I’m fresh back from the NWTRCC national conference, which was held in Eugene, Oregon, and hosted by the enthusiastic and welcoming Eugene “Taxes for Peace Not War” group.
I’ve got a binder full of handouts and hastily-scratched notes that I took whenever I found a spare moment. Today I’ll share some of my impressions of the gathering and of the current state of the war tax resistance movement.
- Many of the attendees were concerned about the IRS being more aggressive in sending out notices of “frivolous filing” penalties to resisters who send letters of protest that explain their refusal to pay along with their tax returns.
- One couple who were first-time resisters and had only refused to pay a token $50 last year were assessed “frivolous filing” penalties of $5,000 — each, even though they had filed a single return jointly — though they had filled out their return accurately and completely. The IRS also insists that once they have assessed a “frivolous filing” penalty, you must pay that penalty before you can appeal it!
- The law seems pretty clear that the “frivolous filing” penalty is only meant to apply if the tax return is incomplete or incorrect, but the IRS seems to be applying it haphazardly — not only to people who file complete and accurate returns but who refuse to pay some portion, but even to people who file and pay every cent but who merely inclose a letter registering their protest or disapproval!
- Meanwhile, other resisters — including one who files a return every year with her social security number at the top but with none of the other required information, and with the 1040 form over-written with a protest message in red ink — have never been assessed a “frivolous filing” penalty or even received a “frivolous filing” warning letter.
The “Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act”
- One item on the agenda was a request by the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund that NWTRCC formally “recommit to the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill and the efforts NCPTF is doing to get it passed in Congress.”
As I explained , I have serious misgivings about “peace tax fund” proposals in general, and think that the current incarnation of the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act in particular would do more harm than good.
However, NWTRCC had endorsed a different version of this legislation years ago, and so many people expected this new call for an endorsement to be a no-brainer.
Much debate ensued.
- Robert Randall pointed out that NWTRCC’s “Statement of Purpose” includes “support of the US Peace Tax Fund Bill.” He interpreted this as being a built-in endorsement of the latest act which would make the current debate moot. However, no act by that name has been introduced recently — I think since — and in many important ways the current legislation does not resemble the version that NWTRCC endorsed back in the day.
- I was a little worried that I would be the only one objecting to the endorsement and that this would put me outside of the general consensus of the group, but as it turns out there were many people present who expressed misgivings about peace tax fund legislation and who weren’t enthusiastic about endorsing it, and I heard more than one person express that this was a long-overdue debate.
- Many of the Act’s supporters seem to have ideas of what the Act would accomplish that go way beyond the actual text of the legislation. One said, for instance, that if the Act passed, it would effectively allow citizens to annually vote yea or nay on war or on whatever wars the government was engaged in at the time.
- Some participants in the discussion were concerned that NWTRCC remain on good terms with NCPTF, in part so that we may be more influential as they recraft their strategy in the coming years.
- One person said that because the Act is a long-shot to ever become law, it is best judged not by what its effects would be if it were enacted, but by what it symbolizes as a proposal that approximates the hopes of people who want legal recognition for conscientious objection to military taxation. (Myself, I’m not sure I buy this argument, but in any case I think that the symbolism of the Act is ambiguous at best and may very well communicate a message that is, on the whole, harmful to the cause.)
- The result of our discussion was that we decided to hold off on making a decision of whether or not to endorse until our meeting, at which time we will have more time to discuss the question and more time to study the points that are in debate.
- A book of writings by and about Marian Franz and her work with the peace tax fund campaign is forthcoming, and will include a piece by Ruth Benn about the war tax resistance movement and its relationship with the peace tax fund campaign.
- There was varied reaction to the recent presidential election.
Many people were skeptical of the promise for meaningful change, and distrustful towards the Democratic party, and saw the election mostly in terms of whether it would anaesthetize progressive activists or whether it might be possible to reactivate the hopeful coalitions that helped to propel Obama into office once Hope turns to disappointment.
- Others were very enthusiastic about the change and hoped that progressives and peace activists might finally be able to influence government policy. One person went as far as to say that we’d “won” and would have to get used to being winners on the inside of the power structure instead of ignored pleaders outside of it. Another hopefully imagined getting a group of progressive religious leaders to sit down with Obama and confront his faith with a challenge to go further than his public statements have so far suggested. To me this all sounds like stuff of the same sort as gingerbread houses, flying carpets, and fairy godmothers, but I mention it here to show that some of the Hope bubble has infected even a skeptical group like NWTRCC.
- There was much mention of “Camp Hope” — a vigil that will be held near Obama’s home in Chicago in up to inauguration day.
The goals of this vigil will be to encourage Obama to follow-through boldly on some of his more progressive campaign themes.
The demands of the vigil are meant to harmonize with, rather than to protest, the goals of the Obama campaigners, and will concentrate on actions that the new administration can take immediately via executive orders.
- This is said to be partially based on a similar vigil that took place in the run-up to Jimmy Carter’s inauguration in that asked Carter to pardon Vietnam-era draft resisters and to cancel the B-1 bomber program, both of which Carter did.
- A new war funding supplemental bill is expected to hit Congress in , and this will be an early test of what kind of Change we can expect from the new order, and what kind of power the current anti-war movement is capable of asserting.
The War Tax Boycott
- ’s war tax boycott campaign was well-received by some local war tax resistance groups, who found it a good focal point for their outreach efforts. However, the number of people who participated in the boycott disappointed the hopes of those who initiated the campaign. There was much discussion of whether we should continue the campaign into and if so in what fashion.
- If we were to continue the campaign into — making the the climax of the campaign — this would give us little time to mount a serious outreach effort, and at the same time it would have to compete for attention with the actions of the opening months of the new Obama administration. It might be hard to convince new resisters to join up if they’re still placing their hopes for peace with their rulers.
- We eventually concluded that we would continue the campaign, but would concentrate this year on retrenching and consolidation rather than on a major outreach and publicity campaign, in preparation for a larger campaign when the inevitable Obama Disappointment sets in. Meanwhile, local groups that find the campaign useful can continue to use it as before.
- Rather than making April 15th the target date for beginning to resist, we may be better off doing what Code Pink did with its war tax resistance campaign and tell people that their resistance begins the moment they take their first affirmative step toward tax resistance, for instance by adjusting their W-4 withholding.
- One person said that although she resisted taxes , she didn’t sign up for the boycott because she was only resisting a small amount and was redirecting that amount to local groups, and she had the impression that the boycott was mainly for people redirecting larger amounts to the two showcase charities highlighted by the boycott campaign.
- Some people who did boycott outreach found that some folks were reluctant to sign on to the boycott for fear of the danger of being on some government list, and stressed that there should be a way for people to join the campaign anonymously.
- Some local University of Oregon students dropped by the meeting and volunteered to create a redesigned mock-up of the nwtrcc.org web site that we could use if we’d like — a much-appreciated and spontaneous act of generosity.
- NWTRCC will be trying to nurture a new regional gathering of war tax resisters — something along the lines of the New England Regional Gathering of War Tax Resisters and Supporters that is coming up later . To this end, it will be inviting groups that are interested in hosting such a gathering to submit proposals, and will select one of these proposals to support with some seed money and other assistance.
- NWTRCC decided to commit to revitalize the War Tax Resisters Penalty Fund, which seems to have run out of steam (appeals for funds go out very infrequently, and resisters are reimbursed only after long delay).
- NWTRCC coordinator Ruth Benn is preparing a series of “Readings on Money.” These include transcripts of some of the discussion on that subject at the Fall gathering in Las Vegas, Karen Marysdaughter’s essay on “The Influence of Money on Decisions to Engage in War Tax Resistance,” George Salzman’s “Inheritance and Social Responsibility,” a debate about the ethics of accepting interest on loans and bank deposits from Juanita Nelson and Bob Irwin, and a look at the intwined structure of government spending, national debt, the war machine, the federal reserve, and the income tax from Jay Sordean.
- Kathy Kelly led us through some role-playing exercises concerning collaboration and how to confront it, and shared some stories with us from her experiences with activism and humanitarian assistance. Her public presentation at the University after the end of the NWTRCC conference session was well-appreciated by those who attended. Kelly is an engaging speaker who relates interesting experiences vividly and well — with a great command of accents and the ability to invoke strong and varied emotions without making the audience feel like they’ve been strapped on a roller-coaster. One of her themes: around the world, many people are forced to make great sacrifices because of the decisions our political leaders are making. Meanwhile, what will raise us to make the sacrifices we need to make to make things right? To those of us to whom much has been given, much will be expected in this regard. We need to slow down and unflinchingly reassess our priorities. “This is what grown-ups do.”
- Mike Butler volunteered to bring NWTRCC into the MySpace / Facebook universe, so keep an eye out there.
- Susan Quinlan demonstrated some of the techniques she uses in youth outreach to teach about the unbalanced government budget priorities and about how to build a better society by shifting your support from the pillars that support a system of injustice to the pillars that support the scaffolding of a better system.
- I remember a couple of interesting stories of how people were introduced to war tax resistance. One couple was working with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Colombia and met some war tax resisters there and then took up war tax resistance on their return home. Another new resister had been working for an alternative newspaper that received a grant from a war tax resisters’ tax-redirection alternative fund, and learned about war tax resistance that way.
- I sold several books — some of each of We Won’t Pay!: A Tax Resistance Reader, American Quaker War Tax Resistance, The Price of Freedom: Political philosophy from Thoreau’s Journals, and My Thoughts Are Murder to the State: Thoreau’s Essays on Political Philosophy, with We Won’t Pay being the top seller in spite of being the pricier volume of the lot — more people buying copies of that one than all the others combined.
- Steev Hise’s war tax resistance video project continues, with a projected completion date around . Conference attendees saw a preview of a portion of the film and seemed enthusiastic about it.
- The next national meeting will be held this coming Spring (early ) somewhere in the vicinity of Washington, D.C. — details to be hashed out in the coming months. The next national will be in Cleveland, Ohio around .
And with all that, I’m still leaving a lot out. But for now, that’ll have to do.