Would You Refuse Taxes If Enough People Joined You?

Tax resistance groups have used surveys to gauge public support for a possible campaign and to reassure potential resisters that they will not be alone. Some have also tried the gambit of asking people to commit to resist if and only if a certain critical mass of people also makes such a commitment.

Today I’ll give some examples.

Surveys to gauge support or to “push poll”

  • The Secretary of the Federation of Dublin Anti Water Charge Campaigns remembers that the government initially challenged anti-tax activists by saying that they were an unrepresentative, radical fringe, and that most people supported the tax:

    Our immediate response was to challenge his contention and to propose a survey of the area to find out what people really thought, and a further public meeting to report the findings. Within 15 minutes we had a dozen volunteers to carry out the survey and these went on to form the nucleus of what became one of the most active campaign groups in the federation. The follow-up meeting 3 weeks later heard that something like 85% of the local residents opposed the tax. The fact of carrying out this survey gave everybody the confidence that the silent majority were with us, and for those who carried out the survey, they realised that it wasn’t such a difficult thing to knock on their neighbours’ doors and talk to them and it gave them the confidence to go on to become key campaign activists.

    It’s something I would recommend that campaigners try — doing a survey such as this or even collecting a petition in an area, knocking on doors and talking to people about the issue gives those people who we are hoping will become campaign activists a sense of ownership of the local campaign as well as demonstrating quite clearly the strength of feeling on the issue. People need to feel that it’s their campaign — not one either owned by or controlled by any political organisation or party.

  • In the anti-Poll Tax movement in Thatcher’s Britain, a Bristol organizer, remembers that in his neighborhood group:

    [Our] network was strengthened by a door-to-door survey of over 500 households. The survey was not intended to be scientifically accurate. Its purpose was to give the APTU a fairly accurate picture of what was happening on the ground, and, perhaps more significantly, it was a pretext for engaging people in conversation about the Poll Tax, informing them of the non-payment campaign and encouraging them to join their local APTU. The results were interesting. Only 20% said that they would definitely pay. The same number said that they would definitely not, but more significantly, 55% said that they wouldn’t pay if a lot of other people in the area weren’t paying either. So even at this early stage we knew that non-payment was going to be massive. Over a third of the people canvassed became paid up members of the union. By the end of the exercise Easton had over 300 members and street reps for almost every street.

    The canvass was not left there. The key to its success was the second visit. The group compiled all the statistics on a street by street basis and many of the reps then went back, door-to-door, and told people the results of the survey in their street and the neighbouring streets. A newsletter was delivered to everyone telling them what the overall results were for Easton. This meant that people knew how few of their neighbours were going to pay and it gave them confidence not to pay themselves. They had spoken to the canvassers personally, so they knew that the survey was genuine.

  • In the American war tax resistance group NWTRCC surveyed resisters, former resisters, and anti-war activists who had never resisted taxes, to find out about their attitudes toward war tax resistance. They used some of the information, for instance a question for the never-resisted group about their reasons for not resisting, to help them refine their outreach message. Almost two-thirds of those never-resisters answered “yes” to the question:

    Would you consider participating in a one-year commitment to refuse a portion of your federal income taxes and redirect your taxes to a humanitarian cause if thousands joined you publicly?

    This encouraging response led the group to launch what it called the “ War Tax Boycott.” Although the Boycott itself did not generate the hoped-for “thousands,” the group found it to be a useful outreach platform, and has continued to use it in subsequent years.
  • Women’s suffrage activists in Wisconsin in said they “will take a census of the women taxpayers, [and] the list of names will be published and used as a basis of a ‘protest to the Legislature against taxation without representation.’ ”

Ask people to vow to resist once a critical mass of people take the vow

  • The women’s suffrage activists from Wisconsin I mention above also said that “when 10,000 names have been secured to a pledge, the women will refuse to pay taxes, and the questions involved will be taken to the courts.” Another version of the pledge put the number at 5,000:

    We, the tax paying women of Wisconsin, hereby agree to do what we can by protest and argument to emphasize the fact that taxation without representation is tyranny as much for American women today as it was for American colonists in . And we also pledge ourselves that when 5,000 or more women in Wisconsin shall have similarly enrolled we will simultaneously take action by whatever method may seem best in accordance with official advice from the Wisconsin Suffrage Association to the end that public attention may be thoroughly and effectively called to the injustice and injury done to women by taxing them without giving them any voice as to how their money should be employed.

  • The American anti-war activist group Code Pink launched a campaign called “Don’t Buy Bush’s War” in , saying:

    When there are 100,000 of us who have the courage to pledge no more money for war, we will join in an act of mass civil disobedience and refuse to pay the portion of our taxes that represents the % we spend on the U.S. military occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Nina Utne explained:

    There is safety in numbers. The idea is to get people to sign a pledge that they will engage in civil disobedience by withholding a percentage of their taxes, but only if a critical mass of 100,000 signers is reached by .

    The campaign’s ambitions were a little too high, as it turns out, but they did get over 2,000 pledges, and started many conversations about war tax resistance.
  • Miners at the “New Rush” in Kimberly, South Africa in signed a pledge of tax resistance, mutual protection, and boycott of non-resisters that included a minimum-signers trigger:

    This pledge is to become operative, and shall be enforced, when signed by 400 men. … This pledge is a serious matter. If it is passed to-night it will only be a Resolution; but as soon as it is signed by 400 men, which will most likely be on Monday next, it will be the law of the people which must be abided by and ruthlessly enforced.