Tax Resistance in “The Catholic Worker” 1990–91

Today, some excerpts from The Catholic News Archive concerning tax resistance in .

The first article comes from the Catholic Worker:

Why We Became War Tax Resisters

["We have no need to stockpile nuclear weapons and threaten our planet Earth under the guise of ‘security.’ We cannot find a reason to help finance the death squads of right-wing governments in Central America.” This is part of a statement by Bob Bady and Patricia Morse, war tax resisters from Western Massachusetts. The house which they built with their own hands over a ten-years period was put on the auction block by the IRS, for taxes owed the federal government. A bid was made by two unknown persons and the property sold to them. Bob and Pat have been given a 180 day period in which to “redeem” their place and then apply the repurchase price against the still due taxes. The couple say they will not do this, and will also resist any attempt to remove them from their house by means of a nonviolent occupation.

By the time this issue is put in the mail, the fate of another house, that belonging to Randy Kehler and Betsy Corner, may have been decided. They and their nine-year-old daughter, Lillian, are neighbors of Bob, Pat, and her seventeen-year-old son. Randy and Betsy’s house was auctioned on , but in that case the IRS ended up as the owner of the house, after “bids” in the form of Nicaraguan currency, canned goods for the poor, and ofters of community service, were turned down by the IRS. They, too, will prepare for a Gandhian nonviolent occupation if the IRS attempts to remove them.

Acts of civil disobedience against war taxations take many forms. Karl Meyer sees the value of tactical efforts to avoid a date with the IRS; Randy, Betsy, Bob, Pat and many in the Catholic Worker movement find it imperative to inform the IRS directly of any such actions, and welcome others to write for more information on the possible Satyagraha campaign, American style, which may occur if the IRS attempts to evict them from their homes. Please contact: War Tax Refusers Support Committee, c/o Traprock Peace Center, Keets Road, Deerfield, MA 01342.

Karl Meyer is always happy to discuss questions and problems concerning war tax resistance. He may be reached at: 1460 W. Carmen, Chicago, IL 60640, (312) 784‒8065. ―Eds. Note]

By Karl Meyer

In , when Mohandas Gandhi searched for a tactic of civil disobedience that would galvanize India in the struggle for self-rule, he recognized that the use of salt was a necessity at the heart of Indian village life, yet salt production was a monopoly controlled by the British rulers. Every time Indians bought salt they paid a burdensome tax to the British.

He began a campaign for self-rule with a march to the sea, to take untaxed salt from it, in violation of British rule. His campaign was rooted in resistance to taxes on an elemental commodity of everyday life, just as our own American Revolution began around resistance to a British tax on tea. Striking at these basic taxes struck at the heart of British rule.

In , in Gandhi’s India, jail was the ordinary ultimate sanction for enforcing government control. Death was the extraordinary ultimate sanction. During the salt campaign, hundreds of satyagrahis were beaten with clubs when they tried to enter a saltworks. In two months of , more than 32,000 Indians were convicted of political offenses and jailed. Gandhi once said, “Rivers of blood may have to flow before India gains her freedom, but it must be our own blood.”

In North America [today], the system of control seems far more benign than this. The front line agencies of government coercion, which are Selective Service and the IRS, believe that they can control U.S. dissenters adequately by compiling computerized data about them, their whereabouts, their means of education, their livelihood and their financial assets. With this information the enforcement agencies can apply adequate pressure with civil penalties, by withholding benefits or by seizing a punitive share of income or assets. They think they can pin us down while they extract our teeth, and then allow us to gum our verbal protests as much as we please.

In , at the height of the Vietnam War, we started a tax refusal campaign to beat the withholding system by claiming extra allowances on W-4 Withholding Exemption certificates. It worked. Hundreds of refusers began to do it. At first in , the IRS tried to squash that movement by putting a handful of resisters in jail. But that didn’t work well. Putting conscientious war tax refusers in jail created martyrs, martyrs created publicity and publicity created more resisters. So the IRS stopped putting us in jail and began to search around for better control tactics. I think they understood the potential of classic jail-going civil disobedience better than we do.

Today, the U.S. government basically declines to imprison war refusers for their ordinary crimes. Hundreds of thousands refuse to register for the draft — none is in jail today. Thousands openly refuse taxes for war — none is in jail today.

The Warfare State

In America today, the internal systems of control by the warfare state have evolved to more benign forms. For many people this apparent benignity masks the horror of reality. The U.S. administration and Congress have repeatedly said: “Rivers of blood may have to flow before we suppress the struggle for self-rule in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Honduras, but that will be all right because it will be their blood. North Americans will not care because we will see to it that none of their own blood will flow. We will control them with media manipulation and with electronic information gathering and processing systems.” They believe that they will control adequately the society of the future by gathering information efficiently and processing it instantaneously. They will have information about the flow of every dollar that represents our personal belongings and our personal productivity. These streams of dollars will be the blood of the future. Once the IRS has identified and located every vessel of human interchange through which they flow, the tax gatherers will tap those vessels where they please and gather the blood of our productivity and our belongings, without a word of acquiescence or protest on our part.

The machine grinds on, impervious to picketing and ordinary letters of protest. It ignores them because they have no numbers and produce no dollars. Perhaps electronic information is not bad in itself; but if we allow these systems to divest us of our human work, and to use it to harm people in other countries, the end of this stream of dollars will flow red with human blood, as it does today in Salvador.

(Excerpted from a longer article, “Satyagraha in 1984: Gandhian Resistance to War Taxes in the Age of the Computer.”)

By Betsy Corner and Randy Kehler

The federal government’s policies regarding nuclear weaponry and military interventions contradict our deepest moral and spiritual values — values which, we believe, should apply as much to public as to private life.

We are not religious in a formal way, but we do struggle to accept and live by the proposition that we are all children of God. We take this to mean, in a very real sense, that all people everywhere are our sisters and brothers whom we must try to love and, in any case, refrain from deliberately injuring. For us, this applies especially to the poor, including our sisters and brothers in Central America who are suffering and dying as a result of U.S. policies and U.S. arms, and our sisters and brothers here in our own country who are hungry and homeless while our government pours billions of dollars into an insane nuclear arms race that threatens to kill us all.

How can we willingly give money to the federal government when we know that it will be used to cause, or threaten, so much harm to other members of our human family? Our answer is that we can’t.

We are convinced that our government’s policies are not just immoral, but also illegal. The United States is a signatory to international treaties that prohibit the manufacture of genocidal weapons of destruction and forbid the use of force to overthrow foreign governments. According to the U.S. Constitution, these treaties have the same binding force as domestic law. Yet we continue to produce more and more nuclear bombs capable of destroying all life on earth, and we persist in sending arms and material to groups attempting to topple governments deemed “unfriendly” to U.S. interests. Who is the real lawbreaker — we who refuse to pay for these criminal activities, or the U.S. government, and their tax collectors, who carry them out?

The Nuremberg Principles that resulted from the trials of Nazi war criminals, and which were subsequently ratified by the U.S. government, hold that individual citizens who commit or collaborate with “crimes against humanity” must be held responsible for their actions even though they were “only following orders” or “only obeying the law.” We believe that preparing for nuclear war, and waging actual war against people in countries such as Nicaragua and El Salvador, are both crimes against humanity — and that helping to pay for them is a form of collaboration.

We view our war-tax resistance not only as serving our country’s best interests, but also as highly consistent with the rich American tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience — a tradition that includes the Boston Tea Party, the early colonists’ refusal to pay British stamp taxes, Henry David Thoreau’s refusal to pay taxes during the Mexican-American War, and the refusal by black Americans to obey racially discriminatory laws during the Civil Rights Movement of . Nonviolent acts of protest and noncooperation have always been crucial to the maintenance of a free and democratic society.

Are we nervous about the possibility of losing our house? Sure we are to some degree. We don’t want to lose our house any more than anyone else does. It has been our home for ten years and it represents the only material security we have.

But we have to ask ourselves, is our home more important than the tens of thousands of homes that have been destroyed by U.S.-sponsored bombing in El Salvador or by U.S.-sponsored terrorism in Nicaragua? More important than the hundreds of thousands of homes our country has denied to homeless people here in America? More important than the millions of homes here and around the world that will be incinerated in a flash if the nuclear arms race is not halted and reversed?

If, by risking the loss of our home, we can raise one more voice in protest against all this needless destruction, then it will be worth it.

When we grow anxious about the consequences of our war-tax resistance, it also helps to remember the good that comes from redistributing our federal tax money. Last year Don Mosley, who coordinates a project called “Walk In Peace,” which raises money for people who have lost arms and legs in Nicaragua, wrote to us: “Your contribution all by itself is nearly enough to finance the complete rehabilitation (including the making of artificial limbs) of five people. I hope you can grasp that in human terms…”

For us, that’s what it all comes down to: human terms. And that’s what keeps us going. At this point in our lives, we can’t not resist the federal government’s taxes.

The issue of The Catholic Worker reported on the inspiring tax resistance campaign of the mostly-Christian Palestinian village of Beit Sahour against the taxes collected by the Israeli occupation:

Peaceful Tax Resistance in Beit Sahour

By Terry Rogers

The Palestinian Center for the Study of Nonviolence, founded in East Jerusalem in by Mubarak Awad and others, offers a wide range of educational programs and research in the history, theory, and methodology of nonviolence for Palestinians in particular and the Arab world in general. In , the PCSNV published an analysis of the 22 most recent leaflets of the Unified Command of the Intifada. These leaflets, printed anonymously every two weeks, give specific instructions to the Palestinian population in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. The Center’s study, which counted the frequency with which various actions were urged, found that only 9.6% of the leaflets’ instructions proposed violent acts. The rest included such nonviolent actions as strikes; boycotts of Israeli jobs, goods, and services; tax resistance; participation in popular committees; cancellation of celebrations; surrounding and protecting children who are beaten by soldiers; and others. The authors of the study conclude: “It has not been proven that the Intifada is a nonviolent struggle, only that violence is not necessary for the intifada to continue.” The tax resistance of the village of Beit Sahour in the West Bank is a recent example of one of these nonviolent tactics and has attracted widespread international attention.

A small middle-class village of 12,000 near Bethlehem, Beit Sahour is a close-knit community of extended families, most of whom have lived there for generations. The population is eighty percent Christian, and its economic base consists of several hundred small family enterprises. Residents of Beit Sahour have the highest percentage of university graduates of any village in the occupied territories. Since the occupation, they have a history of strong political organization, and many cooperatives and neighborhood committees have been established there. Recently, the village has been known for welcoming Israeli peace activists into its homes and churches, organizing dialogues and joint peace demonstrations. The commitment to tax resistance in Beit Sahour began in and intensified in .

The rationale for tax resistance in the occupied territories has several bases. The sales tax, or VAT, was imposed by Israel after the occupation; its legality is disputed by Palestinians because, according to international law, an occupying power has no right to impose new taxes. Also, Palestinians under occupation maintain that only a small portion of their taxes pays for the limited public services in the occupied territories, and Israel cannot prove otherwise as it does not publish a budget of its income and expenses there. Finally, since Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip cannot vote, they have no control over taxes or public expenditures. A statement from Beit Sahour on stated, in part: “We will not finance the bullets that kill our children, the growing number of prisons, the expenses of the occupying army. We want no more than what you have: freedom and our own representatives to pay taxes to.”

Tax resistance is risky, for without a certificate that all taxes have been paid one cannot, for example, register a car, renew a drivers’ license, travel out of the country, register the birth of a child, or receive permission to bury a family member. Nevertheless, significant numbers of Palestinians under occupation have refused to pay taxes or file tax returns.

Beit Sahour was recently singled out for harsh collective punishment as an example to others in the territories. , the village was declared a closed military zone. For the first five days a 24-hour curfew was imposed, and the subsequent curfew was 5 pm to 5 am. Many telephone lines were cut, soldiers were posted on rooftops throughout the town, and press, solidarity, and religious groups were denied entrance, including the consuls-general of six Western European countries. Under military protection, tax authorities visited ten residents daily, confiscating and sometimes destroying business and personal property that was sometimes worth much more than the taxes owed. At times property was taken from the members of the extended families of tax resisters. Three hundred families had property confiscated and five hundred other families had their bank accounts frozen. Much property was receipted, but not all receipts were signed and some were receipted only as boxes. Forty Sahouries were jailed for nonpayment of taxes and forty-two placed in administrative detention.

To protect tax authorities during these raids, the soldiers forced drivers of passing cars to park their cars in a ring around the house being raided, and commanded passersby to stand in a ring outside the cars. Residents of Beit Sahour described the tax raids as harsh and arbitrary. Some who had paid taxes were mistakenly raided and some of the soldiers taunted and threatened family members and children during the raids. On , the United Nations General Assembly, in a nearly unanimous resolution, condemned the Israeli government for the tax raids in the occupied territories.

By the end of the siege, much of the productive base of the village had been destroyed, yet the mood there was one of celebration. On , with the soldiers gone, observers heard whistles, chants, and cheers echoing through the streets. In their all but empty homes, residents who had been raided spoke proudly of the village’s steadfastness and the villagers’ mutual support. In recognition of the devastating effect of the seige and confiscations, the Palestine Central Council, meeting in Baghdad, voted to ask contributions from PLO members and employees to help compensate the villagers.

Israeli peace activists, many of whom have made friends in Beit Sahour through the previous months of dialogue, have also shown solidarity. After the seige, they were invited to a service for peace in the Beit Sahour Roman Catholic Church, and though sixty were turned back by soldiers at roadblocks outside the town, a dozen who had spent the night there were able to take part in the service. Their spokesman, Hillel Bardin, told the two thousand Palestinians in the congregation, “There is a group of Israelis here with me today who’ve known you for a long time; who’ve had the honor of meeting you, talking with you, learning about you in a way few Israelis have… I admire the courageous people of Beit Sahour for coming together today to call for peace between our peoples.” The Mufti of Jerusalem also attended the service, and the presence of a Muslim holy man in a Christian church was a sign of increased unity among Palestinians themselves.

Another expression of support for Beit Sahour was an Israeli gift of a truckload of tree and vegetable seedlings, delivered . Some Israelis have held protest demonstrations during the selling of the confiscated goods at the Ben Gurion airport. Israeli and Palestinian women are protesting the harsh exposure to cold at the Anata Detention Center where 35 tax resisters from Beit Sahour are being held. Members of Yesh Gvul, Israeli soldiers who refuse to serve in the occupied territories, were stopped by an army roadblock when they tried to make a solidarity visit on , but hundreds of Sahouris arrived by side paths to greet them outside the town. The increasing numbers of Palestinians and Israelis who are organizing against the occupation, both jointly and in their own communities, are drawing from, and making a significant contribution to, the theory and practice of nonviolent struggle.

Military authorities have told the villagers of Beit Sahour to expect another tax seige within six months, but there is no sign that the Sahouris will change their stand. International pressure and expressions of concern are an essential part of the protection and encouragement desperately needed by Palestinians and Israelis working for a just and peaceful solution to this conflict.