A Joint Call to Low-Risk Tax Resistance

Some nonviolence-oriented groups have come together to issue a joint call for activists to begin to refuse and redirect their taxes to protest the belligerent and xenophobic Trump agenda. Their letter follows.

Dear Friends,

We are writing to ask you to do something that you probably have never done in your life. This is a historical moment you can be an active part of shaping.

We all know the stories of people who committed atrocities and said, in their defense, that they were following orders.

Here is a snapshot of current events:

  • A ban on Muslims
  • A wall along the border we share with Mexico
  • The dismantling of environmental protections
  • Billions added to US defense spending and cutting almost everything else.

We know about slippery slopes, about things getting worse not all at once, about the frog that didn’t escape the heating water because it was being heated so gradually. When does what happens cross the line? We know the famous words of Martin Niemöller:

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

We signed this letter because we want you to consider joining others this year to take a stand. We can non-cooperate with this government which is not of, by and for all the people. As a first step, we can refuse at least a token amount of our taxes to this government.

Specifically, we want to ask you to consider withholding and redirecting a small amount of your taxes. How much? We suggest a symbolic minimum of $10.40, and a maximum of whatever amount works for you. All of us signing this letter are redirecting some tax money, either for 2016 if we haven’t prepaid all our taxes, or through changing our allowance or reducing our estimated taxes for 2017. Will you join us?

Anxious? Thousands of people before you have done this. The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee has an impressive array of resources to help: written materials, videos, webinars, and one-on-one support in some cases. Reach out to them here. Or talk to friends, and perhaps create a group of people who will support each other with the emotional and material risks involved. We ask that you re-direct these funds to the cause that matters most to you.

If tax resistance is not the right choice for you, consider other ways to pursue civil disobedience and noncooperation. There is no way this government, or any government, can continue without the funding and cooperation of its citizens.

David Hartsough, Peaceworkers
Kit Miller, Gandhi Institute for Nonviolence
Michael Nagler, Metta Institute for Nonviolence Education
Miki Kashtan, Bay Area Nonviolent Communication
Ruth Benn, National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee

They’re still collecting signatories, so if you represent a group that is willing and able to sign on, contact Kit Miller and say so.

It’s nice to see this coordinated effort. There has long been an idea floating around war tax resistance circles that if we could create a campaign that has sufficiently low risk — a small, symbolic tax refusal that’s not going to bring the IRS hammer down on anyone — lots of people would be willing to sign on to it and tax resistance would stop seeming so scary. This campaign may end up being a good test of that hypothesis.

My own view is that minimizing risk isn’t enough. The reason more people don’t practice tax resistance involves more dimensions than just riskiness. People are also skeptical of tax resistance’s effectiveness, and of whether it is ethical. You have to find the sweet spot on all of those dimensions in order to bring more people into the fold, and there may be no one-size-fits-all solutions.

However, a good argument against my skeptical point of view is the rampant phone tax resistance in the U.S. during the Vietnam War. This was a small act of resistance, relatively risk-free; it did bother the government; and it did increase the visibility of tax resistance as a tactic in the anti-war movement and probably led to more people doing more significant tax resistance.

In other war tax resistance news:

  • The Village Voice did an article on anti-Trump tax resistance a while back. It’s a little confused, but tries to make the case. It quotes me a bit:

    David Gross, the author of 99 Tactics of Successful Tax Resistance Campaigns, said he stopped paying federal income tax when “the U.S. launched its shock-and-awe attack against the people living in Iraq” in . “I was having a hard time living with myself knowing that my tax dollars were supporting such a vicious and repulsive act.” , he’s kept his income below the minimum taxable amount; in , he also stopped paying self-employment taxes for Medicare and Social Security.

    “Although I have been stubbornly resisting for many years now, my run-ins with the IRS have been few,” Gross said. He now has a $50,000 debt to the IRS; tax collectors managed to seize one of his bank accounts and withdraw a few thousand dollars years ago, but he hasn’t heard much from them lately. “They’ve never contacted me in person. I’ve gotten many letters. Over time the use of boldface and exclamation points increases.”

    “This is a particularly good time not to pay,” Gross said.

  • Some of that article (and other recent media mentions) made some of us in war tax resistance circles contemplate creating a sort of FAQ for journalists, since they often repeat the same tired misconceptions. Some of us on the facebook have started compiling some common misconceptions journalists trip over.