War Tax Resisters George & Lillian Willoughby

Chapter 36 of Elizabeth McGuinness’s People Waging Peace: stories of Americans striving for peace and justice in the world today concerns war tax resisters George & Lillian Willoughby. Here are some excerpts from that chapter:

[I]n the mid-60s, when all four of their children were going to college, the couple took money-making more seriously and started to feel the government’s sticky fingers reaching into their paychecks. That’s when Lillian called a halt: “I quit paying taxes — and I mean all taxes — because I was not about to support the old men’s dreams.” The old men, she said, were those who were foisting things like military buildups, selective service, and governmental secrecy upon the nation. Lillian Willoughby wasn’t having any of it.

George was right with her. It’s a “myth,” he said, recalling those days, “that you can’t do anything, that it’s impossible and you’re trapped. This is the kind of slavery, kind of servitude you get into. We allow ourselves to be enslaved by these shibboleths, these rules laid down on us. You don’t need bars and whips to keep people in line; you just need ideas!” Neither Willoughby bows willingly to such regimentation.

Although tax resistance has been just one part of the Willoughbys’ personal protest to the nation’s military involvement, they did make some fundamental life changes which helped to avoid the tax man. Lillian, who was working as a dietitian in the mid ’60s, changed her job status from employee to consultant, thus avoiding automatic deductions. In later years, when the children were through school, the couple reduced their income so no taxes were due; now retired, they live on Social Security. Recently they gave their home and land in nearby Deptford, N.J., to a land trust, so they no longer own property. And they “rent” a car from a friend for $1 a year, remembering an earlier time when the IRS “collected” their VW bug because the couple refused to pay their telephone tax.

McGuinness next describes some of the couple’s other history in anti-war activism, including George’s conscientious objector status during World War Ⅱ and later work with the American Friends Service Committee, Lillian’s work with war refugees and her civil disobedience action at the Nevada nuclear weapons testing grounds in , George’s participation in the sailing of the Golden Rule to the South Pacific nuclear testing area, Lillian’s participation in a multi-day sit-in at the Atomic Energy Commission, George’s participation in the San Francisco to Moscow peace march and then in another from New Delhi that was stopped before it could continue to Beijing, and the couple’s involvement in the Movement for a New Society network. These are briefly described, among several other examples of determined direct action.

At the time the book was published, George was secretary of Peace Brigades International, and Lillian was “helping plan a nonviolence and feminist conference.” The chapter opens with the couple going to a tax day protest, which the plays out later in the chapter:

George and Lillian Willoughby have proceeded with the other tax protestors to City Hall. TV crews, radio and newspaper reporters move among the group; photographers and cameramen take pictures of the Halloween-masked “Ronald Reagan” and the gray-faced, khaki-clad “contra” taking part in a bit of street theater. The audience is led through tax-protester parodies of well-known songs.

Lillian is among the speakers here, telling how, back in the ’40s, she refused to buy War Bonds, although her employer was pressuring for 100% employee participation; how she stopped paying taxes in the ’60s; how she and George turned their property into a land trust. She invites anyone interested in details to see her. But, Lillian said privately, she would never tell anyone to totally stop paying taxes as she did: “We figure we just raise people’s consciousness; they have to figure out what they’re going to do themselves.”