War Tax Resistance in the Friends Journal in 1991

War tax resistance in the Friends Journal in

War tax resistance had largely retreated into the back pages of the Friends Journal by . Why this should be, I don’t know. Perhaps the winding down of the cold war made the issue seem less crucial, or perhaps the momentum from the Vietnam War era war tax resistance surge had finally sputtered to a halt, or maybe it was just a feeling that the issue had been discussed to an impasse and readers were fatigued and eager to move on to another topic, or it could be that the “peace tax fund” campaign had convinced people that the dilemma of Quakers paying for war would soon be a thing of the past.

The issue briefly noted the publication of a new NWTRCC practical war tax resistance pamphlet “on how to prevent withholding of tax from wages.”

Frances S. Eliot penned an article for the issue that described a tax day vigil in Ann Arbor, Michigan:

Holy Week at the IRS

During and since the Vietnam War, war tax dissidents in Ann Arbor, Michigan have held vigils on April 15 from 8 p.m. to midnight, with leaflets, posters, and banners, outside the main post office, which stayed open to postmark last-minute income tax returns. The weather was frequently dark, cold, and sleeting; but through the years, public response became less hostile and more favorable. We usually got a photo and brief paragraph in the local newspaper.

In , a small circle of us decided to upgrade our customary tax day witness. We were inspired by the success of the War Resisters League in establishing the right to leaflet within New York City IRS offices; we were encouraged by growth of local peace groups and nonviolent direct actions; and the fact that Easter fell on , presented a symbolic opportunity we couldn’t resist.

Our immediate goals were to provide taxpayers with information about the federal budget and its military portion, and to offer alternatives, all at a time and place that would permit genuine discussion of concerns. We planned to distribute leaflets advocating the U.S. Peace Tax Fund Bill, which would establish conscientious objection for taxpayers.

We changed the location of our action from the post office, where we’d had official permission and friendly cooperation, to the Ann Arbor IRS office, located in a privately-owned office complex. We had previously been excluded from this building, grounds, and parking lot by the building management. We decided to offer information and to talk with taxpayers during business hours of Holy Week, and again on , the actual tax deadline.

Three tasks followed: First, we needed to pursue the application-for-permit procedure required by the General Services Administration for activities in/on federal property. Jurisdiction is fuzzy: is GSA, IRS, or the building management in charge? The ensuing communication with the Detroit GSA and IRS offices unrolled like a script by Lewis Carroll and Franz Kafka. On the advice of a local ACLU lawyer, I kept detailed records.

Second, we tried to assess the possible risks and penalties of our witness, in case a permit were not granted. Again, who was in charge — Ann Arbor city police? county sheriffs deputies? federal marshals? Richard Cleaver, AFSC Peace Education secretary, gave us an evening of training in nonviolent civil disobedience.

Third, we recruited enough people to keep the leafleting going, two or three volunteers at a time, four hours a day, even if there were to be arrests. (In such case our goals would expand from war-tax resistance to include First Amendment rights.)

, I dumped everything unnecessary from my purse and pockets, and caught the bus out to the IRS office. I had barely spoken a few words and handed a Peace Tax Fund leaflet to a woman waiting to see an IRS consultant, when an IRS officer came out of an inner office and said we absolutely could not be permitted to distribute leaflets or initiate conversations with taxpayers in the reception area.

I explained that I’d been trying to get the necessary permit, had complied with all GSA requirements, responded to GSA’s objections, filed an amended application, and still had received no definitive response. The officer, without comment, offered an attractive solution, which he had cleared with the building management: So long as we did not obstruct or harass persons entering and leaving the IRS office, we could leaflet and converse with them in the corridor immediately outside the office door.

We accepted the offer. During this busy tax season, a rack of the standard IRS forms had been moved into the corridor for the convenience of taxpayers who only needed to pick up forms. The corridor area was thus functioning as a temporary extension of the IRS office and was a logical and appropriate place for us to offer additional information on where tax dollars go and what can be done about it. In whatever way a deal had been made between IRS and the building management, it was a neat example of creative conflict resolution. All of us were spared six days of possible arrests — which no one wanted — but which we were prepared for.

Holy Week, Easter, and Tax Day came and went. We had lots of interesting conversations, plus some mutually respectful arguments, with taxpayers. The Ann Arbor News carried a picture of the leafleting, and a good article on the Peace Tax Fund Bill.


That was then… this is now. We have taken a few breaths of post-Cold War fresh air, only to be propelled into a hot war in the Middle East. Opinions are increasingly polarized. However, on the assumption that the local IRS and its building management will continue their spirit of cooperation, we will proceed with plans for a week-long witness for taxes for peace.

Stay tuned!

Another note in that issue announced an “Alternative Revenue Service organizing kit” put out jointly by NWTRCC, the War Resisters League, and the Conscience and Military Tax Campaign, and designed to facilitate “immediate action to oppose the war machine that survives on our tax money.”

[The] kit provides a 1990 EZ Peace Income Tax Form, action ideas, an explanatory brochure, a camera-ready flyer and ads, background papers, and a resource list. The EZ Peace Income Tax Form is a take-off on IRS’s 1040EZ form. The alternative form begins with a section in which the taxpayer figures the amount of his or her taxes that will go toward military spending. It then offers a choice of areas in which the money might be re-directed, such as education and culture, international conflict resolution, human resources, environment, or justice. The form provides a space in which to choose an amount to withhold from the IRS, from $1 to the full amount of income taxes. The forms are to be filled out and mailed to the IRS, with one’s income tax return, to Congressional representatives and senators, to organizers of the campaign, and to friends and neighbors.

A book review in the issue mentioned Milton Mayer’s war tax resistance:

Milton Mayer refused to kill and refused to pay others to do what he would not do himself. He recognized the futility of withholding his taxes from war expenditures, but argued that “the inevitability of any evil is not the point. The point is my subornation of it.” Knowing that the government would ultimately force him to pay war taxes, Mayer defended his integrity: “If a robber ties me up and robs me, I have not become a robber.”

That issue also announced that a “Peace Taxpayers Newsletter” was being published out of Nellysford, Virginia, covering “subjects of interest to war tax resisters and others concerned with the tax money that supports military efforts. A recent issue describes how some people in Virginia are redirecting their federal taxes toward their local government to finance a much-needed waste management system. The newsletter is available for no charge, although the group asks for donations to help cover postage.”

The issue announced a new pamphlet — Peace and Taxes… God and Country — written by Chel Avery for the War Tax Concerns Support Committee of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting. “[It] has many helpful suggestions for the structure, content, and process of a clearness meeting for individuals considering war tax refusal. The financial, legal, and emotional ramifications to the individual, the individual’s family, and meeting are discussed and listed for easy reference.”

And that’s about it for , except for some minor asides or references to activities of the war tax resistance movement scattered here and there.