Conservative Reporter Eavesdrops at War Tax Resistance Workshop

, I helped Northern California War Tax Resistance put on a workshop for people interested in tax resistance. One of the attendees was Gordon Li, a reporter for California Patriot — a conservative paper at U.C. Berkeley.

We assumed that he was planning to write some sort of “look at these scandalous hippies who refuse to support our brave troops” article, but I think, now that I’ve read Li’s article Tax Crazy, which he wrote before attending our meeting, that he was also trying to learn more about tax resistance techniques in the hopes of putting them into service in a conservative tax resistance effort.

Be that as it may, the article Li came up with isn’t much to get excited about. It starts off with this curious non-sequitir:

For many years, anti-war citizens have been trying to advance their cause without actually doing any work. War tax resisters are a group of people going back to who feel that they should not pay any or part of their taxes because they feel it would go to a “system that supports the military.”

From there it goes on to chide certain Democrats in Congress for co-sponsoring the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund act on the one hand, and then attacking Bush for failing to adequately supply the troops in Iraq on the other.

In spite of my best efforts (I gave a presentation at the workshop on how to lower your income below the tax line), Li ignored what I had to say on the topic and instead must have lazily referred to the out-of-date NWTRCC literature on the subject, for he writes: “Some more interesting measures include living below the taxable income level, which is $7,950 if you are filing as a single.”

The Christian Science Monitor covers the “people power” rebellions that are spreading in Latin America, and Jesse Walker at Reason magazine, notices that “Latin America’s outbreak of people power hasn’t received as much stateside attention as its counterparts in Central Asia and the Middle East… presumably for the same reason media accounts of nonviolent Arab movements often ignore Palestinian resistance to Israel’s ‘security barrier’: The uprisings aren’t aligned with U.S. interests.”

For much of , the chief means of overthrowing a government were guerrilla warfare and military coups. Nonviolent resistance existed — at times it thrived — but it was generally regarded as an odd aberration that rarely worked. But , for a variety of reasons, the trend in revolution-making has been a gradual global shift from violent “people’s war” to nonviolent people power. In an important new book, Unarmed Insurrections, the Rutgers sociologist Kurt Schock points out that there were 31 major nonviolent rebellions in the second and third worlds , starting with the Iranian revolution of . (It’s important to distinguish the overthrow of the Shah, a classic example of people power, from Khomeini’s later consolidation of state power, a much more coercive affair.)

Nonviolent resistance, Schock reminds us, is not the same thing as “passive resistance.” It’s a set of tactics, not a politically correct lifestyle; it’s aimed not at persuading leaders to change their policies, but at making it impossible to enforce those policies. Gene Sharp has been cataloging those tactics for decades, listing 198 of them in ’s three-volume study The Politics of Nonviolent Action and citing several more since then. They fall into three general categories: methods of protest and public persuasion (e.g., a march), of organized noncooperation (e.g., a tax strike), and of “nonviolent intervention” (e.g., a land occupation). Contrary to the conventional wisdom, such methods have frequently worked under repressive dictatorships as well as under relatively benign systems; many times they’ve succeeded where guerrilla tactics have failed. In 23 of those 31 rebellions, from Bolivia to Bulgaria and from Mongolia to Mali, the uprising contributed directly to regime change.

And that statistic understates what has happened, since it focuses on the most visible sort of success. More substantial changes can occur without the government formally changing hands. Of the recent turbulence in Latin America, the most interesting event may be the revolt of the Bolivian Indians. They were the backbone of the protests that drove President Sanchez de Lozada out of power in , and of the more recent turmoil as well, but that’s not what I’m referring to here. I’m referring to the fact that about a fifth of the country’s population now lives in villages that run their own affairs, outside of the capital’s control. This power was not ceded to them. They simply took it.