Co-ops and Communes for, by, and of Tax Resisters

Occasionally, tax resisters will join forces to form cooperative housing or business relationships that help to facilitate their resistance. This is most often found among war tax resisters, for whom resistance is an ongoing commitment rather than a protest or rebellion against a particular government or policy. Today I’ll summarize some examples of this that I have encountered in my research.

Bijou Community

Evan Weissman wrote up some thoughts about the Bijou Community:

The Bijou community of Colorado Springs, Colorado is a living example of nonviolent community resistance in the “belly of the beast” of right-wing military and Christian extremism.

The members of this community live below a taxable income level so that they don’t pay for war.

In addition to ongoing bannering and civil disobedience at some of the 5 major military institutions in the area, the Bijou community runs services for the mentally-ill, homeless, working poor, incarcerated, and the general community including: a soup kitchen, food banks, a land trust, several homes for transitional and homeless folks, a free bicycle clinic, and a musical theater group.

The Agape Community

The Agape Community was founded in by a group of Catholics who wanted to live closer to the ideal of Christian community they found in the Bible. Among the founders were tax resisters Brayton & Suzanne Shanley and Emmanuel Charles McCarthy. They formed the community in such a way that it could support itself with members earning less than a taxable income, for example by being able to grow their own food. The Shanleys have stayed with the two-house community since its founding, and it has had dozens of more transient residents through the years. The community hosts speakers and workshops on nonviolence and related topics.

The Whiteway Colony

A group of Tolstoyans made a go of creating a colony based on their interpretation of Tolstoy’s Christian anarchism, which included tax resistance, and was eventually the home to forty people. The land was operated by a committee headed by noted Tolstoyan (and Tolstoy translator) Aylmer Maude, and this committee held the land in trust, while allowing anyone to settle on and work the land, with the understanding that nobody would own any of it except by virtue of being engaged in occupying and working on it. (The Whiteway community still exists, but has abandoned the more radical communal-ownership principles — today the land is communally owned, but the homes on it are bought and sold as private property.)

Possibility Alliance

The Possibility Alliance farm is a simple-living showcase guided by the following five principles: radical simplicity, service, social activism, inner work, and gratitude. It hosts free skills-share classes and a group called the Superheroes who dress up like caped crusaders and bike out to do good deeds here and there. The founders are war tax resisters who resist by maintaining a very low (sub-poverty line) income.

Joanne Sheehan

When the Hartford Courant profiled war tax resisters Anna Aschenbach and Joanne Sheehan, who have been resisting taxes since the Vietnam War, it noted Sheehan’s participation in cooperative projects as being helpful to her resistance:

Along with her partner, who’s also a tax resister, Sheehan raised two kids with a family income of about $24,000. Now that their children are grown, and can no longer be claimed as deductions, each earns less than about $8,000 a year in order to keep from paying taxes. They’ve lived in collectives and communes much of the time, sharing living expenses with other resisters. They practice “radical simplicity” by going “back to basics” — doing things like hanging clothes instead of using a dryer, not going to restaurants or buying pre-packaged foods.

“Land League Villages”

During the rent strike that the National Land League organized against English absentee landlords in Ireland, when landlords were successful in evicting tenants who refused to pay rent, the League would try to find them (and sometimes their livestock) a temporary home on the land of someone who was sympathetic with the resisters. These might grow to hold several families and were sometimes called “Land League Villages.”

Amish Milk Cooperatives

The cooperatives used by Amish communities to process and package milk turned out to be useful also when the Amish began resisting the then-new social security taxes (they believed the social security program would require them to violate principles of their faith, and after many years of resistance, they won a legal exemption from the program). The government tried to levy the checks that the cooperative wrote to pay those of its milk suppliers who were resisting the tax, but the responsible officials of the cooperative refused to sign the checks.

Peacemakers

The “Peacemakers” group that pioneered the modern American war tax resistance movement had a communal-living facet from the beginning. Robert Cooney & Helen Michalowski report in their book The Power of the People: Active Nonviolence in the United States:

Peacemakers attempted to build a decentralized and self-disciplined movement which stressed local initiative and group coordination along the lines of the nonviolent revolutionary movement in India. Emphasis was put on building intentional communities which practiced communal living. “Groups or cells are the real basis of the movement,” Peacemakers announced, “for this is not an attempt to organize another pacifist membership organization, which one joins by signing a statement or paying a membership fee.” Instead, Peacemakers emphasized a living program which included resistance to the draft and war taxes, personal transformation, and group participation in work for political and economic democracy.

Peacemakers at the Ohio cell organized a land trust to remove property from the market place…

Juanita and Wally Nelson, founding members of Peacemakers, and war tax resisters Betsy Corner, Randy Kehler, and Bob Bady were among the organizers of the Valley Community Land Trust. The trust resisted IRS attempts to seize the Corner/Kehler home for back taxes, and helped to get their home returned to them.

Art Harvey’s farm

Dorothy Day visited Art Harvey’s farm in and described it this way:

He carries on a practical application of Karl Meyer’s tax refusal… by having teams of workers in orchards where they prune trees, harvest apples and later blueberries and work seven months of the year. They work and live in a style which frees them from the payment of taxes for war. Perhaps about a hundred are engaged in this way of life, which results usually in some settling in communities of the moshavim variety, each having some small acreage and a house built by themselves. Considering the New England climate, no small achievement! It certainly means an emphasis on the ascetic, on sacrifice.

Peter Maurin Farm

Peter Maurin Farm is a Catholic Worker project — a “hospitality house on the land” near Manhattan that also grows food for the urban hospitality houses. Many of those involved in the project were conscientious objectors, and appreciated being able to be part of a self-supporting project that required its volunteers to earn little or no taxable income and so enabled them to stay under the tax line.

Collective Impressions

War tax resister Ed Guinan created a business to help facilitate the tax resistance of its employees. One news profile described it this way:

[I]n Washington, D.C., is another group of tax resisters who have formed a nonprofit cooperative print shop and who refuse to send their taxes to the IRS. Ed Guinan is a priest and the coordinator of the shop, called Collective Impressions. A year and a half ago Guinan and his colleagues decided to continue paying social security taxes but to send their withholding taxes to the U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency.

“Every quarter, when taxes are due, we send a check to the Arms Control Agency,” Guinan says. “They return it with a polite note saying that they cannot accept it, and we put it into a tax escrow account which cannot be used for normal business expenses.” Collective Impressions owes only $500 per quarter to the IRS, but Guinan and his coworkers believe they are making an effective protest against U.S. military spending policies.

Restored Israel of Yahweh

Similarly, members of the small religious group called the Restored Israel of Yahweh formed a small construction business and helped those of its employees who were also members of the group to resist their taxes — eventually facing criminal tax evasion convictions for this.

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