How to Respond When They Arrest a Tax Resisting Comrade

There are many ways to support tax resisters when they are targeted by the police or courts, including:

  1. supporting the families of imprisoned resisters (see The Picket Line for )
  2. accompanying resisters to and from prison and visiting them while inside (see The Picket Line for )
  3. holding rallies outside the courthouse or prison (see The Picket Line for )
  4. attending their trials (see The Picket Line for )
  5. assisting their legal defense (see The Picket Line for )
  6. disrupting the trials or breaking resisters out of prison (see The Picket Line for )
  7. paying their legal fees or their fines for them (see The Picket Line for )

Today I’ll finish off this series by mentioning some other examples of ways sympathizers, supporters, and organized campaigns have responded to the arrest, trial, or imprisonment of tax resisters.

Mass action in response to arrests

  • When elderly pensioner Sylvia Hardy was imprisoned for refusing to continue to pay her ever-rising council tax, supporters started a daily vigil outside Exeter Cathedral to bring attention to her plight. “Judging from the passers-by,” one said, “most people are fully aware of what’s happened to her and we’ve had a lot of sympathy and interest.”
  • When Australian miners refused to pay a license tax in , they resolved that if any one of them were arrested: “it should be reported to the [tax resistance] committee by the nearest observer; they would immediately call a monster meeting, and the whole of the people would deliver themselves into custody.”
  • In , Australian miners were at it again, this time resisting the income tax. They voted on a resolution that said, in part, that upon “any member being sent to prison for refusing to pay, that all unionists be called on immediately to stop work, and refuse to recommence until such member is released, or the garnished money is refunded.”
  • In Beidenfleth, Germany, between the World Wars, farmers were unable to keep up with their tax payments, and decided to strike rather than see themselves further impoverished. When fifty-seven were indicted for interfering with a tax seizure, hundreds of others who either had been involved with that action (or who wished they could have been), demanded to be tried alongside them:

    [A] fever seemed to grip the countryside. From far and wide the peasants poured into Itzehoe, where the case was to be tried, with wild cries of self-accusation. The public prosecutor could not walk down the streets without being at once mobbed by powerful, earnest men begging him to lift the heavy weight of guilt from their shoulders and to restore their inner peace of mind by issuing a writ against them.

Honor prisoners

  • While people were desperately trying to get themselves indicted for tax resistance in Beidenfleth, those who succeeded were honored:

    The Beidenfleth Heifer Case developed into a regular popular festival. Maidenly hands strung garlands about the necks of those enviable peasants who had achieved the honour of receiving a writ.

  • I’ve mentioned before the badges awarded by the Women’s Tax Resistance League to those who had gone to prison in the course of the campaign, and how those so awarded were given the place of honor at campaign events (see The Picket Line for ). It was also common for the League to throw luncheons or other such events to honor imprisoned resisters upon their release.
  • The annuity tax resisters in Edinburgh, Scotland, honored one imprisoned resister with “a piece of plate for his conduct on this occasion.” Another time, they passed the hat for contributions, which, when the money was given to resister Thomas Russell, he said: “We shall give it to the Annuity Tax League, to enable them to carry out their operations in the abolishment of the tax.”
  • A plaque on the Cass County, Missouri courthouse building honors the five county judges who were imprisoned for contempt for refusing to order the county to collect taxes to pay off fraudulent railroad bonds .

Formal shows of support

  • When John Brown Smith, a lone Christian anarchist tax resister who was imprisoned for tax resistance for about a year , a convention of “Liberalists” in Boston passed a resolution in support of Smith’s stand, saying: “That in suffering eight months’ imprisonment in the orthodox Republican hell of Northampton, rather than pay his taxes, John Brown Smith has shown discerning wisdom and invincible courage, which place him high among the world’s benefactors, and disclose a practical way to vanquish sanguinary forces without shedding innocent or vicious blood.”
  • One of the Cass County judges who went to jail for refusing to obey a higher court order to impose taxes on the county to pay for fraudulent railroad bonds, was elected to the state legislature by the citizens of the county while he was in prison.
  • When war tax resister Zerah C. Whipple was in jail for his stand, the Connecticut State Peace Society passed a series of resolutions in support. For example: “Resolved: That it is a great, previous, and sanctifying privilege of us all, to feel that in his bonds we are bound with him, and to pour our heart’s holiest sympathies into his cup of trial.”
  • The Women’s Tax Resistance League and allied organizations would pass resolutions in support of imprisoned resisters, send telegrams of congratulation to resisters who were being jailed for the cause, and hold meetings to especially commemorate and support their stand.

Petition the government for leniency

  • When a number of young Quaker men were imprisoned for failure to pay a militia exemption tax in , David Cooper followed them to jail, and met with the officers who were holding them captive. He wrote:

    I had much conversation with them; they appeared very moderate, but were very earnest for me to pay the fine, and not suffer our sons to be committed to prison. I told them they were aware that our religious principles forbade it; the young men were in their possession, and I had no desire to persuade them to deviate from what they believed their duty as officers required; but only wished them to use their power in a manner that would afford peace hereafter. It was a matter of conscience; they ought therefore to be very tender, and not use rigor. If they were committed I saw no end. They could never pay the fines without wounding their own minds, nor could their friends do it for them. They appeared friendly, and the young men being under the Sheriff’s care, he directed them to go home, and meet him at Woodbury at an appointed day. He afterwards sent them word they need give themselves no further trouble till he called for them. So the matter rested.

  • The Women’s Tax Resistance League would write letters of inquiry to government officials whenever one of them was imprisoned. For instance, when Kate Harvey was jailed, Charlotte Despard wrote to her representative in Parliament to point out the discrepancy between her cruel sentence and the wrist-slaps given to men for similar offenses. “I cannot believe, sir,” she wrote, “that you will permit this injustice to be done. … Mrs. Harvey is one whose time, service and money are given to the rescue of little destitute children, and to the help of those not so fortunately placed as herself. While such injustices as these are permitted by the authorities, can you wonder that women are in revolt?” League member Marie Lawson started what she called a “snowball” protest — a sort of chain letter that sympathizers were supposed to send to their friends that included a postcard-sized petition they could send to various government figures.
  • When American war tax resister Maurice McCracken was imprisoned, supporters sent a telegram to President Eisenbower, asking him to release the prisoner (they got a vague, noncommittal reply).
  • Somewhat related to this is that when the American Revolution broke out, one item on the agenda of the revolutionaries from North Carolina was the legal rehabilitation of the tax rebels who had been convicted at the end of the Regulator movement of .