War Tax Resister Robin Harper

Over at the liberal blogger site Daily Kos, one “teacherken” reflects a bit on war tax resistance in the course of writing about the 80th anniversary celebration of the founding of the Pendle Hill retreat, where he met Robin Harper. Excerpts:

Robin Harper is a man of principle. He is a War Tax Resister. Now 82, he began his resistance during the Korean War.

The idea of resisting war taxes has a noble American origin — that of Henry David Thoreau who refused to pay his taxes for the Mexican War, an aggressive action by the United States to seize territory primarily for the expansion of slavery. I might note that a young Illinois Whig Congressman named Abraham Lincoln also opposed that war and it cost him his House seat. In Thoreau’s case, he was arrested for failure to pay his taxes. While incarcerated he was visited by his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson and we are told the following exchange occurred:

Emerson asked Thoreau, “Why are you here?”

Thoreau answered Emerson, “Why are you not here?”

Emerson paid the money owed by Thoreau, who was therefore released after one night in jail.

Robin Harper decided he was not willing to pay taxes to support the Korean War. Since then he has refused to pay taxes to support America’s military machine in any fashion. This has meant working at such low income as to not have federal income tax liability. It also means finding an employer willing not to withhold taxes other than payroll taxes from even that meager income. For many years Robin worked on the grounds here at Pendle Hill. He received a quite nominal salary plus room and board, a salary equal to that of any one else — the director or the cook, the dean of studies or the person in the mailroom.

Our principle speaker, the well-known teacher and writer Parker Palmer, honored Robin’s commitment during his address last night. As he himself wrestled with his own opposition to war Robin taught him in a very Quaker fashion, to do what he could within his own life.

The history is a little skewed (it probably wasn’t Emerson who paid Thoreau’s poll tax, and the exchange between them is more legend than fact), and “teacherken” is maddeningly vague about how he has taken up Thoreau’s and Harper’s challenge (he’s evidently honoring differences, and holding “an awareness of touching and affirming, of offering one’s own life as a means of witness, of confronting in oneself the paradoxes that can perplex us” and being “attentive and aware” and such, but I couldn’t find anything more concrete than that in the essay, and he explicitly says he hasn’t become a war tax resister). But I’m glad he found Harper inspiring.