War Tax Resisters Art Harvey and Elizabeth Gravalos

I noted Dorothy Day’s remarks on visiting a group of tax resisters in New Hampshire. Today I’ll try to track down some more information on them.

Arthur Harvey, then an organic farmer from Hartford, Maine, was profiled in Samuel Fromartz’s book Organic, Inc. because of his legal battle to make sellers who use the “organic” buzzword adhere to the genuine standards of that variety of food production. In the course of this, Formartz also mentions Harvey’s war tax resistance:

It was not the first time Harvey had gone up against the federal government. As a tax resister opposed to military spending, “especially nuclear weapons, and the export of arms and military forces to many places around the world,” Harvey had refused to file or pay federal income taxes since . His wife, Elizabeth Gravalos, hadn’t paid federal taxes since . Instead, they donated time and money to social service and environmental organizations. The IRS had come knocking at their door a couple of times, then seized the family’s property in and demanded $62,000 in back taxes and penalties — about three times the annual income of the farm. When they did not pay, the IRS took the rare step of auctioning off the property at a town office across the street from their house, with protesters outside. They initially lost the blueberry field to a bidder, though luckily no one bid on the house, perhaps because it had only rudimentary plumbing and no electricity. Eventually, Gravalos’s mother bought the house, and the couple’s daughter successfully bid on another parcel of the land, which she later swapped for the blueberry field. They were back in business.

Harvey, an affable and intelligent man with a wiry physique, perhaps owing to his vegetarian diet, said the lesson he learned from that fight was not to stop being a tax resister, but to avoid owning property in his own name that could be seized by the government. “We own a couple of cars, so I guess they could go after those, but they aren’t worth much,” he told me.

Aaron Falbel wrote about the blueberry-growing couple for the War Resisters League’s magazine in :

War Tax Resistance and Blueberry Fields Forever

Arthur Harvey has not filed a federal tax return or paid income tax . His partner, Elizabeth Gravalos hasn’t filed or paid . Until recently, the Internal Revenue Service gave them little trouble.

“They visited us twice, once around and again around , back when we lived in New Hampshire,” Harvey says. “Probably they concluded we had nothing much worth taking and perhaps were not subject to much tax anyway,” he adds. But after the Gravalos/Harvey family moved to Maine ten years ago, earned a bit more money, acquired a house, two wood lots and a blueberry field and started paying state taxes (New Hampshire has no state income tax, but Maine does), the IRS began to take notice. , the IRS seized their properties in lieu of tax payments assessed at $62,000 (including interest and penalties) for an astonishing figure, considering the family’s annual income from their blueberry and flower business averages about $16,000.

Going Once…

The IRS held an auction at the town office across the street from the Gravalos/Harvey home. “I might have cried if I were alone,” Gravalos admitted. But she was far from alone. About 75 supporters gathered outside the building and spoke of their solidarity with Elizabeth and Arthur. To demonstrate the power and the good that can come out of war tax redirection, Harvey, Gravalos and their family and friends raised over $3,000 to pay off the local property tax liens of seven Hartford residents.

The auction didn’t last long. When Gravalos and her family emerged stoically from the town office, she announced, “The good news is that no one bid on the house.” Emily Harvey, Arthur and Elizabeth’s daughter and a sophomore at Wellesley College, bid on (and won) the small half-acre wood lot on behalf of her younger brother Max. (Max, at age 16, was legally too young to enter a bid.) The town selectman and town clerk teamed up to buy the larger 21-acre wood lot, and another Hartford resident bought the blueberry field.

Harvey speculated that the reason no one bid on the house was that the minimum bid was too high: $21,000 for a house with no electricity or indoor plumbing. At the conclusion of the auction, the IRS declared that they would reevaluate the minimum bid and hold another auction .

Going Twice…

The minimum was eventually set at $7,900. Gravalos and Harvey had originally discouraged friendly bids on their house, feeling that the price was too high. “We really did not want the IRS to get that much money,” Harvey said. But for the second auction, with a lower minimum bid, they didn’t discourage people who would buy the house back for them, even though that meant surrendering money to the IRS.

Harvey explained that what matters most for him is making a strong public statement, bearing witness to the government’s violence: “Our reason for non-cooperating with the IRS is a reluctance to support war preparations, especially nuclear weapons, and the export of arms and military forces to many places around the world. Others have gone a lot further in their war tax resistance than we have, and we honor and respect those people. For [them], the most important thing is to withhold money from the IRS at all costs.”

That, he acknowledged, is not his style of war tax resistance. “There are and there have been war tax resisters who have gone that far. My friend Ammon Hennacy [the legendary pacifist connected with the Catholic Worker movement] was one. Our approach is more complicated to describe and more flexible in practice.” He scoffed at a news article that described him as “unwilling to pay one penny to the IRS.” “We have three cars,” he noted, referring to the federal tax on gasoline that he pays every time he fills up at the pump.

About 35 supporters turned up for the second auction, this time held at the IRS office in Lewiston, Maine. Demonstrators read excerpts from letters to IRS officials and to President Clinton urging them to call off the auction. (As at the first auction, money was given away, this time to groups doing the kind of work tax dollars could fund: $500 to the local Abused Women’s Advocacy Project and $500 to a local chapter of Habitat for Humanity.)

Still Here

In the end, Elizabeth’s mother entered the winning bid for the house at $15,633. The town clerk and town selectman, who bid at the first auction, entered the only other bid of $8,000. The latter two were clearly miffed at having lost such a “bargain.” (One war tax resister described them as “a picture of greed thwarted.”) The clerk, clearly irate, asked, “Why was it okay for her [Elizabeth’s] mother to bid, but not for me?”

A week later, Arthur Harvey reflected on the clerk’s comment, questioning in turn the propriety of the town officials’ taking advantage of a family in a weakened financial position. “That does not seem to me to be a proper thing for a town official to do,” he said.

Elizabeth Gravalos thinks the answer to the town clerk’s question is obvious: “The two of them were trying to take our house from under us, whereas my mother was trying to help us out, to help us continue our way of life here.” Though Gravalos had dissuaded her mother from bidding at the first auction, she did not try to stop her at the second. “It was harder to lose the blueberry field [at the first auction] than I thought. I just didn’t feel I was ready to lose the house,” she admitted.

Harvey and Gravalos calculated that the house was worth somewhere between $10,000 and $15,000 and suggested that $13,000 would be a reasonable bid. Max and Emily were in favor of a friendly bid; Max especially did not want to have to move. “The alternative,” Arthur noted, “would be to go the Randy and Betsy route and not countenance a friendly bid and then risk eviction. We, as a family, decided not to go that route.” (He was referring to Randy Kehler and Betsy Corner, war tax resisters from Colrain, MA, whose supporters maintained an 18-month-long occupation/vigil after Kehler was arrested in and his and Corner’s house was auctioned off by the IRS.)

In the end, Arthur admitted, the auction “was something of a letdown.” The IRS got a fair amount of money, $39,460 in all more money, he speculated, than it would have gotten if the family had filed and paid taxes all along. Gravalos reflected, “Betsy and Randy did a better job at resisting the IRS than we did. But each family has to draw its own line. I really did not want to stage an occupation [as they did].”

So what does it mean for war tax resistance when the IRS manages to walk away with such a considerable sum? Interestingly, Gravalos and Harvey do not think of themselves as having failed. Along the spectrum of war tax civil disobedience, they are tax resisters rather than tax refusers. (War tax resisters do not willfully hand over money to the Pentagon, but if the government nonetheless forcibly seizes money from them, they take those lumps, as it were; war tax refusers tend to put up more of a fight and are unwilling to let the government collect any money or assets whatsoever.) But they believe both resisters and refusers provide witness to the backward priorities of the federal government. “When it comes to war tax resistance,” Gravalos adds, “anything is better than nothing.” Their 51 years (between them) of resistance to military spending and the redirection through the years of those war tax dollars is not to be scoffed at. And what of the future? Gravalos and Harvey do not hesitate when they are asked whether or not they will continue their war tax resistance. Says Arthur, “We will continue our stand of non-cooperation, but we will certainly make sure not to find ourselves in such a position where we own so much property.” And Elizabeth adds, “I do feel that the risks of paying taxes are greater than the risks of refusing to pay them.”

Philip Devles Broughton’s Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School includes a few more notes of interest about Harvey:

  • “He almost failed to graduate from high school after refusing to sign a loyalty oath to the laws and constitution of the United States. ‘I could support the Constitution,’ he said, ‘but I certainly wasn’t going to support all the laws. They told me I was failing the rest of the students in my home room. But I didn’t have much loyalty to my home room.’ Eventually the school gave him his diploma anyway.”
  • “In Michigan, a man who had recently returned from India lent him a book by Gandhi. He was immediately struck by Gandhi’s arguments in favor of self-reliance and against excessive consumption. In the late 1950s, Harvey spent six months in prison in Sandstone, Minnesota, for invading a missile base in Nebraska with a group of fellow peace activists. ‘Prison was a blast. I was in there with one of my very best friends [Ammon Hennacy] and we played horseshoes and Scrabble and spent lots of time in the library.’ His tenure as library clerk ended when he refused to compile a list for the prison authorities of the books each prisoner was borrowing.”

A newspaper article on educational outreach efforts by the pacifist non-violent action group Peacemakers, quoted Harvey on the nature of the group: “We are a radical pacifist organization. We are against war preparation and against use of income tax for war purposes. Our members also oppose mandatory registration for the draft. However, we are not communists. We believe the best defense is a strong spiritual one, in the tradition of the Indian leader Gandhi.”

The Sun-Journal of Lewiston, Maine, covered the tax auction in a pair of articles:

“Hands off our homes”

Couple protests on day before auction

by Mary Lou Wendell
Sun-Journal Staff Writer

The message on one of the placards held by many of the 50 or so protesters marching down Center Street morning was simple: “Honor family values. Hands off homes.”

Accomplishing their goal for the day was not going to be so simple, however. They were on their way to Lewiston to convince the Internal Revenue Service to halt the sale of property seized for nonpayment of taxes.

Arthur Harvey, who, before it was taken, owned the house and land in Hartford Center together with his wife Elizabeth Gravalos, led the march. In his pants pocket was a letter the group eventually hand-delivered to the Lewiston IRS office on Main Street after walking there from the Auburn Mall, which took about two-and-a-half hours. The note detailed the couple’s reasons for not paying federal taxes.

Funds collected by the federal government will “support war preparation of all kinds,” the typewritten letter read. “This is not acceptable to our moral and religious beliefs.”

In , IRS agents served Harvey and Gravalos with a seizure notice for their property, which includes a small home and out-buildings, a 13-acre blueberry field, and 21 acres of two combined woodlots. Selling blueberries and pansies, which is how the couple earns their living, brings in a total of $18,000 a year, Harvey said.

Based on those earnings, the government calculated Harvey and Gravalos owe $62,000 in unpaid taxes and penalties for , according to the couple. A spokeswoman for the IRS in Boston said she would not confirm the amount owed because of disclosure and privacy laws.

Furthermore, the couple wrote in their letter to the IRS, “it is inconceivable that a family could be subject to a 49 percent tax rate, especially a low-income family including two children.”

Harvey and Gravalos have a daughter in college and a teen-age son, Max, who also marched on .

IRS spokeswoman Peggy Riley did say the sealed-bid auction will go on as scheduled at at the town office in Hartford Center. And if minimum bids were offered, the house and property will be sold, she said. The minimum bid for the single family home was $20,476.98, Riley said. The total minimum bid for everything else, which is divided into three properties, is roughly $16,000.

Against a backdrop of car dealerships, retail outlets and quick-change oil places, the protesters, who came from as far away as Chicago, walked in groups of three and four down Center Street. Some came from New Hampshire and Vermont. Most were from Maine.

Many of the protesters were also war-tax resistors and friends with Harvey and Gravalos. Some had never met the couple but were marching to support their cause.

Sheila Dormody, a member of the 800-member organization, Peace Action Maine, pays her taxes, she said. But she had sympathy for Harvey and Gravalos because she opposes disproportionate military spending, she said.

As the group hiked along, making their way across the Longley Bridge and around downtown Lewiston, Dormody passed out red fliers decrying the practice of “bloating the Pentagon… starving our communities.”

“This year Congress will give the Pentagon $7 billion more than requested,” the filer stated. Education, mass transit, housing programs, job training and environmental spending are all the things that will be cut in order to pay for increased military spending, it said.

If the property is indeed sold , “we’ll have to find some place we can rent,” Gravalos said as she walked. “I have a friend in Buckfield who has offered land so I can plant my pansies.”

Her husband thought it was a mistake to buy land, Gravalos said, adding he may have been right.

In hindsight, Harvey said, he would have preferred renting over owning property, which can be taken away.

But, while he and his wife have always paid their state and local taxes, he’s not sorry for not paying federal taxes, he said.

“We both understood the risk and we accepted it,” Harvey said. It’s a matter of “personal responsibility.” Withholding federal taxes is “a job that we can do,” he said.

Home survives IRS sale

Some of tax protesters’ Hartford property sold

by Judith Meyer
Special to the Sun-Journal

As sealed bids were opened morning, Arthur Harvey and Elizabeth Gravalos heard an Internal Revenue Service employee award three pieces of their property to others, but their home was spared, at least temporarily.

The couple, who are vocal about their resistance to paying federal taxes to a government that they say is spending irresponsibly, were served a notice of seizure on their property in . That property was offered at a public sale in a sealed bid process inside the Town Office while a large crowd of supporters from throughout New England and reporters waited outside on the lawn morning.

Harvey and Gravalos, who say they earn about $18,000 a year growing blueberries and pansies, owe the IRS $48,555 in unpaid taxes . Their properties were seized to satisfy that debt.

Attending the bid opening were dozens of other tax resisters, including one couple who carried a large painted poster proclaiming their nonpayment of federal taxes since .

The properties offered for sale included the couple’s home, which is not equipped with running water or electricity and which uses an organic compost septic system, a small house lot, a 21-acre wood lot and a 13-acre blueberry field.

No bids were submitted for the house, and a second sealed bid opening has been scheduled for at the IRS office in Lewiston. If the property is not sold at that time, said IRS agent Diane Santoro, who conducted the sale, the federal agency will re-evaluate the $20,476 minimum bid established for the property.

Bids were opened inside the Town Office, which was restricted to bidders, the property owners, town and federal officials and five media representatives chosen by Capt. James Miclon of the Oxford County Sheriff’s Department from a pool of reporters standing in the side yard.

The couple’s children, Emily and Max Harvey, purchased the small house lot for $727, using money 16-year-old Max had earned raking blueberries, beating out a $600 bid from the town of Hartford. Gravalos was visibly upset that the town bid on the property.

The Town Office stands directly across the street from Gravalos’ house on Route 140, and the piece of property the town bid on was being considered as a new Town Office site.

The couple’s wood lot was sold for $10,000 to Kathleen Hutchins and Linda Rowe, both of Hartford, beating out a $9,560 bid for the land. Hutchins is the town’s tax collector, clerk, treasurer and administrative assistant, and Rowe is a selectman, but both women said they bought the land as private citizens.

The third piece of property, the blueberry field that has been cultivated for the past eight years by Harvey and Gravalos, was sold to Alan Noyes of Hartford. Noyes, who left immediately after the bid opening, indicated that he liked the view at the property and would be willing to talk to Harvey and Gravalos about some kind of arrangement to continue farming the land.

Harvey said after the sale, which lasted less than 10 minutes, that he and his family intended to remain in Hartford, would continue to live in their home and would continue farming blueberries on fields they planned to lease from other property owners.

“The good news is that nobody bid on our house,” Gravalos told the crowd after the sale was finished, and Harvey expressed his pleasure at seeing so many people supporting their cause.

“This is not a victory or defeat for anyone,” Harvey said. “It’s just a part of life.” That observation drew a large round of applause from the crowd.

And although the IRS seizure is nearly complete, Harvey said his views on tax resistance haven’t changed and he has no plans to pay any money to the federal government. Harvey has not paid federal taxes , and Gravalos hasn’t paid .

Supporter Jim Stockwell of Albion said, “I think (Harvey and Gravalos are) very proud of what they’re doing.” Stockwell praised their resolve to stand firm for their beliefs against increased military spending and decreased spending for education and health care.

Lee Holman, a supporter and neighbor of Harvey and Gravalos, said the couple’s commitment to paying local and state taxes and resisting paying federal taxes comes from their desire to “redirect tax dollars to build real security in this town instead of investing in a false sense of security” with the federal government.

The couple can redeem their properties in the next 180 days if they pay the bid price, plus another 20 percent, and any costs associated with the sale to the IRS.

IRS agent Santoro declined to talk to reporters before or after the sale.

Along with that second article was this sidebar:

Anti-tax group pays off liens of five families

The tax resisters who demonstrated in support of Arthur Harvey and Elizabeth Gravalos say they are not against America’s tax system in itself and support payment of local and state taxes to help their own communities. What they protest is the federal government’s use of the tax money, a use that they claim they have no control over.

In an effort to show support for the local property tax system, the group of resisters, who are calling themselves Spears into Pruning Hooks, walked into the Hartford Town Office just before the public sale of the Harvey/Gravalos property and paid off outstanding tax liens for five local families.

Harvey said the group paid nearly $2,200, choosing the liens to be paid off based on whether the property owner had children and actually lived in Hartford, rather than being a part-time resident. The tax resisters did not have contact with the property owners; the payoffs were arranged through the Town Office.

The group originally offered to pay seven liens, but only five were paid because two of the families declined the group’s offer. Tax Collector Kathleen Hutchins said the payment retired tax liens for property owners Joseph Bedard, Ann Carro, Penny Stubbs, Matthew Piantone and James Guilmet.

According to Hutchins, the property owners who declined the resisters’ offer of payment said they did not agree with Harvey and Gravalos’ stand on tax resistance.

Hutchins, who said the town has never seized any property for nonpayment of property taxes, indicated that there are others in Hartford who oppose the stand taken by the Harvey-Gravalos family.

Speaking for the group, which still has $800 in an account reserved for payment of other tax liens, Harvey said Spears into Pruning Hooks plans to continue raising funds and making goodwill gestures for struggling local taxpayers.

Harvey and Gravalos were still at it :

Federal income tax

Resisters keep incomes below filing threshold

by Kelly Morgan

While many people across the country will be rushing to meet today’s deadline for filing federal income taxes, Arthur Harvey will more likely be home binding books or working on the mowers he’ll soon use to cut his blueberry fields.

It’s not that the 72-year-old organic farmer, inspector and book seller has filed early this year. Instead, Harvey, who lives with his family across from the town office on Main Street, has not paid federal income taxes . He won’t pay because he is opposed to where his dollars would be spent.

“My fundamental objection is to nuclear weapons,” he said Thursday while seated at a small table off his kitchen, surrounded by copies of the collected works of Mahatma Gandhi. “And also to sending U.S. military forces to other countries.”

Harvey and his wife, Elizabeth Gravalos, 61, have joined as many as 200 Mainers and 10,000 people nationally who refuse to pay their federal income taxes in protest of military spending.

“We say about 8,000 to 10,000 people,” said Ruth Benn of the Brookly, N.Y.-based National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee on , “but it’s really hard to count.”

Benn said many, like Harvey and Gravalos, keep their incomes low so they won’t have to pay. Many others protest by refusing to pay federal taxes on their phone bills, another action that’s difficult to track.

According to information from IRS spokeswoman Peggy Riley, who’s based in Boston, the federal government faces what it calls a “gross tax gap” of $300 billion a year. The gap, Riley explained, “is the difference between what taxpayers should pay and what they actually pay.”

Riley said the IRS does not track those who refuse to pay on the grounds of opposing military spending.

Personal property seizures and deductions from paychecks are tools the IRS uses to collect unpaid tax dollars. In , Harvey and Gravalos nearly lost their home and 13 acres of blueberry fields they farm in Hartford. At an auction after the properties were seized, Gravalos’ mother bought back the house. Their daughter Emily later received back the blueberry fields in a trade after the man who had purchased them found farming difficult, Harvey said, laughing.

Harvey, Gravalos and their son Max continue to farm the fields today. They use wood heat and kerosene lamps and drive old Volvos. Harvey sells books on the teachings of Gandhi, which he purchases from India, through the on-line marketplace Amazon.com.

The only electricity in the house comes from a small solar panel that runs a laptop computer and, on sunny days, a copier in a back room.

Because Gravalos now works as a part-time massage therapist, she does pay Social Security taxes, Harvey said. But she hasn’t paid income taxes .

The two file separately, each having to earn less than $3,100 in order to fall below federal tax filing requirements.

Harvey and Gravalos have taken part in efforts of the War Tax Resistance Resource Center of Maine. People affiliated with the organization often hand out fliers at IRS centers on tax deadline day.

Larry Dansinger, a Monroe-based representative of the group, said that people are expected to be handing out fliers from Portland to Ellsworth

He himself doesn’t pay federal phone taxes.

“In our calculations, about 50 percent of every (federal income) tax dollar that people pay is going either directly or indirectly for military purposes,” he said.

Not paying, he added, “is not a nice, easy thing to do.”