htm.
Risky is it?
Serious consideration must be given before embarking on these types of resistance. The probability of collection or prosecution varies among the methods; many are illegal. Before engaging in tax resistance, contact the National War Tax Resisting Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC).
Throughout the long history of tax resisters in the US, severe repercussions are rare. Notices from the IRS are the most likely consequence. Many of the resistance methods, on an individual basis, involve a negligible amount of money - too small for the IRS to waste money on pursuing the unpaid claim. The IRS does have the power to levy wages, bank accounts, or even property - but this too is rare, as is the threat of criminal prosecution. Since World War II, out of tens of thousands of tax resisters, approximately 30 have been brought to federal court. And while you're considering the consequences of not paying your taxes, remember to consider the consequences of paying your taxes. How long will we allow the war in Iraq to continue?
LEARN MORE ABOUT WAR TAX RESISTANCE
|Attend: War Tax Resistance:
A Time to Learn and Share. Thursday, April 5 at 7pm, Slocum House, 208 Slocum
Ave., Syracuse. firstname.lastname@example.org
War Resisters League. 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012, (212) 228-0450, www.warresisters.org
NWTRCC. PO Box 150552, Brooklyn, NY 11215, (800) 269-7464, www.nwtrcc.org
Nonviolent Action Community of Cascadia. (206) 547-0952, seanacc.org/wtr-fly.htm
Note: If you would like to learn more, and do not have access to the internet, please contact the Syracuse Peace Council.