Feminist Tax Resistance

I highlighted some excerpts from You Can’t Kill the Spirit by Pam McAllister concerning tax resisting women from history. Today, some notes on “Feminist Tax Resistance” from Joanie Fritz, from Heresies magazine, issue #20 ().

As far back as Aristophanes’ The Lysistrata, women have demonstrated their power to affect peace. They rendered Greece’s armies hostage by denying them sexual favors and forced the priapic warriors to lay down their arms for “love.” Such a strategy no longer works in today’s context, for any number of reasons.

Women have traditionally embraced peace organizations comprised of both men and women. Such groups happily embrace women, but not necessarily feminism. In the arena of political activism, women find themselves struggling for visibility and equal recognition among their peers, in addition to working on issues.

Among the politically active movements, there is a fringe element known as the war tax resistance movement. War-tax is the 63% of every tax dollar directed to military expenses. This resistance movement is dedicated to diverting funds from the military by refusing to pay part or all of “owed” taxes.

In looking at how this issue pertains to women, I spoke with some members of a group called Feminist Tax Resistance Assistance about how the issue of taxes in general affects women. FTRA has been in existence for nearly two years. It was formed out of a need expressed by women who had previously felt verbally repressed or ostracized for being “divisive” when expressing feminist concerns within mixed groups. The following are anonymous quotes from FTRA members.

“Tax resistance is a very individual choice. I was involved initially with the peace movement. The way I came to tax resistance was just realizing that it didn’t make sense for me to spend my time working for peace and, at the same time, allowing the IRS to take money out of my check to pay for the very thing I was working against — the military.

“The first couple of years I resisted. I didn’t pay any taxes or I withheld as close to 100% as possible, other than what was automatically taken from my paycheck. I filed an accurate return, showing the correct amount owed, and enclosed a letter explaining why I refused to pay. Last year I withheld the 63% marked for the military. I paid by money order rather than check so they wouldn’t know where my bank account was and place a levy on it. To cover my employers, I sent a formal, signed memo to the accounting department to be forwarded to the IRS: ‘My job situation is temporary. I might change jobs soon. I may be moving shortly. Therefore, I can receive mail at an organization I work with.’ And I gave the War Tax Resistance office address.

“Tax resistance is a serious thing. I think about the fact that resisting my taxes means I’ll be in a contest with the IRS for the rest of my life, and their power to intimidate is amazing. We all feel it every time we get a threatening letter in the mailbox. But in truth that’s their most efficient collection procedure. People get scared and send in the money. The likelihood that you’re going to get thrown in jail is almost nonexistent. I’m not going to say it’s impossible; but it’s usually for side issues, like refusing to give information to a judge or failing to produce records.”

In its brief history. Feminist Tax Resistance Assistance (FTRA) has spent a great deal of time defining itself through analysis of its policies and positions. Its basic focus is on feminism and tax resistance, and how these two issues relate. Tax resistance groups in general are usually insular and often have a pacifist or religious focus. Since women earn 59 cents to every dollar a man earns, and since a large percentage of poverty-level heads of households are women, it may be necessary to re-examine the entire taxation system, military taxation notwithstanding.

“We strive for a recognition of this whole thing. We look at what’s getting funded, as well as what’s not getting funded. And what is the whole tax system, anyway? That’s a focus the traditional tax movement has not always had. Traditional tax resistance groups tend to focus on how much money is going for which particular weapon, and whether the world’s going to blow up. For my part, regardless of what they do with the money, they’re not me. They don’t represent me. They’re old white men taking this money and doing their stuff.”

The FTRA gives interviews on television and radio, publishes public statements and brochures, and holds workshops in tax resistance, most notably for the Women’s Study Program at New Paltz University. When asked if visibility has proven to be a risk factor for tax resisters, one woman replied: “They know we’re here. We’ve been in the media, and sure, there’s the possibility that they’ll see someone’s name and decide to pick up on her just because she’s out there. But the reason we do this is because we want to educate and encourage others to resist. And the only way to do that is to go public.”

FTRA places a strong emphasis on the diversion of tax monies into community and people-related projects and organizations. “Several women from the group either put money into the People’s Life Fund themselves or serve on its board, or both,” a spokesperson said. “Those of us in that position have made a point that we need a commitment of a certain percent of money to go specifically for women’s groups that have limited resources or opportunities for funding.” Last year they gave grants of $300 to groups such as Madre, New York Women Against Rape, Seneca Women’s Encampment, and the St. Mark’s Lesbian Health Clinic, as well as to food co-ops and homelessness projects. This obviously has a direct impact on the lives of women in lower income brackets.

FTRA also exerts energy in trying to get a couple million people to withhold a small amount from their Federal returns. In this way, a massive public protest could really be felt by the IRS, and it would be done at a very low risk to resisters. “Symbolic protest is an excellent way for people to experience tax resistance. If you start small, then maybe the next year you’ll decide not to pay taxes at all.”