After the death of Ammon Hennacy in 1970, Karl Meyer took up the torch of promoting war tax resistance in the Catholic Worker. Meyer’s approach was less exhortational and more practical: he pioneered the method of inflating deductions to prevent income tax withholding and wrote an influential early how-to guide on that method. (An embryonic version of what is now NWTRCC’s Practical War Tax Resistance pamphlet #1: “Controlling Federal Income Tax Withholding”.)
Below are some excerpts from the Catholic Worker from the period, starting with an essay by Karl Meyer from the edition:
New Resistance to War Taxes
By Karl Meyer
“Under penalties of perjury, I certify that I incurred no liability for Federal income tax for and that I anticipate that I will incur no liability for Federal income tax for .”
If you can sign that statement, you can stop the withholding of war taxes from your wages.
The statement is the Employee Certification for Form W-4E Withholding Exemption Certificate, which was first published in by the Internal Revenue Service as an alternative to the standard W-4 form. If your employer doesn’t have it on hand, get it from the local IRS office. Signing this statement alone provides complete exemption from prior withholding of Federal Income tax, without enumerating dependents or any other specific basis for the exemption.
Who is eligible to claim this exemption? I say, “everybody.” It is morally impossible to incur a liability to support evil purposes and actions. Since at least 70% of Federal taxes is spent for military or war-related purposes, and much of the balance for useless or harmful purposes, it is impossible to incur a liability to pay Federal income tax.
Who is eligible to claim exemption according to IRS? On the back of the W-4E it says, “You may be entitled to claim exemption from withholding of Federal income tax if you incurred no liability for income tax for and you anticipate that you will incur no liability for income tax for . For this purpose, you incur tax liability if your joint or separate return shows tax before allowance of any credit for income tax withheld. If you claim this exemption, your employer will not withhold Federal Income tax for your wages.”
According to this definition, you would technically satisfy the requirements for exemption if you file a return for showing no tax due because of the immorality and illegality of U.S. military expenditures, even if IRS subsequently rejects your reasoning and assesses tax against you. Likewise, if you file no return at all, your non-existent return can not show any tax due.
Now, it has always been a puzzle to me how a person who believes in conscience that taxes should not be paid could file a return showing taxes as a “balance due.” That is self-contradictory. If the tax is acknowledged to be due, it ought to be paid. If it ought not to be paid, it shouldn’t be shown as “due.”
The IRS calls the income tax a “self-assessed tax.” When you file showing tax due, they are empowered to accept your assessment and proceed to collect immediately. If you show no tax due, even if they disagree with you, they must first reassess the tax themselves and give you extensive opportunities for legal appeals, before they may proceed to collect on their claim. Therefore, it is foolish and self-defeating to show tax as due, if you sincerely believe that it ought not to be paid.
There are several ways to assert your claim that no tax is due:
- you may claim extra exemptions on line 11, on the ground of obligations to all mankind as brothers and members of one family;
- you may claim an adjustment of your income on line 17, based on your principled opposition to militarism;
- you may itemize a deduction on line 16 of Schedule A, claiming deduction of your whole taxable income on similar grounds.
Perhaps the soundest approach is to file no return at all. (The main disadvantage of this, besides its being illegal, is that IRS agents sometimes file distorted returns in your name, claiming excessive amounts of tax.) I didn’t file for ten years, but IRS agents have filed seven returns in my name showing more than $2000 in tax and penalties due.
On , I filed a return for in a personal interview with E.P. Trainor, the District Director at the Chicago office of IRS. On the 1040 Form I filled in my name and address. Under SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER, I wrote “Peace;” under OCCUPATION, I wrote “Love;” across the face of the return I wrote in bold letters, “WE WONT PAY—STOP THE WAR—STOP THE DRAFT—STOP MILITARISM,” for FIRST NAMES OF DEPENDENT CHILDREN, I wrote “All Men Are Brothers;” under OTHER DEPENDENTS, I claimed “A Vietnamese child killed at Song My, an American soldier killed In Vietnam;” and I filled in a total of three and a half billion exemptions for the whole population of Earth; under BALANCE DUE, PAY IN FULL WITH RETURN, I put “$0.00;” then I signed with my name and the date.
Mr. Trainor and his henchmen haven’t figured that year out yet, but they can’t say I didn’t file.
Before you follow my advice and my example, I wish to speak a word of caution: Everything here is my interpretation. Don’t expect the IRS, U.S. Attorneys, Federal Juries, or Courts of Appeal to buy a word of it. In the and issues of the Catholic Worker, I published landmark articles on how to claim sufficient exemptions on the W-4 Form to prevent the withholding of war taxes. Many people all over the country tried out these ideas effectively, but several last their jobs for persisting, and three were tried and convicted in Federal courts for claiming illegal exemptions. If you can’t stand heat, stay out of the kitchen. If you can’t do time, don’t commit crime.
If you have a concern of conscience about paying war taxes, but feel unready to face the possible consequences of the methods of resistance outlined above, the present tax rate provisions give ample opportunity to stop paying war taxes, without violating any provisions of the tax laws, if you are willing to live in reasonable simplicity and voluntary poverty in the spirit of the Catholic Worker movement.
Under the present law an individual may earn up to $1700 a year without any obligation to file a return or pay Federal income tax. A married person with three dependent children could earn up to $4300 a year without having any tax withheld or due. Form W-4E was actually introduced by IRS so that such persons, earning less than the minimum yearly taxable incomes by working for only a few months out of the year, would not have taxes withheld and would not have to apply for refunds months after they earned the money. You can find the complete tables of tax withholding rates and other information in Circular E, Employer’s Tax Guide, available for the asking at your local IRS office.
I do believe that we should all strive to live in a simpler way. If we work part time for wages and live on less than taxable incomes, we will have extra time to grow, create and do more things for ourselves, or to offer our work as a gift to people in need of it. Even if we work full time for taxable wages, but successfully resist collection of the taxes, we should still live simply in order to share our surplus money with others who are in need. I have done this all my adult life and intend to go on with it.
One hundred and eighty years ago, our brother rebel Tom Paine wrote:
…were an estimation to be made of the charges of Aristocracy to a Nation, it will be found nearly equal to that of supporting the poor. The Duke of Richmond alone (and there are cases similar to his) takes away as much for himself as would maintain two thousand poor and aged persons. Is it then any wonder that under such a system of Government, taxes and rates have multiplied to their present extent? In stating these matters, I speak an open and disengaged language dictated by no passion but that of humanity. To me who have not only refused offers because I thought them improper, but have declined rewards I might with reputation have accepted, it is no wonder that meanness and imposition appear disgustful. Independence is my happiness, and I view things as they are, without regard to place or person; my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.
(The Rights of Man, Modern Library edition, page 241)
If we do not live by these principles, how are we different from the warfare state we condemn?
The budget and accounting methods of the Federal administration are confusing. They have recently been modified to deliberately de-emphasize the role of military expenditures as a proportion of the Federal budget, enabling Nixon to claim that they count for less than 50%. This has been done by counting all separately raised and earmarked revenues, such as Social Security revenues and payments, as part of one budgetary total. Then the large Social Security payments can be thrown in the pot and counted at part of domestic expenditures for health and welfare.
Rejecting this ruse, it is possible without detailed analysis to estimate that between 70% and 80% of all Federal income and excise tax revenues is spent for military programs and purposes that are intimately related to the cost of past and present military activities. Acceding to individual judgment this estimate might include veterans benefits, space research and technology, various “international affairs” programs, certain “Justice Department” activities, a percentage of the general administrative expenditures, and the interest and principal payments on the national debt, incurred primarily as a cost of World War Ⅱ and the Cold War.
Awareness of these facts, plus the explanation of new methods of resistance, contributed to a tremendous growth in the movement of war tax resistance in . In late a national coordinating center called War Tax Resistance was established in New York. Its periodical bulletin, Tax Talk, lists 181 local centers of contact people all over the country.
Simple nonpayment of the federal excise tax itemised on telephone bills is the easiest and most common form of principled tax resistance. War Tax Resistance estimates that more than 100,000 people are now participating in this action. IRS agents expend great effort in collecting very small amounts of this tax, and they are hopelessly behind in their efforts to collect. I have paid no excise tax on telephone service and IRS has succeeded in collecting only $8.00 so far. War Tax Resistance has a basic leaflet on phone tax resistance.
War Tax Resistance estimates that 15,000 people participate in some form of income tax nonpayment, as a principled protest against militarism. We speak of those who consciously and explicitly relate to the war tax resistance movement, because we know that millions of our countrymen, from the highest to the lowliest, participate in tax resistance or evasion, largely because of unarticulated opposition to the basic policies of government. They will be our allies if their protest can become articulate and organized.
The most promising development in was the significant number of people who began to successfully resist payment of all or most of the income tax amounts that would be claimed under Federal law and regulations. Until the number of such total tax resisters was small and almost exclusively limited to self-employed persons or others who derived most of their income from sources not subject to withholding tax.
In articles for the Catholic Worker ( and ) I explained how to beat the withholding tax by claiming enough exemptions on the W-4 Form that no tax could be withheld from one’s wages. Widely reprinted and circulated in leaflet form, these articles offered an effective tax resistance method to almost any wage earner who had the courage to try it and risk the possibility of prosecution or harassment sometime in the future.
In his last letter to me before his death, Ammon Hennacy, a pioneer influence in our war tax resistance movement, glumly predicted that from fear of going to jail, there wouldn’t be more than a handful in the country that would take up my idea. But Ammon was wrong in this case. I know that many have taken it up, and they are growing in numbers, because I keep hearing from them, particularly those in the Chicago area. Thousands of dollars have been held back from the military machine and donated to alternative uses that meet the real needs of people.
This movement will continue to grow from roots that are deep in the American tradition. The ideas of Thoreau’s Essay on Civil Disobedience, fruit of his brief imprisonment for war tax resistance, are well-known today. But a century before Thoreau our forefathers made their stand for independence in resistance to unjust taxes. Both the American Revolution and the French Revolution were organized around the issue of resistance to taxation. Tom Paine understood this well because he was active in both.
In he published in England a powerful polemical tract on The Rights of Man to stir the people of England to a similar revolt. His most persistent theme of grievance is the criminal burden of war taxes imposed on the people by power hungry men in government. He vividly describes the genesis of the French Revolution, including the refusal of the Parliament of Paris, in , to register the edicts of the King and Government seeking to enforce new taxes:
While the Parliament were sitting in debate on this subject, the Ministry ordered a regiment of soldiers to surround the House and form a blockade. The members sent out for beds and provisions, and lived as in a besieged citadel; and as this had no effect, the commanding officer was ordered to enter the Parliament House and seize them, which he did, and some of the principal members were shut up in different prisons… But the spirit of the Nation was not to be overcome, and it was so sensible of the strong ground it had taken, that of withholding taxes, that it contented itself with keeping up a sort of quiet resistance, which effectively overthrew all the plans at that time formed against it.
(Rights of Man, Modern Library edition, page 149)
On this strong ground let us also take our stand for a quiet battle, more effective against wrong, more productive for good purposes than any other I can think of.
Yours for a gentle revolution
Permission is granted to anyone interested to reproduce this article in whole or in part. If it is reproduced in part, please indicate editing and deletions.
List of sources for information and communication:
War Tax Resistance
839 Lafayette Street
New York. N.Y. 10012
Phone (212) 477‒2970
Send $1 and ask for
- WTR Handbook
- Hang Up On War telephone tax refusal leaflet.
- reprint of Karl Meyer’s Fund For Mankind article from CW
or send more to help with their crucial work of coordinating the communication and work of the movement.
10208 Sylvan Avenue
Cincinnati, Ohio 45241
A valuable periodical for all who are interested in draft resistance, tax resistance, and radical life styles. Send $4 for a subscription, plus their Handbook on Nonpayment Of War Taxes, which includes many informative case histories. I further recommend that all tax resisters contribute a substantial percentage of the money not paid to the Peacemakers Sharing Fund at the same address. The Fund is a valuable channel of mutual aid for war resisters and their families, when they suffer from imprisonment or financial hardship as a result of their stand.
1209 West Farwell Street
Chicago, Illinois 60628
Phone (312) 764‒3620
Call me or write to me for personal counseling and encouragement. If you write, send two six cent stamps for my reply and any leaflets I may send you.
Dorothy Day visited war tax resister Art Harvey and brought back this story ( issue):
I visited Art Harvey of South Ackworth, New Hampshire who has a mall order book shop handling a great number of books by and about Gandhi. Art and Ammon Hennacy served six-month-terms in Sandstone Prison in Minnesota for trespassing on a missile base some years ago. He carries on a practical application of Karl Meyer’s tax refusal (see article in this issue) by having teams of workers in orchards where they prune trees, harvest apples and later blueberries and work seven months of the work and live in a style which frees them from the payment of taxes for war. Perhaps about a hundred are engaged in this way of life, which results usually in some settling in communities of the moshavim variety, each having some small acreage and a house built by themselves Considering the New England climate, no small achievement! It certainly means an emphasis on the ascetic, on sacrifice.
The Karl Meyer article she mentioned follows:
War Tax Resistance
by Karl Meyer
On , charges were filed in federal district court in Chicago against Bill Himmelbauer, Mike Fowler and myself. In separate cases, we are accused of falsely claiming exemptions from federal tax, to which we were not legally entitled. Mike Fowler, a student at the University of Chicago, is charged on two counts of filing false W-4 forms with his employer. The maximum penalty for each count is one year in jail. Bill Himmelbauer is charged on one count. He and Sue Himmelbauer joined with us in late in starting the Chicago Area Alternative Fund for tax resistance money, and then moved to Pittsburgh where they became ringleaders in War Tax Resistance activities. I am charged on five counts for W-4s executed in .
Through eleven years of “one man revolution” I had successfully resisted payment of almost all federal income taxes claimed from me, mainly by claiming enough exemptions on W-4 Withholding Exemption Certificates that no tax was withheld from my wages. The tax man did nothing beyond ineffectual attempts to collect.
Then suddenly in the one man revolution exploded into a growing movement of effective war tax resistance by the withholding exemption method. Suddenly the tax man got worried. Suddenly he started prosecuting withholding tax resisters around the country: , Jim Shea, Alexandria. Virginia; , Sally Buckley and Dennis Richter, Minneapolis, Minnesota; , Paul Malinowski, and Donald Callahan, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; , James Smith, Springfield, Missouri; and now, three more in Chicago.
On , IRS Intelligence Agents Sam Miele and Alan Leksander visited me at home. They confronted me with copies of five W-4 forms for , and two articles from the Catholic Worker for and , “A Fund For Mankind Through Effective Tax Resistance” and “Clarification On Tax Withholding.” These are the articles which launched the wave of withholding tax resistance action in . I acknowledged authorship of the five W-4s and the two CW articles.
On , I received a letter from the Chief of the Intelligence Division of IRS: “The current investigation by the Intelligence Division is nearing completion… consideration is being given to recommending that criminal proceedings be instituted against you…” I was invited to a hearing with Group Supervisor Ralph A. Weber.
At the hearing I presented a statement of my position and various other relevant literature and documents to Internal Revenue Service.
Statement to Internal Revenue Service, Intelligence Division Hearing:
My name is Karl Meyer. My immediate family includes my wife Jean and three children, William, 7 years old, Kristin, 3 years old, and Eric, 2 months old.
In South Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos there are many families like ours. I gladly accept a responsibility toward them, like that which I bear toward my own children. These other families, these other children are the ones who were machine-gunned in a trench at My Lai, and are being killed in many other ways every day that the war continues In Indo-China.
There are also the soldiers of both sides, Americans and Aslans, who are also the victims of the war, who are dying by the thousands as it continues.
Upwards of 80% of all federal income tax revenues are devoted to purposes intimately related to American wars and military activities, past and present.
In the name of my family, of the families of Indo-China, of the soldiers of both sides and all other victims of International militarism, I claim a complete exemption from all federal taxes that finance military activities.
Yes, I have claimed ten or more exemptions on several W-4 exemption certificates. I have claimed exemption from tax for myself and my family, for several others who have lived in our household and received their primary financial support from me, and for these others, the families of Indo-China, and all the victims of war.
In a peaceful and nonviolent society the job of collecting assessments for social purposes might be a useful occupation. But the man who collects taxes for the United States government today makes himself a direct accomplice in some of the most horrible crimes of our age.
You have already told me that you are considering compounding these crimes by beginning a criminal prosecution against me.
I and my family have already made some sacrifices in the struggle against war, but they have been as nothing compared to the suffering of our brothers and sisters who are in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos.
We ask you today to recognize just one basic human right, our right not to participate in acts of war against them. Even if you refuse to recognize that right, we will still refuse to pay federal taxes that continue the war in Indo-China and the militarization of our society.
This is all that I have to say.
After I received the letter from IRS, I went in to talk with my supervisor in the huge hospital bureaucracy in which I was employed. I expected her to be unsympathetic, and even hostile to me as a source of trouble for her. After thirty years of working her way toward the top of the bureaucracy, it had seemed to me she lived and breathed the system and its rules, though I respected her even so for the great strength of her character.
But now when I told her directly of my long struggle against the war and of the imminent threat of criminal prosecution, she smiled at me from deep within, and expressed her own strong opposition to the war and her respect and support for me. “Mr. Meyer” she said, taut with emotion, “I am black. From all of my experience I know that when you fight the system in this ‘democratic’ country they are going to make you pay for it.” Then she told me something of her own struggle. After a long talk she asked me, "Wasn’t there a girl here in Chicago who took that same stand (war tax resistance) several years ago?”
Yes, there certainly was. Eleven years later, another black woman in Chicago still remembered the courageous witness of Eroseanna Robinson, the very person whose example set my feet on the path of determined tax resistance, back in 1960 — Eroseanna Robinson who refused to pay taxes, who defied the order of Judge Robson to give information about her income in spite of a one year sentence for criminal contempt, who fasted one hundred and eight days and won her own release from federal prison by the strength of her resistance.
Now, on , the charges against Fowler, Himmelbauer and Meyer were announced. That night we picketed and leafleted at the Main Post Office where special postmen were on duty to receive last minute returns from thousands of more tractable Chicagoans.
We haven’t yet received official notice or summons, but from the records filed in court David Finke has found that the three cases are assigned to three separate Judges for trial. I am to be summoned for an initial hearing in the court of Judge Joseph Sam Perry.
I plan a simple and direct defense. I plan to represent myself without an attorney. I will ask for a jury trial at the earliest possible date. I will not base my defense on legalities. I will simply seek to convince the jury, judge, prosecutor and everyone else that I have done what is right and in accord with inalienable rights of personal judgment, and that I should not be declared guilty or penalized for my actions.
If I am convicted and sentenced to prison, we have been thinking that Jean will apply for public aid for the financial support of our family. We feel that if the State insists on tearing from the family its source of support, the State should bear the cost of providing other means. We prefer to see the resources of the movement devoted to the needs of poor people in this country and abroad who have no other recourse. This is just one of the reasons why I do not desire a costly legal defense or primary financial support from the movement, though we welcome the personal support of our friends.
The form of encouragement and support that we will value most highly will be if our friends in the movement take our troubles and our resolve as an example, to stop paying war taxes and to devote the greatest possible part of their income to sharing with the victims of international war and of the war of rich against poor. This is why we of the Chicago Area Alternative Fund have saved nothing for our own protection, but have already given away all of our war tax resistance money to meet the immediate needs of others.
If you want to read the articles that launched the present movement of withholding tax resistance by explaining the method, and incidentally brought upon us our small tribulations, you may send two eight cent stamps to:
War Tax Resistance
339 Lafayette Street
New York, New York 10012
and ask for their reprint, “A Fund For Mankind Through Effective War Tax Resistance.” To get in touch with us about the trial, write to:
1209 West Farwell
Chicago, Illinois 60626
The issue reported on how the court ruled in Karl Meyer’s case:
Karl Meyer Sentenced to Two Years, $1,000
By David Finke
On in the court of federal district Judge Joseph Sam Perry, Karl Meyer appeared in his own behalf to answer a 5-count “criminal information” charging that he falsely and fraudulently filed W-4 income tax withholding exemption certificates. Having successfully negotiated with the U.S. Attorney, Karl got the government to drop three of the five counts (which he had said he could prove the accuracy of). He then entered a plea of “nolo contendere,” which the judge accepted as a finding of “guilty,” on the other two counts. A two-week presentence investigation was then ordered. while Karl remained free without bond.
, Karl returned to court with about 25 friends, supporters, and fellow tax resisters, and personally accompanied by his 7-year-old son William. Before imposing sentence, Judge Perry with great decorum and civility said he would hear from both the government and the defendant, whose absolute right to represent himself without attorney would be respected.
Assistant U.S. Attorney Kocoras then launched into a most amazing and accurate summary of Karl’s career of leadership in the movement of War Tax Resistance: Not only has Karl not filed a tax return , he has encouraged others to join with him in resisting federal taxes! And he has explained publicly exactly what he is doing and how other people can do the same. Kocoras read extensively from articles that Karl had written for Catholic Worker, including those memorable (but to Kocoras damning) phrases, “If you can’t do time, don’t commit crime,” and “If you can’t stand the heat, don’t put your hand in the fire.” The prosecutor hit the issue squarely on the head, then, when he said: “What is at stake here is the integrity of the income tax law.” The government is obviously worried about the possibility of widespread, undetected, mass-based tax resistance if Karl’s ideas should catch on and not be deterred. The prosecutor closed his remarks by observing that federal taxes support all programs of government including the operation of Judge Perry’s court.
Karl was then asked to present his statement to the court, the Judge being very cordial again. With brevity and simplicity, Karl pointed out that federal taxes (unlike the city and state taxes which he pays) are “overwhelmingly devoted to warfare,” and that during the course of his life between sixty and seventy per cent have gone to pay for military ventures. In conscience, Karl said, he cannot and must not cooperate with the financing of killing. As he began to explain how his resistance had always been done openly and publicly, the Judge dramatically changed his tone and manner. In rapid sequence he interrupted Karl to say that being open is no excuse — “You can openly and publicly rob a bank!” — “this defendant is showing no penitence, this is obviously not a case for probation, and there is no point in wasting anymore time.”
Karl was immediately sentenced to the maximum penalty on both counts (one year, $500), with the sentences to run consecutively, although he might consider making the sentences concurrent if Karl showed a “change of heart.”
The Judge was about to call the next case when an older man, Solomon Goldman, appeared at Karl’s side from the audience, shook his hand, and loudly declared, “Karl Meyer, my grandchildren will thank you. You are a man of peace.” Judge Perry was astounded; exclaimed to Mr. Goldman “You’re not an attorney!” and ordered him removed from the building. Then a bit of confusion set in. The Judge was ordering the marshal also to remove Karl, but the marshal was still involved with Mr. Goldman. Karl was asking if he could give his briefcase to his friends, was told it could be gotten from the lockup. Bill Himmelbauer (another convicted W-4 tax resister) was by this time at Karl’s side getting the briefcase, various people were waving two-fingered peace signs to Karl and saying “Goodbye!” as he walked out, and the Judge (whose courtroom was still understaffed) was on his feet shouting “No demonstrations! There will be no demonstrations in here! I’ll have you all in jail for contempt. Clear the courtroom!” as we slowly filed out.
I’ve been informed that Karl will be sent to Sandstone, Minnesota, federal prison, after about two weeks in Cook County Jail in Chicago. Several friends have seen him already, and report that he’s the same old Karl: He has put his hand in the fire, and he can stand the heat as well as anyone.
(See Letter Column for Karl’s letter. The story of his action bears repeating. ―Editor’s comment.)
Karl Meyer’s letter follows:
Cook County Jail
Dear Dorothy and C.W. family,
I received a letter from Kathy Bredine telling me of your call, and I was very pleased to receive your message. Here I am permitted to write and receive mall from anyone, but I will probably be here only a few more days, before “shipment” to a federal “Facility.” There I will have a restricted mailing list; how many names I will not know until I get there; but I have been planning to put you on the list, near the top. The letters will be for all of you, from A Prisoner. I hope that you will not be cut from the list for being a single woman and not a relative, even though more than twice my age. Rules are rules (though I am not sure that that is one of them), and the crime of which I stand convicted is that I claimed a familiar relationship of brotherly responsibility for the very lives of a people not in my own line of genetic descent, at least for several generations, and not even born on the same continent between the St. Lawrence River and the Rio Grande.
I was a little stunned to receive the maximum penalty for that crime, one year on each of two counts, to be served consecutively, plus $1000 in fines, though it is my prudential practice to go into court prepared and expecting to get the maximum. Nevertheless, I keep forgetting that when these judges see a sheet of convictions as long as mine (however humane the motivations that lie behind it) going back for fourteen years, they can’t seem to see beyond that sheet, and they have a reflexive reaction to go for the maximum. Of course it is appropriate that I should be the first person to start serving time for claiming exemptions from war taxes on the W-4 Form, since, being a child of Dorothy Day and Ammon Hennacy, it is not my way to conduct guided tours to the jailhouse door and not go in myself. A number of statements were torn from the context of my writings by the U.S. Attorney to be quoted against me, and he particularly dwelt on that prison aphorism. “If you can’t do the time, don’t commit the crime,” which I have often repeated.
In the light of that reality, I might have done differently myself if I had known the severity of the penalty that would come down on me. For a person without a family of small children, two years is nothing to speak of; but for people having the care of small children such as my own, William—aged 7, Kristin—aged 4, and Eric—aged 5 months, it is a serious thing for them to be fatherless for such periods of time, I think; that is why we must emphasize that there are practical ways, fully within the range of any ordinary working person, to withdraw financial support from the murder of Vietnamese families without going outside U.S. law and without taking the risks of imprisonment that I hare unfortunately taken.
Now, after a year and a half of widespread experience, we can gauge the response of the federal government to the withholding exemption method of war tax resistance. Nine people have been prosecuted to date, and a sentencing pattern of one year on each count seems to be emerging. The withholding exemption method of war tax resistance remains very important and useful for persons who measure the personal risk and decide that it is proper for them to take it.
But, particularly for those of us with families, it will be useful to develop ideas on how we can be true to our deepest convictions about our responsibilities to mankind, without coming into such open confrontation with the laws of the U.S. Many people have talked with me about working toward conscientious objector provisions under the federal tax laws that would allow war objectors to earmark their social tax assessments for exclusively peaceful purposes. As to practical effect, such provisions already exist under the tax laws of the U.S. We need only the generosity and honesty in our ideas to take advantage of them. For instance, under the present tax laws, a family of five could retain income of $4350 for personal use without having to pay any income tax. In addition they would be entitled to an itemised deduction from taxable income for up to 50% of their gross income if donated to broad categories of recognized charitable and socially positive purposes. Thus a family of five could easily have an income of at least $8700, give half of it for peaceful purposes, and legally owe no federal tax on the balance. This is a general figure that does not take account of many deductions and exemptions that might increase that figure. Many people feel that it is not possible for a family of five to live decently on $4350 a year in the United States. Our own family experience, in urban Chicago, one of the higher priced areas of the country, indicates that it is quite reasonable and possible to set a family budget at that level. The factor which has required us to use a higher income has been our contributions to the support of several other people outside our immediate family, at St. Stephen’s House of Hospitality, whom we could not legally claim as dependents for exemption from taxation.
Over the past three years our personal household has lived on a budget averaging about as follows: rent, including heat—$135 a month; food, clothing and household items—$135; hospitalization insurance—$16; Social Security deductions—$30; public transportation—$23; gas—$3; electricity—$8; phone—$8. That totals $385 a month, very close to the minimum we are talking about; but we are far from having explored all potentials for less expensive living; our rent is higher than necessary because we live in a desirable location in northern Chicago, one block from the lakefront, and our food budget could be cut somewhat by different and more careful buying methods that we have not taken the time to explore; we could cut our electric bill in half and do without a phone, if necessary. Yet, I can not describe our life as one of sacrifice or hardship. Thus I believe that if we are honest about our commitment to a peaceful coexistence with other people and other societies, we must and can learn to live in a way of voluntary simplicity that is compatible with equality among people. And it isn’t even illegal.
Yours, with a large part of my love.
Karl Meyer — a Prisoner for Peace
P.S. The Bldg. Dept has been after us about the house on Mohawk St., which now stands alone amid vacant lots on all sides where other houses were torn down. I have found places for two of the three men who remained of our household there; Lemont had to go back to the TB Sanitarium; Roy, who was with us , I have gotten on public aid and found him a decent place in a residential hotel; Richard has been with us but he is able to look after himself. The building will soon be condemned and torn down. Frank Marfla, of our Alternative Fund group, will visit the men and look after them while I am in jail.