Tax Resistance in “The Catholic Worker” 1998–2001

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

The issue of The Catholic Worker announced the publication of a newish (first published in ) NWTRCC pamphlet:

Keep in mind the deadline for the payment of income taxes. Looking for good alternatives to paying the deadly dues? Contact the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, PO Box 774, Monroe, ME 04951 for the pamphlets they put out. In “Practical War Tax Resistance #5, Fow Income/Simple Living as War Tax Resistance,” there’s a one-page entry by two heroes of the nonviolent revolution, Wally and Juanita Nelson, now 86 and 72 respectively. Also, there’s a small section on voluntary poverty, which the CW advocates, as opposed to involuntary poverty, which the writers tell us Gandhi called “the worst form of violence.” Truly, this little brochure is an uplifting guide for the perplexed when it comes to the nonpayment of war taxes and how to get started or to live below the taxable income.

The issue of that paper reprinted parts of an Ernest Bromley essay about war tax resistance that it had originally published in (see ).

A note by Ric Rhetor in the issue read:

One way of practicing nonviolence at the grass-roots level is through some form of tax resistance. Maybe you’ll receive this paper before (we hope). Perhaps tax resistance, withholding or some other form of saying no will be considered. We wonder what will happen to long-time tax resister and teacher of resistance methods, Ed Hedemann, who goes to court as we go to press for his refusal to pay. If you do pay federal taxes, you might be unaware that over 50% of these monies go to war and its preparation.

Melissa Jameson discussed her war tax resistance, and the decisions and compromises she made along the way as she adopted it, in the Catholic Worker:

One Way to Resist War

By Melissa Jameson

I became a tax resister in . My introduction to resisting federal taxes because such a high percentage of them go to pay for war, came through the War Resisters League (WRL) organizers’ training program in . During the 10 days of the program, I met people who lived below taxable income as a means of not contributing to the world of the federal government and its war machine, and read about not paying taxes as another tool of resistance.

One of the people I met there was Randy Kehler of Colrain, Massachusetts, who, along with his partner, Betsey Corner, was a longtime tax resister; their house had just been seized by the IRS after many years of redirecting their taxes to places that help build up the world, not destroy it. I was struck by Randy and Betsy’s story and its impact on the community around them. Later on, when the house was purchased from the IRS by a couple up that way, members of our War Resisters League local group became part of the campaign around “occupation” of the property. We participated in the 24-hour-a-day vigil at the house, where I met even more more tax resisters.

First Steps

The vigil began in and ended in , when the people who bought the house finally sold it back to the land trust. (Randy and Betsy now live in another house on the land trust property.) The vigil was an amazing experiment in nonviolent resistance and building community. It opened me up to whole new worlds of thought.

Somewhere along the line, I started reading up on the subject in the WRL’s “Guide to War Tax Resistance,” and I determined that, as much as I could, I would resist. I was becoming more and more uncomfortable with my level of participation in the system. To the extent possible, my partner and I tried to avoid federal taxes, concentrating on the things people can avoid by not purchasing them, like cigarettes and liquor. (I am still searching for someone who can teach me how to make wine!) Obviously, the taxes on tires and gasoline and such are much more difficult. One does what one can, when one can.

We then started withholding payment of the federal excise tax on our phone bill, dutifully — mostly — sending in notes saying why we were not paying the small percentage that is this tax. What is supposed to happen is that the phone company takes the amount you don’t pay off the bill, then informs the IRS you are doing this. However, the amounts are often so small that nothing happens. This practice led to some interesting, even entertaining, conversations with Bell Atlantic. Eventually, it also led to them dropping the money from the “Past Due” section of the bill. Whether they ever actually told the IRS, I don’t know.

Given where we were living (suburban, northern NJ) and how much our rent and other expenses were, living below taxable income did not seem viable. We — mostly me — were not ready for community living at that point, where perhaps a group of us could have shared expenses, enabling us to live below the taxable income line. We were busy with other peace activism, too, and for this and other reasons, being self-employed also did not seem to be an option. Living the way we did gave us certain choices we could not have had otherwise. My partner earned below the income guidelines at two of his jobs, and, at first, did not earn enough in both combined to pay taxes. We decided that it was great at least one of us could do this.

As for myself, the job I have full-time now was then only part-time, and they were withholding. I eventually got a second job, for one day a week, where my employer agreed to pay me as an independent contractor and did not withhold any taxes. I was thrilled! Then, in my reading, I found out that I could change my W-4 form and increase the amount of deductions claimed, which would mean that I would have less money taken out of my paycheck each week. This is, of course, illegal, and can have serious consequences. However, I felt that I needed to take this step.

My happiness was dimmed a bit when I realized that I had not claimed enough deductions and so some federal taxes were still being taken out. Feeling foolish, I changed my withholding form again, trying to ignore the quizzical look on the face of our personnel director, the all-powerful dispenser of forms. (Legally, the people in the accounting department are not supposed to stop you from filling out these forms however you wish, but that does not mean that the various and sundry individuals you meet along the way of the process — witness our personnel director — will not wonder what you are doing.) And now, believe it or not, it still isn’t enough — I got a raise, and need to change my withholding once more!

Continuing the Walk

After a few years, maybe in or so, I received a form letter from the IRS saying they did not have a record of my taxes for . I wrote back, explaining why, as a pacifist, I did not believe in paying for war, and also told them I was redirecting my tax dollars to peaceful causes. I enclosed a copy of the War Resisters League pie chart that breaks down the federal tax dollar into how it is spent. After some time, I received another request, this time for me to fill out a return and send it in. I wrote back again. There were more letters and, finally, a bill for an amount due: as they had no record of taxes being taken out of my one-day-a-week job, they assessed me accordingly. They tacked on some penalties and interest, and asked me to send them the six or seven hundred dollars right away. I wrote them another letter.

I have heard from them a couple of times since, asking me to send them a check as soon as possible. The last time was near last summer, when the letter I received told me that if I didn’t pay them by a certain date, they could take steps to get their money. I knew this could happen, and so am more or less waiting for the other shoe to drop. To the IRS, my several hundred dollars is not even a drop in the bucket, so they may not do anything. But, they could garnish my wages or seize my bank account. (However small, I do have one, having succumbed, for other reasons, at my job to get direct deposit — this also makes it easier for the IRS to find my money.) I then would have to decide whether or not to leave my job, something I have contemplated doing, or continue and keep resisting here, in this way.

When co-workers talk about getting refunds from the IRS or about filing their taxes, I confess that I have not always been that forthcoming about my own practices. However, I have also found that each successive step along this path becomes a little surer, a little easier, and I talk more about this now. I have also found, as with many things, that once you introduce a topic, others welcome the chance to share their own stories. One of my co-workers told me she has a friend who claims a lot of deductions so that she can have more money to take home during the year, and then in the spring, just pays the IRS what she owes. Most people I speak to never think of questioning the IRS about anything, let alone challenging them.

Resistance can be hard, but it is always so worthwhile. Compared to many people, I have hardly faced the IRS at all — my “tiny" bill is nothing compared to others, over the years, who have been assessed tens of thousands of dollars in penalties and taxes, who have been taken to court, who have even gone to jail. At this point, I am feeling more and more as if I need to continue the walk and explore ways in which I can further my life of resistance to weapons and war. I realize that the particular form of resistance I have been doing is not for everyone, but for me it is a step in the right direction.

There were also occasional announcements of national, international, and regional gatherings of war tax resistance groups, and a few other mentions in passing of tax resistance during these years.