Public Demonstrations that Accompany Tax Resistance Campaigns

Pickets and other such public demonstrations commonly accompany tax resistance campaigns. Here are some examples that caught my eye:

  • During the Tithe War in Ireland, one parliamentarian noted with some panic a news account of a mock funeral held in Ireland, attended by 100,000 people “who assembled to carry in a procession to the grave two coffins, on which were inscribed ‘Tithes’ and ‘Rent’.”
  • The Women’s Tax Resistance League used signs, banners, handbills, chalked-slogans, and sandwich boards to help get their “No Vote — No Tax” message across at their public demonstrations.
  • The Benares hartal of was in part a strike, but in part a huge demonstration, the duration and peaceful discipline of which pointed out the determination of the demonstrators.
  • When the Rebecca Rioters came to Carmarthen, they came en masse and during the daytime, almost as a parade. They were “preceded by a band of musicians playing popular airs, and men bearing placards with the following enscriptions in large printed letters:” “Justice and lovers of Justice are we all.” “Freedom and better food.” “Free tolls and Freedom.”
  • The tax strike in the French wine-growing region in was preceded by huge demonstrations and parades. Wrote one observer:

    All observers were struck by the extraordinary perfection of the organization. It was not necessary once for the troops or police to interfere with the multitude which was variously estimated was made up of from 400,000 to 600,000 persons. A feature of the parade was the large proportion of women participating. Groups from various cities bore banners with various inscriptions and carried coffins, guillotines, &c.

    Another wrote:

    …all night long trains entered the station every quarter of an hour with crowds, many of whom had been travelling fifteen and twenty hours. Looking worn and dishevelled, they formed in serried battalions, and, headed by bands and trumpets and drums, young and old, men, women, and children, marched to their quarters…

    This morning five huge columns, approaching from various quarters, welded at the Arch Peyrou into one procession nine miles long, and the march through the streets began at . Placards threatened, “The day of reckoning is at hand,” “We will take up arms,” “Down with the deputies.” Here were 200 handsome Norbannese women in mourning, there 500 young girls robed in white muslin, with tricolor robes.

  • In in Turkey, mass tax refusal was backed up by mass demonstrations of as many as 20,000 people, demanding the repeal of the taxes.
  • In , anti-Chavez protesters launched a tax strike by tearing up their income tax forms in a demonstration in which thousands of demonstrators marched on the tax offices in Caracas.
  • Farmers in New Zealand threatened to drive their farm equipment onto the highways to jam the roads in protest against a new greenhouse-gas-targeting “flatulence tax” on livestock in .
  • When the authorities tried to impose a tax on dogs in Breslau, Germany, in 5,000 dogs (and their owners) descended on city hall to protest.
  • One of Gandhi’s first experiments with satyagraha was a strike in South Africa to protest against a tax on Indian immigrants there. The culmination of that campaign was a massive protest march of striking workers that deliberately violated laws restricting the right of travel of Indians.
  • Ammon Hennacy was fond of accompanying his solitary tax resistance with periodic fasts and picketings at IRS headquarters, typically around the time of the anniversary of the Hiroshima bombing. He would hand out to passers-by copies of the Catholic Worker as well as leaflets that described his own particular protest — while also carrying a sign and wearing a sandwich-board that put things more concisely.
  • The previously-untaxed caste of Bhats in India responded to being subjected to the income tax in dramatic fashion: “Two thousand men turned out to remonstrate with the Superintendent of Police who appeared on the scene. He remained firm, whereupon they cut themselves with knives, cursed the Assessors, bespattering them with their blood, and declared they would rather die than surrender their birthright. When several were apprehended, their wives began to hack their persons, and so severely that several have since died. Up to the last intelligence the Bhats still gloried in their refusal.”
  • American war tax resisters frequently hold rallies, pickets, street theater, and other such actions around “Tax Day” (the date when federal income tax returns are due). This among other things helps make sure that their message is one of those represented in the obligatory tax day news stories. Here is an example:

    The group then left for the federal building, in which the IRS and a number of other offices are located, at which 75 people burned tax forms and blockaded the street for a bit. There were no arrests. In conjunction with the tax form burning, they used a banner with the quote: “Pardon us, friends, for the fracture of good order, for burning paper instead of babies,” sent from prison during the Vietnam War by Daniel Berrigan… They offered their apologies for burning tax forms instead of Colombian villages, Palestinian schools, Iraqi hospitals, Filipinos’ mosques and Afghan homes.

    In another case:

    After a mock President Clinton bragged to onlookers about the many areas in which the U.S. was #1 - military spending, arms sales, violent gun deaths, etc. — he drove home the point with an 8-foot Patriot missile tossed into a group of students, parents, nurses and other ordinary people.

    Mass dying ensued, followed by an appearance by the grim reaper himself. Ostensibly there to collect bodies, he assented to an interview with M.C. Daniel Woodham. Death was the only one at the rally willing to even attempt an explanation of the maniacal logic of a still-bloated U.S. military budget.

    Here are some street theater tips from war tax resister Steve Gulick.
  • Some war tax resisters in Wales brought their tax payment to the tax office in a bucket of blood. When the payment was refused, they poured the blood over the steps of the building.
  • In members of the Magdalene House Catholic Worker held a demonstration at the IRS office in which they “laid out a cloth altar with candles, flowers, and health care items to represent life, and tax forms with their blood poured on them to represent death. They held a worship service and talked about why they were there.” This was enough for several of them to get arrested.
  • During the rebellion against Thatcher’s poll tax, there were several demonstrations.
    • The Scottish Trade Union Conference organized a number of rallies, including a 30,000-person march in Edinburgh, but then it put its weight behind a strange 11-minute-long general strike at which people all over Scotland were supposed to briefly stop working to engage in some short anti-poll-tax activism. That protest didn’t go anywhere and the Union Conference lost some credibility as a movement organizer.
    • Hundreds of thousands of people turned out to demonstrations in England, with some of these rallies and marches turning into riots (or being attacked by police, depending on whose stories you believe). On such occasions, the riots became the message of the demonstrations, whatever the intentions of the organizers were. This had mixed consequences for the movement.