"If a thousand people were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible.Is there not a sort of blood shed when the conscience is wounded?"
- Henry Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
We should be outraged that this government is waging a war and occupation in our name. But even worse than making war in our name is the fact that - for U.S. taxpayers - they'll be financing the mayhem with our own money. Let's not forget who's paying for all those bombs and tanks in the Middle East. We are - and that makes the American taxpayer an accomplice to this global crime-in-the-making.
But foreign intervention isn't the only military expenditure that your tax money funds. A new generation of "useable" nukes and space weapons continue to be amply funded in the U.S., despite the condemnation by our government of everyone else who tries to arm. The only weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, it turns out, are the Americans' cluster bombs and depleted uranium, along with whatever nuclear tonnage is floating around in the Persian Gulf.
The taxman doesn't come around to your backwoods shack to collect, the way he did in 1848 when Henry Thoreau wrote his essay on "Civil Disobedience." Back then Thoreau could refuse to pay for the Mexican War in a face-to-face encounter with a fellow citizen, and pay the price with a night in jail. Today's tax bureaucracy requires different kinds of strategies to keep your cash out of the federal government's hands, but it can still be done.
"Let them march all they want, as long as they continue to pay their taxes."
- Attributed to General Alexander Haig, then Secretary of State under President Reagan, following the million-person rally for nuclear disarmament in New York City's Central Park, June 12, 1982
The War Resisters League (WRL) agrees with Haig's analysis, if not his sentiment. "Taxation is the closest war-making link between the government and most citizens. The U.S. government's ability to threaten and coerce other nations is a direct result of the unprecedented size of our military arsenal ... The maintenance of this arsenal depends upon the willingness of the American people ... to finance it."
The Center for Defense Information (CDI) notes that the FY 2004 federal budget includes "$782 billion for discretionary spending (the money the President and Congress must decide and act to spend each year), $399 billion of which will go to the Pentagon." Put another way, CDI says, spending for "national defense" now comprises more than half (51 percent) of all discretionary spending in the federal budget.
"People are drafted through the Selective Service System and money is drafted through the Internal Revenue Service."
- A.J. Muste
In April 1948, American pacifist A. J. Muste created a tax-resistance group called the Peacemakers. By 1972, War Tax Resistance chapters had sprung up in 192 U.S. cities. Churches began to openly encourage their members to refuse war taxes. Congressman Ronald Dellums (D-CA) introduced the World Peace Tax Fund Act to create a special "conscientious objector" status for taxpayers. The legislation, now called the Peace Tax Fund, has been introduced in every session of Congress for the past 30 years.
Contemporary resisters argue that the principle of "no taxation without representation" clearly applies to an administration that routinely ignores such popular programs as environmental protection, public education, affordable healthcare, labor issues and women's rights. Bush's refusal to abide by a host of international agreements covering landmines, global warming and the rights of children bolsters this argument.
Finally, the government's aggression in the Middle East has given tax- resisters new justification for non-cooperation. With Washington operating in open defiance of the United Nations Charter, the Nuremberg Principles, the Geneva Conventions and the U.S. Constitution, some resisters fear that paying taxes could render them complicit in the commission of war crimes. Better Leavenworth, they reason, than Nuremberg.
"Let every person make known what kind of government would command their respect, and that will be one step toward obtaining it."
- Henry Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
Let's say your conscience will no longer let you pay for this military adventure in the Middle East, or for the continued development, production and deployment of nuclear weapons. Let's assume you can figure out how to stop paying your federal income taxes using the few easy steps described below. What will the consequences be for you, the war tax resister?
You may want to contact groups like the War Resisters League for more information about the legal risks associated with war tax resistance. This essay does not purport to address those legitimate concerns - rather it asks, what are the risks (to Iraqi civilians, to our hopes for world peace) if we continue to pay our war taxes?
From long experience we know that (almost) nobody ever goes to jail for tax resistance - Thoreau sought it out as a matter of conscience. Eventually, if the IRS gets wise, they will begin to send you a series of increasingly dire warnings, and you can choose to comply at any point in the process. These days, with increasing police-state restrictions on free speech, it's probably safer to stay home and "stop the war with your W-4" than it is to march for peace in the streets, where you run the risk of being gassed or clubbed by your local police and state troopers.
"...Nuclear weapons are the scourge of the earth; to mine for them, manufacture them, deploy them, use them, is a curse against God, the human family, and the earth itself."
- Philip Berrigan (1923-2002)
Every employee in this country is asked to fill out a W-4 form when they get hired. This is the form that asks how many dependants ("allowances") you'll be claiming, and whether you're married or single. Based on the answers you give, your payroll department deducts the required amount of tax from your paycheck. Then they forward that money to the Federal Government on a monthly or quarterly basis.
You can change the information on your W-4 at any time. Whenever you get married or have a child or get another job you are entitled (indeed, you ought) to submit a new W-4 form with your updated information. Your employer is obligated by law to ensure that you fill out the form, but it is not their job to question the answers you give.
Line Seven of the W-4 ("Employee's Withholding Allowance Certificate") allows you to declare yourself exempt from federal income tax. You are asked to "certify" that you meet two conditions. By writing the word "exempt" in Line Seven of the form and submitting it to your employer, you are instructing your payroll department to discontinue the practice of withholding federal taxes from your paycheck.
If everything goes right at work, your next paycheck should be quite generous. Don't blow the extra cash on a trip to Las Vegas. Put it into escrow where you can access it - just in case the IRS ever applies the thumbscrews - or donate the money to under-funded public services like schools and clinics. Where would you rather see the money spent? What's your favorite charity?
"If the injustice... is of such a nature that it requires you to be the agent of injustice to another, then I say, break the law. Let your life be a counter friction to stop the machine. What I have to do is to see, at any rate, that I do not lend myself to the wrong which I condemn."
- Henry Thoreau, Civil Disobedience
Complete a new W-4 while you're thinking about it (available online from the IRS here). Fill in the personal data, write the word "exempt" in line , then sign and date the form. Later tonight when you go to bed, put it under your pillow and sleep on it, dream about it. In the morning when you wake up, you'll know whether you're prepared to take this simple but powerful step towards peace.
To follow through on this act of civil disobedience, just drop off the new form with the Bookkeeper or Personnel Manager at work. Tougher questions remain to be answered about how public you want to be. By talking about your act of resistance you can be an inspiring role model for others, but some folks will understandably choose a more discreet approach. Those are personal choices that this essay does not presume to address.
If enough people begin withholding their taxes, this will send a powerful message to the Bush administration, while robbing them of the funding they need for their dirty deeds. Don't just declare yourself "ethically exempt" from war taxes, tell all your friends about the Line Seven Exemption Option! Join the National Tax Strike Against US Intervention in the Middle East - STOP THE WAR WITH YOUR W-4.