Extinction Rebellion Plots Tax and Debt Resistance

I’ve noted before some tantalizing hints that the Extinction Rebellion (XR) movement in the U.K. is adding tax resistance to its arsenal of conscientious objection tactics. However I’ve had some difficulty tracking down much information from XR itself on the subject. I finally stumbled on a trove, and today I’ll share some of what I found.

My first stop was this video of a talk by Gail Bradbrook on the “XR Money Rebellion” as they’re calling it. It starts off with a long discussion of the state of climate change and how the political and economic powers-that-be are not motivated to make the necessary changes to combat it. Then Bradbrook introduces the Money Rebellion idea. Excerpts:

Well, we know that nothing’s going to change just because we want it to change. What we’ve shown in Extinction Rebellion is that civil disobedience is a part of waking people up. And so Money Rebellion is a next iteration of financial civil disobedience — a route to our liberation.

Money rebellions aren’t new. We know that civil disobedience works. You had… the suffragettes had a “No Vote? No Tax!” campaign as part of their work. Gandhi led a tax campaign, a salt tax march across India. We had people refusing to pay the Poll Tax in the U.K., speaking to our history of poll tax protest in the peasants’ revolt in .

Money Rebellion is… a financial disobedience to call out an economic system that’s destroying life on earth. And it’s about mass participation, us joining in if and where we can, because we’ve seen that this can be an act of initiation, an act of inner transformation, as well as collective power. It’s our way of saying we are not going to serve it any longer.

And it is OK to not pay debt and tax under certain conditions. For example, we know that excessive debt and tax dodging — as I’ve shown in this talk — and lethal structural issues aren’t being tackled. And that tax monies get used to worsen the climate and ecological crisis. I talked about the funding of HS2, the bailouts of polluters, the subsidies given by our government to fossil fuel organizations, and the use of debt as well to worsen the climate and ecological crisis. So the financing of the destruction of communities and nature to extract resources.

What we’re talking about is the breaking of the social contract, and we need to tell the truth about that. To act responsibly, it’s not about passively sitting aside in the face of this and letting it happen on our watch. We’ve got a responsibility to intervene, a responsibility to those suffering now, to our children, to other life, and to future generations. Life on Earth is dying.

How it’s going to work? Well, in gift economics, we’ll give the money to a mental health charity, for example, instead of perhaps paying part of the tax return, if that’s what you do. Or you might give money to restore nature as a small business: instead of paying some of your small business taxes, give it to a company that’s working on the restoration of nature. Or you might give money to indigenous resistance, instead of paying money — some of your bank debt — to a bank that is funding the destruction of that indigenous community. Or you might offer to work for your local community instead of paying some of your council tax, especially if your council is doing things that are making the situation worse.

The tactics are these. We will start with so-called vanguard actions. Those of us that are willing to start this thing off with demonstrator actions — and I’ll talk about a couple of those in a moment. And then we’ll use what’s called “conditional commitment,” so “I’ll do it if others will join me”…

Tax resistance seems to be more difficult for individuals in the U.K. than the U.S. Individuals typically have pay-as-you-earn taxes withheld from their wages, but there seems to be less leeway for interrupting this withholding process there than there is in the States. There is also a value-added tax, but this is also difficult to resist. The council tax can be refused outright, and there have been many examples of people doing this for various reasons, but it doesn’t always make for the most attractive symbolic target in the XR battle.

Perhaps for these reasons, XR seems to be giving debt-resistance the top billing. The first broad-based action they’re doing is hitting the bank Barclays — “the largest U.K. financier of fossil fuels” according to a draft announcement. They plan to use Barclays credit cards and loans to give money to worthy causes, and then default on that debt — thereby “making donations on behalf of Barclays Bank.” Alongside that they’re encouraging small businesses to withhold a token amount of their taxes and put that amount in an escrow/redirection account.

Here’s a FAQ on the Money Rebellion campaign. Sample:

Why is it necessary for rebels who can, to make acts of tax civil disobedience?

“Tax rebellion” captures the spirit of a defiant act, for people who also believe in the social value of taxation.

Tax strikes happened during Thatcher’s Poll Tax implementation attempts. Here, the deliberate non-payment of tax by activists, combined with the protection of those striking against bailiffs, was a key part in resistance against government oppression using this regressive tax.

The government gets its power from taxation and a tax-strike strikes at the heart of the relationship between the government and the governed. A tax strike is the perfect response to the Government’s abandonment of its fundamental responsibility to protect people and life and the consequent breakdown of the social contract.

They have what they call “rebel ringers” — volunteers who do one-on-one counseling with people who want to join the campaign and have questions about how to go about it. And they’ve created a legal toolkit that explains the logistics. They’ve done a little work studying the history of tax resistance as well, with a nod to my book We Won’t Pay! in their material.

They’re also working on the wording of their “conditional commitment” tax strike pledge, the idea being that if 10,000 people sign it, it goes into effect and the tax strike begins.