War Tax Resister Juanita Nelson

The Greenfield, Massachusetts Recorder published a profile of Juanita Nelson, who stopped paying federal income tax .

Some excerpts:

Recovering from a stroke… she was relaxing recently in the apartment of a Turners Falls friend with whom she’s been staying, reflecting on the coming Winter Fare and on a recent 22nd annual conference of the Pioneer Valley War Tax Resisters, which she co-founded, and how it’s all part of a whole.

“It’s all connected,” said Nelson, who since moving with her husband, Wally, to Deerfield’s Woolman Hill in , has lived simply and peacefully. She and her husband, who died in at age 93, stopped paying federal income taxes because of their opposition to war.

“While the seat of government is in Washington, the seat of conscience is in me.” ―Juanita Nelson

It was on assignment [as a reporter with The Cleveland Call and Post] that she met her future husband, who’d been raised in Arkansas, worked in Cincinnati and Chicago and had declared himself a conscientious objector during World War Ⅱ. She interviewed him at the Cuyahoga County Jail, where he was jailed for about a year after walking out of a Civilian Public Service Camp that felt like “slave labor.”

Nelson, who never thought before about war and had even briefly considered joining the Women’s Army Corps during World War Ⅱ, said, “I was intrigued immediately. You ask, ‘What would you do if somebody was going to kill you?’ Wally said, ‘I’d try to protect myself by putting my hands over my face.’ In the end, I couldn’t see that my life was worth more than somebody else’s. It just spoke to me.”

Nelson, whose short hair is just turning gray, recalled, “Wally had been in prison. It didn’t seem to be making any sense whatever to be paying for something you were so much against.”

Living in Philadelphia, where they joined with the fledgling war-tax refusal movement, “We still felt we were so entangled in a system that called for war, we wanted to go further and get more out of the system.”

The couple moved in to a small town in New Mexico, where they made friends with Randy Kehler, a conscientious objector who was moving to Deerfield to teach at an alternative school at Woolman Hill.

He invited them to farm there, and in , the Nelsons arrived to become homesteaders. Juanita was 15 years younger than Wally, who was 65 at the time. He recalled staying at Greenfield’s Weldon Hotel years earlier while working as a salesman for the Antioch Book Plate Co.

They moved an old four-room house to the Quaker-owned Deerfield site where they set up a three-quarter-acre garden, “The Bean Patch,” from which they sold vegetables at the Greenfield Farmers Market.

To this day, she laughs as she tells people, “I have running-in water, running-up water and running-out water” in the house — literally carrying buckets from the well, running up the stairs and pouring them into a can that drains to a downstairs sink and eventually an outside barrel.

Particularly since the death of her husband, who cut, split and stacked their wood, Nelson has depended increasingly on friends to bring wood, and occasionally water and vegetables, to supplement the garden that’s also supplied their food.

Nelson makes clear she’s not trying to prove anything to anyone by the simplicity of her life, and is amused by people who ask, “How can you live like that?” and adds, “I don’t appreciate being put up on a pedestal; that’s almost like an excuse. Until I had the stroke, I could still get my water and things.”

Eveline MacDougall of Greenfield, who first met the Nelsons 23 years ago, called her “the most practical person I’ve ever met, on a day-to-day, minute-to-minute level. She seems to have a singleness of purpose that’s been very impressive for me. She lives it, instead of just talking about it.

“First and foremost for her seems to be putting it into action,” MacDougall added, “It’s really grounded. There’s no enshrining. Instead of a lifestyle, it’s a life.”

“…mainly I’m concerned about what I do,” [Nelson] said. “Living simply is almost like an umbrella that can cover everything. You have to believe in it and feel it. I’m so far away from what I’d like to be, but just talking about stuff doesn’t do it for me.”

I also profiled Juanita & Wally Nelson back in .

Juanita Nelson’s championing of Winter Fare (a farmers’ market with a local food focus) reminded me that I’d been meaning to post something or other about The Omnivore’s Dilemma, a book I finished recently and really enjoyed.

The author, Michael Pollan, vividly describes how government intervention — both direct subsidies and regulation-based barriers to entry — in favor of corn production, petrochemicals, and mass production facilities, have artificially distorted what sort of food most of us eat.

All this time I figured that the reason “organic” “grass fed” “free range” stuff was so pricey was because it was inherently more difficult and expensive to raise and because it was marketed as a prestige boutique conspicuous consumption sort of item. (A friend of mine recently bragged about getting “a whole free range organic unionized pro-choice local lesbian chicken” at Trader Joe’s.)

Now I learn that a big part of the reason that antibiotic-flooded, pesticide-enriched, corn-fed, neoconservative, SUV-driving meat is so cheap is that a big hunk of its costs are being paid indirectly with tax dollars instead of directly by the producers and consumers. (Something like 40–50% of what a U.S. farmer gets for a corn crop, for instance, is a direct government subsidy to the farmer, according to Pollan.)

My live-on-the-cheap method of tax resistance has made me put a lot of thought into how to stretch my food dollar. Mostly this has meant preparing our own meals rather than eating out. But it also means that I look for food bargains — which, for me, has meant not asking too many questions about where that chicken came from or what its politics were.

Now I’m starting to wonder if that’s such a hot idea.

My sweetie and I are signing up for a local community-supported agriculture group that promises to haul into The City for us locally-grown organic produce & eggs, grassfed beef, and the like.

It looks to be pricier than what I’m used to, so I’ll have to double-check the budget and make sure I’m still in good shape there. But I like the idea of shifting my support to a less-government-dependent form of agriculture (and one that’s probably healthier — to consumers, farm workers, farm animals, and to the environment in general). And if the “peak oil” crowd is right, local organic food is how we’re all going to need to be eating before long, so I’m just getting the jump.