International Gathering of Activists Talk Taxes, War, and Peace

Ruth Benn, NWTRCC’s coordinator, attended the 12th International Conference on War Tax Resistance & Peace Tax Campaigns in Manchester, England .

she wrote up a preliminary report on the goings-on. Some excerpts:

There were about 60 people from 14 countries — about standard for these conferences. Sadly I have to report that our efforts to get George Rishmawi from Palestine to the conference ended in a refused visa, so that he could not travel to the conference. The British organizers tried really hard to get thru the red tape but to no avail. Two people from Ghana were refused visas also.…

…As with most conferences (at least in my humble opinion) the time spent talking with folks at meals and between the organized sessions is at least as important as anything that comes up in the sessions. Quite a few of my conversations were with individuals from other countries who are war tax resisters, who refuse to pay at least some of taxes due to their respective governments. Many combine their refusal with redirecting the money to some kind of fund for nonviolent defense or peace-building funds.

As we have found in the past, it is more difficult to resist in most countries because of the way taxes are pulled from paychecks. Those who resist tend to be self-employed. In general, collection is much faster in other countries than has been our experience in the U.S. (at least up to now), and many organizers at this conference make no effort to build WTR, seeing it as futile. The majority of people at the conference are working on peace tax fund campaigns or looking for ways to take their complaint of being forced to pay for war through some court system or U.N. body. I think 5 of the Peace Tax Seven were in attendance, and they are slowly making their way into the European Court of Human Rights. Daniel Jenkins from the U.S. reported on the effort to bring a formal complaint to a U.N. body. The Germans have a resister or two in their circles, but are focusing on a new effort of 10 people to take a complaint to a German high court based on the budget being a violation of fundamental rights because of the military spending. The Germans are trying to get away from appealing through the tax system and instead trying this more direct route to the government officials who create the budget. In Norway peace tax fund campaigners are appealing to their local councils; if the council accepts their complaint as an “initiative of national interest” then the council can send a complaint up to the next level of the government system.

I attended two workshops that related more generally to organizing, with both having some focus on how to widen our efforts. Groups and campaigns in every country seem to face issues similar to our own. “How to bring in more young people” was the topic of one workshop. While no group seemed to be doing any better than many of us here in the U.S., many are looking for answers in the internet, such as getting into Facebook and other networking sites, and upgrading our websites. The Danish peace tax fund campaign has been working with the model U.N. program in high schools with some success at making “the right not to pay for war” a topic in those discussions. One person noted that the activists groups that seem to be most successful at drawing in young people are the ones that give new members something to do immediately and regularly. There was also a good deal of discussion of language, in particular the use of the word “conscience,” and whether that is a word that resonates with young folks today. Because the hosting group was Britain’s “Conscience: the peace tax campaign,” it was the local folks who were having this discussion among themselves and also bringing it to the conference. “Taxes for Peace Not War” was a slogan that many people appreciated due to the positive spin.…

…There were small group sessions to talk about the common ground between war tax resisters and peace tax campaigns and develop ideas about how we can all work together more across international boundaries. I don’t know if any of the groups came up with any brilliant insights on this. My group did spend quite a bit of time comparing our tax systems and learning more precisely what each of our organizations do. It’s hard to figure out how to work together without understanding more about each situation; there’s a lot of confusion about why there is such a “strong” war tax resistance movement in the U.S. as compared to other countries. One person said rather emphatically — “I just don’t understand why anyone would be a war tax resister without also working for a peace tax fund.” Others perceived that peace tax fund campaigns and WTR need each other, that you can’t have one without the other; I said that I could certainly resist without any connection to a peace tax fund campaign, but I began to see that many Europeans see the effort to actually redirect military taxes to a fund that is only for peace-building efforts or alternative defense is primary to their peace tax fund campaigns. I think the U.S. efforts have never had this peace-building fund as an emphasis; the peace tax fund bill as it has been written in the U.S. redirects the taxes of conscientious objectors to the non-military spending in the U.S. budget, not to a specific peace-building effort. I found that insight rather interesting as I never understood so clearly how many of the campaigns are writing their bills for this specific purpose.

In my small group and in general there was clearly interest in making Conscience and Peace Tax International more of an umbrella group for all of our work. Due to technicalities of nonprofit status, NWTRCC has not been an official member of CPTI but has been a supporter. CPTI was founded as more of a link for the peace tax fund campaigns than for WTRs, but we’ll see how things develop. Many wanted to see more organizing successes and ideas posted on the CPTI website. Right now it has links to the groups in each country and information on WTR court cases and conscientious objection rulings within the U.N.

…If you’ve read this far, you get the bonus link to some of Ed Hedemann’s photos from the conference. They are posted at: