U.S. War Tax Resisters Gather in Tucson

The Spring 2010 national NWTRCC gathering in Tucson, Arizona has been, as usual, a fruitful mix of experienced war tax resistance veterans and enthusiastic, curious, and somewhat uncertain newbies.

The agenda was less heavy this time than in the recent past — no contentious issues like the Peace Tax Fund Bill to worry us, and an improving budget situation. This left us plenty of time both to talk shop and to learn from local activists about their areas of expertise.


night we viewed the new war tax resistance film Death & Taxes and heard from Steev Hise, who directed the lion’s share of the filming and gave us some insight into the process, and from a couple of us who were in the film.

Film sales have exceeded our yearly projections already, half-way through the year, and everyone seems to report that the film is effective in spurring enthusiasm for and curiosity about war tax resistance.


The meeting began, as such meetings often do, with a go-around-the-circle round of introductions. This also included updates about what local war tax resistance and other activists have been up to in recent months.

Erica Weiland addresses the meeting

Clare Hanrahan and Coleman Smith reported on their successful south-east regional war tax resistance gathering that was held at the beginning of the year. The opening of a new regional gathering (there’s a well-established one in New England already) was a priority for NWTRCC and so we were pleased to hear both that this meeting went well and that the organizers plan to make it an ongoing thing.

A number of people reported that their local groups were smaller and less-active this year than in the recent past. Most attributed this to the general dip in progressive activism during the Obama-sedation period, with some saying that they’ve noticed progressive activists so eager to distinguish themselves from TEA Party activists that they don’t want to associate themselves with a group whose focus is on tax resistance and they meet our message with more than the usual reluctance and defensiveness.

Still, there were the usual penny polls, literature tables, redirection granting ceremonies, and rallies on Tax Day this year, competing with dwindling but still sizable TEA Party crowds (that sometimes dilute our message and other times provide a media springboard for it).

The Nuclear Resister

Jack and Felice Cohen-Joppa, who edit The Nuclear Resister, were our hosts and local organizers in Tucson. Their newsletter covers and organizes support for imprisoned anti-war / anti-nuke civil disobedients, including the occasional war tax resister.

They spoke about their work and about anti-nuclear activism in general, such as the actions coordinated by an international coalition to focus on the 40th anniversary of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. Opposition to nuclear power has been on the wane, both because few new nuclear power plants have started in the United States recently, and because nuclear power has been greenwashed as a potential solution for global warming and other consequences of hydrocarbon fuel. Jack thinks the greenwashing is hooey, that nuclear power — seen over its whole lifecycle — is neither energy efficient nor emissions-friendly, and that the nuclear power industry is tightly linked with nuclear weapons and that the real reason we have a nuclear power industry has much less to do with electricity than with maintaining an infrastructure, knowledge-base, and the raw materials for a perpetual nuclear arsenal.

There was also some discussion of the campaign to divest from Israel, modeled on the anti-apartheid divestment campaign directed against South Africa.

Border activism

If you’ve been following the news recently, you’ll know that government harassment of immigrants is a big issue in Arizona right now, as the state government just enacted legislation that it promises will usher in a more draconian crackdown on illegal immigrants. There have been calls to boycott the state, and so there was some embarrassment that our group had decided to go through with its meeting here.

On the other hand, we met in part, and many of us stayed the night during our stay, at BorderLinks, a group that specializes in ameliorating the effects of government policy in this area. So we helped to support this work, a bit anyway, by our housing fees. BorderLinks, at least, was glad we didn’t cancel our conference.

Reviewing a map of recent deaths of immigrants in the desert near the Arizona/Mexico border

This also gave us an opportunity to learn from local border-issues activists, who had no difficulty pointing out both the close relation between our groups (a number of border-issues activists are also war tax resisters), and that because of the increasing militarization of border enforcement, war tax resistance is directly applicable to their struggle.

The repulsive border wall, and increased border patrol enforcement in general, have not stopped people from crossing the border, but have merely forced the immigrant trails to be more arduous. Crossing the border has become more deadly as the safer routes become more difficult to pass. Humanitarian groups have responded to the crisis by trying to put bottled-water and first aid stations along the newer routes, actively patrolling to come to the aid of people who are lost, injured, or dehydrated, and setting up desert camps where people can stop along the way. Such efforts are, naturally, subject to sporadic government harassment.

What of the TEA Party?

afternoon I ran a War Tax Resistance 101 workshop for people who were just getting their feet wet or who were preparing to take the plunge. This group was eager and enthusiastic going in, and, I think, came out of the workshop even more so, and with some more practical pointers on how to take the next step, whichever step that is for them.

The afternoon session ended with a group brainstorm about the relationship between organized war tax resistance groups like ours and the TEA Party movement.

Ruth Benn addresses the gathering

Some of us see the TEA Party as an embarrassing distraction on Tax Day, and think it is important that we clearly distinguish our message from theirs so that war tax resistance doesn’t get confused in the public eye as some sort of TEA Party variant.

Others felt that there is enough common ground between war tax resisters and some portion of the TEA Partiers that we might be well-served by trying to do some outreach, which might hold the hope of introducing the tactic of war tax resistance to antimilitarist libertarians, isolationist paleoconservatives, and the other radical government skeptics who make up one tendency in the TEA Party. For instance, Joffre Stewart reported having recruited a new phone tax resister from within the TEA Party ranks at one of their rallies.