one more death.
Not one more dollar.
Dollars and death are
connected in more ways than one. The old adage claims that death and
taxes are the only certainties in life, but it is the connection between
taxes and death that is the real certainty.
The grinding machinery of war needs fuel: soldiers and money. A majority
of Americans indicate they want the machine to stop. Parents and
students, veterans and military families are working together to withhold
human resources from the war. Cindy Sheehan has movingly expressed the
ways that one death has been one too many.
But what happens when the majority of Americans want war to stop, and
the money to wage it keeps flowing in? Larger bonuses are used to lure
enlistees, and more military services are performed by expensive
contract labor. The machine rolls on.
What happens when wage earners get together and withhold their
financial resources from the war? The amount of money diverted from death
to life may be small in the face of the huge US military budget, but the
challenge to the system is great. Somehow, when someone says, "Not with my
money," and backs it up with the open civil disobedience of war tax
refusal, eyes open wider. "You can do that?" Yes, we can and do. WWII
conscientious objector and civil rights Freedom Rider,
carried his well-used sign, "Haven't paid taxes since 1948," up through
his last demonstration at age 93. "Say yes to no," he would say with a
Wally Nelson's widow, activist and writer,
was not the only octogenarian among the war tax resisters who met recently
in Brooklyn, NY for a conference of the
National War Tax
Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC),
a network of groups and individuals around the USA. Nor was Lincoln Rice
of the Milwaukee Catholic Worker the only attendee in his 20's.
But, as we stretched ourselves into a human timeline according to the
decade during which we began war tax refusal, the largest groupings were
in the middle decades of the 1970's and '80's.
War tax resistance reached its peak of activity during the Indochina War,
with several hundred thousand phone tax resisters and some 20,000 income
tax resisters openly redirecting some or all of their federal taxes. A
number of well-known figures publicly joined the ranks of war tax refusers, including
Joan Baez in 1964 and a group of over 500 writers and editors by 1967.
Long-time activist Brad Lyttle, on hand from Chicago for the
recent Brooklyn conference, was the first coordinator of National War
Tax Resistance (WTR) when it was formally launched in December 1969 during
a New York City press conference that included Allen Ginsberg and Pete
By 1972 there were 192 local WTR chapters
across the country.
In 1975, WTR was laid down, and NWTRCC was formed seven years later
in response to the growing military budget of the Reagan era. Currently, NWTRCC
is comprised of some 40 affiliate groups with area contacts in as many
Most war tax resisters consider themselves conscientious objectors.
One of Juanita and Wally Nelson's public statements about their resistance
read, "We hope our actions have some effect. But, in any case, simply in
order to justify our humanity, we must persist in our attempt to make
action serve belief." Conscientious objection invites a paradox that has
been expressed eloquently by soldiers-turned-conscientious objectors like
taking an intensely personal, often lonely stand based on one's conscience
makes one feel more deeply connected to all humanity.
Connection with one another is an important aspect of the war tax
resistance movement. Peter Goldberger, long-time lawyer advocate for war
tax resisters, spoke during the Brooklyn conference to stress the value of
the "big tent" of NWTRCC. He believes that the openness and transparency
of a shared public witness offers a protective force. War tax resisters
tend to be willing to discuss publicly what our society tends to consider
private matters: personal income and expenses, financial assets, and our
deepest moral and ethical beliefs about life and death.
One focus of the recent NWTRCC gathering involved outreach to young
A young resister described the anxiety she felt early on about how she
would plan for the next 40 to 50 years of life as a war tax resister. She
found the prospect rather daunting. Older war tax resisters
responded reassuringly that we can take things only one step at a
time. Some resisters take the opportunity to reevaluate their situation
every year, and many revise their method of refusal over time. In fact,
many war tax resisters feel that one of the lessons learned is to live
more by faith, trusting that each day's needs will be met. It is a lesson
that contradicts the value placed in this country on long-term personal
security and financial investment.
War tax resisters have become active in the counter-recruitment
movement. Juanita Nelson, who is invited into school classrooms, counsels
us to be sure to talk to students about our war tax resistance. Even for
students who are not yet confronted with paying taxes, she believes it is
important to plant the seeds of resistance. "In a way, we cheat them if we
don't talk about it!" she says.
A joint effort of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Center
on Conscience & War is the "I Will Not Kill" campaign, which educates
young people about the concept of
conscientious objection. The www.iwillnotkill.org
features inspiring photographs of young people holding their I Will Not
Kill pledge cards. At the close of the NWTRCC conference, we gathered for
a photograph of our own: all ages standing behind a banner that read, "We
Will Not Kill, And We Will Not Pay for Killing." We stood under a tent
that could grow big enough to hold every taxpayer whose dollars were not
meant for death.
Susan Van Haitsma is active with
Nonmilitary Options for Youth and Austin Conscientious Objectors to
Military Taxation, a NWTRCC affiliate www.nwtrcc.org.
She can be reached at
Other Articles by Susan
Texas: The Village is the Answer
Guilt and Innocence
Pushing Back the Violence: Peacemaker Teams Get in the Way
Red Flag: Recruiting at the IMAX
Confessions of a Conscientious Objector
the D-Word: Does the Military Really Instill Discipline?
Recruiter in Each of Us
Trade: Mixing Guns, Schools and the Messages We Give Our Kids