The Successful Anti-War Movement that Might Have Been

Madison, Wis. (SNF) — The anti-war protest coalition Citizens United for Peace (CUP) announced that they are launching a large-scale, multi-faceted tax protest in which they will call on people to “divest from the war machine.”

The coalition’s member groups, which include “United for Justice and Peace” and “Not In My Name,” vowed to ask each of their individual members to stop paying at least some portion of their federal taxes, in protest of the war in Iraq and other policies.

“We believe that as people living in the United States it is our responsibility to resist the injustices done by our government, in our names and with our money,” read a press release from CUP. “Tax resistance is the most direct way we can make this resistance felt.”

According to the group, about half of what the federal government collects in taxes is spent on war, arms, and war-related expenses. “We can’t work to stop this war with our voices while we’re funding it with our paychecks.”

CUP has created a list of tax resistance methods and has asked those who join its campaign to select at least one of these to engage in immediately, and at least one other to work toward.

“Some of these methods are simple, some are more difficult,” says Carla Paxworthy, spokesperson for the National League of War Tax Resistance, who helped to draw up the “tax resistance matrix” list of techniques for CUP. “Some can be done by anyone, others aren’t for everyone. Some are entirely legal, and some require civil disobedience.

“We’re aiming for 100% [of coalition members participating],” Paxworthy says. “There’s something on the list that everyone can do today. And everything on the list is something that decreases the amount that we’re paying for war.”

Paxworthy says her organization will help counsel individual resisters and will serve as a clearinghouse for information on the experiences of tax resisters nationwide.

Ignis Brünnlig, of the IRS press office, said “the United States has a proud tradition of dissent, but we also have a system in which we all must contribute to the benefits we share as part of this nation. It’s important that people realize that the law is very clear that we all have to pay our fair share.”

But according to Mai Paga, who has been a tax resister for 14 years, the IRS bark is much worse than its bite. “First off, there are ways to resist taxes that aren’t illegal at all,” she says. “But in the history of war tax resistance in the United States, there haven’t been a dozen people who’ve done time for it.”

Still, some campaign coordinators say that the IRS may respond to a large-scale campaign with some high-profile prosecutions to try to discourage people from signing on. Paxworthy warns, “nobody should go into this without being aware of the risks and being ready to face the consequences.”

Thus reads a news article from an alternate future! (Cue theramin.)

I’m trying to bring a little more solidity to this vision I have of the U.S. opposition becoming more organized, energized, and relevant. The slice of America that prefers peace to war and justice to injustice is, I suspect, thanks to the combination of inexorable taxation and hopeless passivity, actually working harder for war and injustice than for their own values.

We’ve got to turn that around. It seems to me that the time for being inoffensive and ineffective is over. The people on the side of war and domination don’t make a hobby or fashion statement of it. They don’t limit themselves to bumper stickers and blogs. They’ve made careers of their passion, they’ve requisitioned tax money, they command armies.

Give me a reality check here, will ya, team? Am I making sense? Can we ask a little bit more of ourselves as activists? Today I’m going to reach a little more than yesterday, and tomorrow a little more still, until I’m putting all my weight behind my beliefs and not letting myself be used as fuel shoveled into the engine of the war machine. That sort of pledge ought to have the strength of a vow for us. Don’t say you’re for peace and justice if all you’re willing to do is wave a sign for it, or go to a movie about it, or vote for someone who’s possibly less against it than the other guy.

Damn. Listen to me rant and rave today.

A helpful note I read on a simplicity / frugality mailing list recently: “the coffee bar chain Starbucks gives away their used coffee grounds — excellent stuff for garden compost. This time of year, if any of you have a winter garden (I’m west of Atlanta), Starbucks is really piling up with extra grounds. I carried home more than a dozen bags of the stuff on Friday. The employees there say it really piles up this time of year, because fewer people are gardening.”

Advice from Lysander Spooner To the Non-Slaveholders of the South: A Plan for the Abolition of Slavery ():

…give never a vote to a Slaveholder; pay no taxes to their government, if you can either resist or evade them; as witnesses and jurors, give no testimony, and no verdicts, in support of any Slaveholding claims; perform no military, patrol, or police service; mob Slaveholding courts, gaols and sheriffs; do nothing, in short, for sustaining Slavery, but every thing you safely and rightfully can, publicly and privately, for its overthrow…

Oh yeah, that torture thing.

It might seem at first that the rules for the treatment of Iraqi prisoners were founded on standards of political legitimacy suited to war or emergencies; based on what Carl Schmitt called the urgency of the “exception,” they were meant to remain secret as necessary “war measures” and to be exempt from traditional legal ideals and the courts associated with them. But the ominous discretionary powers used to justify this conduct are entirely familiar to those who follow the everyday treatment of prisoners in the United States — not only their treatment by prison guards but their treatment by the courts in sentencing, corrections, and prisoners’ rights. The torture memoranda, as unprecedented as they appear in presenting “legal doctrines… that could render specific conduct, otherwise criminal, not unlawful,” refer to U.S. prison cases in that have turned on the legal meaning of the Eighth Amendment’s language prohibiting “cruel and unusual punishment.”

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes used to say that he liked to pay taxes because he felt he was buying civilization. One wonders how the good justice would react to the civilization we are purchasing with today’s federal taxes… ¶ War-making accounts for our government’s largest expenditure and is the nation’s chief business.

―Howard W. Lull War-Tax Resistance — Why Not?, The Christian Century