Tax Resistance in “The Catholic Worker” 2007–16

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

NWTRCC advertised what it billed as its “2008 War Tax Boycott and Redirection” in the Catholic Worker:

2008 War Tax Boycott and Redirection

Withhold from War!
Pay for Peace!

, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee urges all who oppose this war to register and prepare for an nationwide boycott and redirection of the federal income taxes that fuel the war in Iraq. For more information, contact:

National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee
PO Box 150553, Brooklyn, NY 11214, 1‒800‒269‒7464

There was an article promoting the Boycott in the issue of that paper:

One Way to Support Peace

by Stanley Bohn

Minor nonviolent civil disobedience is what the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC) is proposing for . As a symbolic action to defund the war, NWTRCC is urging thousands to withhold part of their income tax, even one dollar, and redirect it to humanitarian needs underfunded because of the war.

Will this action make Congress and the Administration change their funding priorities? Very unlikely, even if millions took part in this effort. After all, war fuels our economy, having enemies is useful in getting national unity and political support, and it focuses on the evil of others allowing us to raise our self-esteem. As Chris Hedges wrote in his War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning, war provides us with purpose and a kind of civil religion.

But, for some Christians the motive for participating in the tax redirection, though starting out as outrage, becomes something else. The reason for participating, at first, may be a protest against refugee making, the slaughter of persons as collateral damage, torture of prisoners, creating mentally damaged veterans, ballooning war debt, ruined international relations and other disastrous consequences. But, when one risks taking a stand for one’s Christian convictions, something can happen to us.

We gain an understanding of Jesus’ way of being lumped with criminals when choosing the community-building, caring, enemy-loving life that is at the heart of the universe. We realize in a more immediate way that Jesus did not live or teach a religion that is guided by what is respectable, safe, stress-free or waits until there is wide consensus. Jesus calls us to a life that is unpredictable and vulnerable.

Tax redirection is not a criterion of who is a “real Christian.” Who determines whether this kind of civil disobedience is “Holy Obedience?” But tax redirection seems like accepting life as a gift, to be what we are here for, and to live what we see in Jesus’ life, death and living again. When the IRS makes us pay a small percentage more than our lawful tax we can experience what we believe is more important than money and the hold money has on us is reduced.

Living this kind of trust in the Jesus way has the benefit of keeping serious Christians from attempting to be “pure” and withdrawing from life’s realities. It keeps us engaged in current issues and with those proposing different goals. Engaged however, in an upsetting sort of way… which is the kind of peace that Christians should expect when choosing an alternative way to attempt to conquer evil.

The risk of taking a stand regardless of consequences brings an unexpected peace. It is a not a peace that makes us feel protected, free of fears or satisfied with ourselves. It is a peace that comes from knowing one is on a venture of trusting in the universe-guiding reality we see in Christ. It is an empowering peace given us when we offer ourselves to the One Who gave us this life, trusting God for the outcome. It is an empowerment that keeps us open rather than defensive and having to shut out the desperate cries of others. It is an alternative to consumer-oriented Christianity that brings an unintended transformation, making us vulnerable and powerful at the same time.

There is no telling if or how God might use the tax redirection. Consequences may occur that we never thought of, including what powers or gifts might be released in ourselves. We should not expect the government to inform us how many participated in the war tax redirection. The media may not report it if they knew. If the amount we withheld and diverted is seen by the IRS as worth taking action against, we will likely receive threatening letters and finally have those funds confiscated along with a penalty.

Yet, significant tax redirection could mean some humanitarian agencies will get more financial support in and starving people will be fed. Maybe some legislators would hear the dilemma of many taxpayers and join with other co-sponsors of HR 1921, the Freedom of Religion Peace Tax Fund, which would make redirection of taxes by conscientious objectors to war legal. And maybe a few thousand redirectors will discover we are less bound by the expectations of others and are more free than we thought we could be.

Most important, we may learn that choosing risky ways of living for others, even nonviolent civil disobedience, can bring spiritual healing. We won’t defund the war but we can be more confident of the power that overcomes our fears and by God’s grace be enabled to be the humans God intended us to be.

In the course of an obituary for Larry Rosebaugh in the Catholic Worker, author Karl Meyer mentioned a detail about his own tax resistance that I hadn’t seen before:

Funded by informal donations to avoid IRS collection of refused war taxes, I was working at the American Friends Service Committee that year with the goals of organizing military draft resistance and war tax refusal and organizing among Catholic laity and clergy to oppose the war in Vietnam.

That would have been around .

The Midwest Catholic Worker Faith and Resistance Retreat was held in Chicago in , with the theme: “The Cost of War: At Home and Abroad.” A recap of the Retreat in the Catholic Worker mentioned a Federal Building civil disobedience performance:

[After Mass, t]he rest of was committed to nonviolence training and action planning… as we prepared for a nonviolent presence and action at the Federal Building in downtown Chicago.

On , over sixty Catholic Workers arrived at the Federal Building with signs announcing the Works of Mercy and denouncing the works of war. With guitars and mandolin, we sang songs while folks handed out fruit, donuts, water, juice, coffee, clothes and war tax resistance leaflets to passersby. Seven people staged a die-in to depict the works of war in front of the Federal Building while twelve people entered inside. With their hands painted red to show the blood on our hands, five people stood in the windows of the lobby with shirts saying “Stop funding War.” Others fell to the floor as we prayed around them and encouraged people to turn away from the works of war and begin practicing the Works of Mercy. Seventeen of us were arrested and cited and released after a couple of hours. We go to trial in .

An article in the Catholic Worker bemoaned the replacement of elected governments in Michigan cities with state-appointed “emergency managers” which meant that “[o]ver half the African American population of the state of Michigan is under non-elected governments [a]nd three quarters of the black elected officials in Michigan have been replaced by this process.” During an aside after remarking about corporate municipal tax dodgers, he wrote:

Oh, the contradictions of my life. Here I am a lifelong, conscientious war tax resister bemoaning tax refusers (though neither conscientious nor honorable). I’ve always paid local taxes, but now I even think, “Taxation without representation?”

That same issue featured an article by Karl Meyer on the modest future prospects he foresaw for the war tax resistance movement:

War Tax Refusal

By Karl Meyer

Is there a future for a significantly expanded scale of explicitly organized war tax refusal in the United States? I see little prospect for this in the foreseeable future.

I have refused payment of all federal income taxes, for reasons of conscience, for fifty-four years. I was also very instrumental in developing and writing about strategies and tactics that enabled a broad scale of telephone excise tax refusal and income tax refusal, that peaked , and again .

We tried very hard to stimulate mass war tax refusal , , and . We did not see a significant surge in war tax refusal . I think I understand the cultural reasons why our movement did not grow much at .

I believe that war tax refusal actions following World War Ⅱ were mostly driven by the problem of military conscription. All young men were vulnerable to conscription , when the military draft was discontinued. All the advocates and leaders of war tax refusal that I met in this period were either conscientious objectors or draft non-cooperators, or people in their families or circles of friends. Before the escalation of the Vietnam War, these people organized in the relatively tiny network of the Peacemakers movement and the War Resisters League.

When war tax refusal surged and peaked , I believe it was a direct result of families, girlfriends, other friends and general supporters who wanted to take a risk and act in solidarity with young men who resisted the draft, or the thousands who submitted although feeling that the war was very wrong. Thousands of these were dying in vain, or coming back severely injured in body and soul.

Organized war tax refusal dropped off abruptly after the Vietnam War and the draft ended, but came back again quite quickly only seven years later, as a reaction to President Reagan’s belligerent military spending escalations to confront the so-called “evil empire” Soviet Union, his neo-imperial aggressions in Central America, and the “star wars” missile defense scheme. The generation of Vietnam War resisters sprang back into action for the few years before the Gorbachev-Reagan détente.

But now, the young men who were last subject to military conscription are at least fifty-six years old, and most of them are old enough to receive Social Security and Medicare benefits. Meanwhile, an increasing number of other federal programs, benefits and subsidies have been tied to levels of income documented by filing income tax returns. Those enacted include Medicare, broadened food stamp benefits, housing subsidies, Earned Income Allowance, an array of deductions and credits, federal student grant and loan programs, and, most recently, medical care insurance subsidies under the Affordable Care Act. Following our vigorous resistance to the restoration of draft registration , the registration law became quite toothless, but eligibility for college loans was tied to draft registration, greatly discouraging young men and their parents from resistance to an act of registration that had minor symbolic significance.

Considering these factors, I foresee that explicit war tax refusal will be the limited province of a modest core of well-informed people of unusually scrupulous conscience, who see it as a moral imperative to refuse personal participation in paying for any war crimes of organized states. Such was the core of war resisters in peace churches, the WRL, and Peacemakers . People who participate regularly in a corporately organized wage and salary economy that reports to government will shy away from the potential loss of jobs and benefits associated with open war tax refusal.

We must reach young people in their high school and college years when they are refining their moral attitudes and making career choices for their future lives. It seems to me from personal observation and experience with young people in their twenties that their main social concerns are with threats to our biological environment, corporate domination of our economies, and the economic burdens on students and workers in finding useful employment with compensation adequate to their financial needs. Over a hundred young people, mostly recent college graduates, have lived with us for varying periods over at our Catholic Worker affiliated Nashville Greenlands intentional community. They are not as specifically focused on the threat of wars and massive military expenditures as on factors causing social problems that concern them, unlike young people of my generation a half century ago, who focused on militarism and war as the greatest threats to our future.

So I believe we should integrate nonpayment of military taxes as one action in a broad vision for healthy alternative ways of life within the social and economic structure, in short, the classic anarcho/socialist vision of “a new society within the shell of the old.”

Such a vision includes:

  • simple living in cooperative communities;
  • self-employment or small group employment in productive enterprises that do not report income to governments;
  • alternatively, part time or irregular employment in reported economies;
  • urban agriculture, farming, and local organic food movements;
  • social activism, including action against war that can incorporate principled nonpayment of military taxes.

The Catholic Worker movement, with which I have been actively associated for , has thrived and grown among young people over , based on this broad vision of alternative ways of life. I believe we should present war tax refusal in this kind of context. We should also emphasize the practical benefits of using all of our productivity for the common good, and refusing to turn over any percentage of it to the military state.