U.S. War Tax Resisters Meet in Virginia

I’m back from the NWTRCC National Gathering in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I’ll share some of my impressions and go into more detail in the coming days.

I flew into Charlottesville and was picked up by one of our hosts — who’d be shuttling incoming conferencers all weekend and who did a fantastic job of making sure we all got collected, assembled, fed, and then given a comfortable place to lay our heads at the end of the day. We passed the new America tombstone on the way back to Harrisonburg where we were holding the sessions of our meeting at the Community Mennonite Church.

After the administrative committee met on morning and afternoon to grease the wheels for the larger coordinating committee meetings, night was devoted to introductions, a viewing of a video on corrupt and insufficiently-monitored government spending on the Afghanistan War, and reports from local groups about how their Tax Day actions went and what they’ve been up to.

Clare Hanrahan shared some stories from the tour she and Coleman Smith have been conducting through Tennessee, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina to meet with peace & justice activists in that area, forge alliances between them, and learn about the state of the regional movement. They’ve been blogging their adventures on the War Resisters League Asheville site.

Lots of people reported that their tax day protests had been upstaged by the Tea Party demonstrations this year, though a few groups took the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” approach and partied along with the rest of them.

One person noted that with more people e-filing their tax returns, the phenomenon of the last-minute post office rush has diminished, and there’s less media attention and less of an audience for leafletting and such.

Ruth Benn reported on how in New York they held a viewing of tax resistance related excerpts from Boston Legal and Stranger Than Fiction as a discussion-prompter.

Robert Randall reported that an attempt to focus messaging around the single issue of opposition to the Iraq War had seemed promising at first, as the war became more unpopular even in his red state of Georgia, but that it hadn’t seemed to lead to any noticible uptick in interest in war tax resistance or in new resisters.

Many people noted the increasing challenge of developing interest in our message in a time when the anti-war movement is suffering from a post-election tranquilization.

Ray Gingerich reflected on the difficulty he is having in trying to reinvigorate the war tax resistance tradition in the Mennonite church. On tax day, he sends his letter of protest to his church. He also recalled for us that their local war tax resistance group used to be much more active and at one time they had a mutual aid fund that they used to defray the costs of penalties, interest, and frivolous filing fines incurred by individual members.

morning

After breakfast morning, we discussed what we thought of a rough cut of an upcoming war tax resistance film project, and talked about what we thought would be the best use of the available footage.

Then Bill Ramsey gave us an update on the War Tax Boycott project, and we discussed options for modifying the campaign going forward. Here are some of the comments from my notes (these are all paraphrased and on-the-fly, so may not represent what these folks actually said or meant to say):

David Waters
I love the palm cards.
Pam Allee
It would be good to keep the campaign going on a low simmer during the sleepy times so that we would be ready to jump in with a flashier campaign when the moment is right.
Bill Ramsey
I recommend a scaled-down campaign in which we keep the website updated but reduce the budget.
Robert Randall
How can we hold on to the new resisters whom we learn about for the first time when they sign up for the boycott?
Ray Gingerich
I’m confused as to whether the boycott is meant only for first-timers or if it’s for everyone; to me it seemed gimicky and not particularly appealing.
Susan Balzer
Some people might not want to sign on to the boycott because they don’t want to be “on a list” and they might be more comfortable if there’s a way to remain anonymous.
Jim Stockwell
I think maybe “boycott” is a threatening or discouraging word to some people.
Clare Hanrahan
The hardcopy boycott sign-on sheets weren’t at all popular when we were tabling.
Daniel Woodham
We should make the palm cards less likely to go stale by removing the year and references to specific wars/issues.
Geov Parrish
The value of the campaign is mainly as a vehicle for publicizing war tax resistance as an option, not so much in getting people to sign on.
Erica Weiland
I wonder if by framing the campaign as a one-year thing we prompt people to make their resistance temporary.
Clare Hanrahan
I do low-income resistance and I redirect unwaged labor, not money. I think the war tax resistance movement should honor that and recognize that option for boycott participants (not assume everyone has a dollar amount to redirect).
Tim Godshall (and others)
We need to have better follow-up with the people who sign on — by phone is better than by email.
Robert Randall
Maybe we could parcel out some of the following-up to people in our network list.

Next came a discussion of our finances and a report from the fundraising committee, and then we broke for lunch.

afternoon

First thing on afternoon we had a panel presentation and group discussion about the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act and about NWTRCC’s relationship with the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund. This was the most contentious item on the agenda, and I’m going to leave you all in suspense about it by writing it up in a future blog post all its own rather than putting it here.

After this, we broke up into smaller group sessions. In mine, a group of maybe twenty resisters just shared some of their recent experiences with resistance and with the IRS. Sharing our war stories like this is one of the best parts of these meetings, and is also a great way of keeping our fingers on the pulse of how IRS enforcement trends are changing.

I didn’t take notes during that session since it seemed to be a more-intimate sharing of personal information than the general meeting. I did write down one quote though that was too good to miss, from Clare Hanrahan: “I used to say that they could boil me in oil before I’d pay any war taxes, but now that I know that they could actually do that…”

One idea I came away with was that it would be nice to have some tips from war tax resistance veterans about how to deal with “mixed marriages” in which one partner is a resister and the other one is not. There are some tricky questions, especially when finances get tangled up together. I’m hoping, next time I have some free time, to put some time into collecting some of these stories and tips.

The next full-group session was about “organizing strategies and outreach ideas in the Obama era.” I didn’t take notes here either as I was facilitating and had to devote all of my attention to that. What I mostly recall from the discussion is that people were less interested in talking about strategies, techniques, and outreach ideas and more interested in talking about what sort of messaging we should and shouldn’t use.

Before dinner was another set of small-group breakout sessions. I joined the web team, discussing the nitty-gritty of web site maintenance and design, none of which is really worth relating here.

was our business meeting, in which decisions that require consensus approval of the coordinating committee are made, folks are rotated onto and off of the administrative committee (Erica Weiland is joining us this time), we review the budget and priorities and how the coordinator is doing, check in on the progress of ongoing projects, and plan for the next gathering.

The first half of the meeting was largely taken up by Peace Tax Fund-related discussion, which I’m holding off reporting on until a future post. For the second half, I was the facilitator and so took no notes. So you’ll just have to wait until Ruth Benn posts her meeting minutes for a full picture of what took place.


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