Can American War Tax Resistance Gain Political Traction?

Lots of interesting discussion on the wtr-s email list this week:

re-building a movement?
Ed Agro started things off by bemoaning the current lack of “political salience” of war tax resistance, and wondering “what it might take to turn (or re-turn?) wtr into something resembling a social movement… What do we mean by a ‘movement’ and how does it differ from the wtr community that now exists?”
Re: re-building a movement?
Larry Rosenwald suggests that in order to become a real movement, we need to reach agreement on a set of principles and guidelines, to resolve “the relation between wtr as civil disobedience, committed publicly, and wtr as a mode of life in which one simply doesn’t owe the government any money,” to “seek to exert influence, even power… to win, that is,” and to give a collective answer to the question: “What changes in governmental behavior would it take [for] us to stop doing war tax resistance?”
Re: re-building a movement?
Dana Visalli is skeptical of the value of “movements,” saying that “we are confronting an issue of consciousness… it seems to me to be an issue of waking up, and only individuals can do that.”
Re: re-building a movement?
I suggest a couple of possible paths to movementhood: 1) a “revival” of enthusiasm in the anti-war movement like the “come-outer” abolitionist movement in American protestantism, 2) a populist tax resistance campaign from outside the anti-war movement that leads to a sympathetic reaction by anti-war activists. I suggest we more aggressively confront “complacency and feel-goodism in the peace movement.” I also am skeptical of Larry’s call for us to come to agreement on the details of our methods and goals: “I doubt we could come up with a fixed answer… even in the small circle of a NWTRCC gathering that would satisfy everyone, and an attempt to do so might divide us rather than strengthen us.”
Re: re-building a movement?
Larry responds, seconding my call for confronting a complacent peace movement, suggesting that the emergence of a populist, TEA-party-like tax-resistance movement is unlikely, and addressing my skepticism about his call for tighter definition of the tactics and goals of war tax resistance. He identifies three tendencies among resisters: 1) people who have embraced radical simplicity to avoid paying taxes but without engaging in confrontational civil disobedience (“it’s not, in Thoreau’s sense of the word, ‘friction’”), 2) people who refuse to pay taxes due and then do whatever they can to prevent the government from seizing the money (“For them, holding on [to] the money is a victory, being found and levied is a defeat”), and 3) people who refuse to pay taxes due and who see being found and levied as “like being arrested for civil disobedience” and a vital part of the action (“when the penalty is exacted, we can throw a party, tell our friends, write our bank administrators or our employers or colleagues, make it even more public than it was before”). He also says that having explicit goals or demands is perhaps crucial for war tax resistance to become a movement: “When the Montgomery bus boycott began, among the first thing the organizers did was to stipulate what changes would cause them to stop boycotting.”
re-building a movement - constituencies1 - contra Visalli
Ed Agro writes about doing outreach to encourage war tax resistance from a non-pacifist perspective — “an audience for WTR that’s been given short shrift, perhaps unconsciously, by activists moved by personal conviction so strong that it leads to a too-quick devaluing of other, different convictions” — and says that the experience of his local WTR group shows the strength of ideological diversity.
Re: re-building a movement - constituencies1 - contra Visalli
Larry Rosenwald then asks: “if one isn’t what Ed calls ‘a radical pacifist’ (I myself am), what justifies doing war tax resistance? And if one is of two minds, supports some military actions, opposes others, what results does that have in how one practices wtr?”
Pacifism, non-pacifism, and taxes (was "Re: re-building a movement…")
I try to answer Larry’s question: “[I believe] that whether or not a person should use violence in some situation is something that that person needs to carefully decide on a case-by-case basis and not by applying a pre-made doctrine. Paying taxes, though, means that you’re not making considered decisions about your participation in war and peace, violence and nonviolence, and so forth — instead, you’re leaving those decisions up to politicians. These politicians are, almost by definition, morally repulsive creatures. They cannot be trusted with such decisions, and to allow them to make these decisions for you is morally reckless.” Then I add this challenge: “I’d turn the question around and ask the ‘radical pacifists’ how they can justify taxation of any sort (many do, to my surprise). If you wouldn’t support violence even to stop a Hitler, how can you justify using violence to collect money for any of the far less crucial things government does?”