Zenya Wild Reports from the Corner/Kehler House Siege

The edition of the Wendell Post included a letter to the editor from Zenya Wild, who was participating in the Colrain occupation of the home of war tax resisters Betsy Corner and Randy Kehler, which had been seized by the IRS:

I sit in the little house on Shelburne Line Road in Colrain, thinking of the changes the past few months have brought about in my life. When Betsy’s and Randy’s house was seized by the IRS, I faced the decision of whether to volunteer to take my turn house-sitting until they returned. I had not paid federal taxes myself for several years but I had been very quiet about it. It was a protest, and certainly one of value, since at least no part of the tiny amount of money I make was circulated through the military. But I think all along I knew that it was incomplete for me. Something held me back from more active protest.

The first decision to occupy was an enormous one. For weeks I thought about the risks to myself and my family. I played out worst-case scenarios in my head. I thought about what effect my political work would have on the work I do for Wendell. And I thought about all the people who died in the Gulf War, who are still not counted as casualties by our government. Especially I thought about all the children who are continuing to die in Iraq. In the end, frightened or not, I decided I needed to take the step of occupying the house, and I needed to accept whatever degree of publicity that that action brought with it.

So when the time came around again for the Wendell group to occupy the house, I thought I would once again agonize over the right thing to do. I was in for some surprises. One was that this time the decision was easy. Once one decides that it is wrong to travel to foreign countries and hurt people, many things fall into place. Life becomes very simple. And that is the second and most delightful surprise. Against the clarity of conscience, many other complexities of this modern life become simple. It becomes an exhilarating exercise in personal authenticity to weigh everything against the standard of whether it is or it is not in line with what I know to be right, and whether it furthers or hinders my ability to live and speak according to my conscience. How about ownership of land? Ownership of animals? Cars? Parenting? Use of electricity? Gardening? My computer? Many things are in question, and changing, and I have never felt so alive. The simple act of tax refusal is teaching me in midlife so much about how to live.

The crisis that led to Bangladesh’s independence from Pakistan began as a mass civil disobedience campaign that included tax resistance. The following quotes come from Zillur R. Khan’s “March Movement of Bangladesh: Bengali Struggle for Political Power” (The Indian Journal of Political Science, volume 33, number 3, ):

The climax of Martial Law disobedience was reached when the TV news said that Sheikh Mujib [Mujibur Rahman] in the Public Meeting [on ] had asked the 75 million Bengalis to refrain from paying taxes, cooperating with the government, and obeying government rules until their demands were met and their rightful place given.”

Sheikh Mujib reiterated this call to tax resistance in his famed speech.

The no-tax directive of the Sheikh was followed so vigorously by both individuals and organizations that no one gave any taxes and no organization dared charge any. Even the two posh hotels of Dacca became accessible to middle income people when food prices were drastically reduced for non-collection of taxes. [A newly imposed ‘Hotel Tax’ of 23 percent was not charged for a few days…] The whole Income Tax Department was closed down making it quite impossible for the central government to assess and collect direct taxes from individuals and corporations.

Sheikh Mujibur Rahman subsequently revised his no-tax directive and made the taxes payable not to any central government, but to two Bengali banks of Bangladesh and Bengali manufacturers, sellers, and importers followed this directive.