War-tax resistance is "as American as the Boston Tea Party," according to Peter Haney, cultural anthropologist and dynamic peacemaking director of the Pikes Peak Justice and Peace Commission.
With a warm smile in the group's downtown office (kept fairly cold to conserve energy), local activist Esther Kisamore explains that virtually any of your individual federal income taxes and some excise taxes can be allocated to U.S. war operations.
One way to take a stand, she and Haney explain, is to live a simpler lifestyle; if you keep your income level low, you may be able to avoid filing a federal income tax return. Activists will talk about these and other, less drastic, methods of avoiding "war taxes" at the PPJPC this weekend.
Kisamore says the last time she chose to live above poverty line (over 20 years ago), she decided not to file. Doing this does put you at risk of legal retaliation. Kisamore — who knows of people who have suffered harsh consequences — says she was fined only about half of what was originally required to pay.
Whatever size the sacrifice may be, the PPJPC encourages people to act as the American occupation of Iraq approaches its fifth anniversary. Peace activists across the country are telling Congress that if it won't stop war funding, the citizenry will.
"We don't believe in war and we don't believe in killing," says Kisamore. "So why pay other people to do it?"
A protest of war by not paying taxes
The Colorado Springs residents were aware of such possible consequences when they deliberately snubbed tax time — not to have extra money in their pockets and not because they don't believe the government should tax citizens.
They don't want their taxes used to fund military spending and war efforts.
The Bush administration has received or requested $624 billion for the Iraq war from 2002 to 2009, according to this week's Senate committee hearing on the Department of Defense's 2009 fiscal year budget. And that doesn't sit well with war tax resisters.
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Not paying taxes as a form of protest against government policies has been practiced for centuries. In 1197, for example, St. Hugh of Lincoln refused to pay a tax to pay for King Richard the Lionhearted's war against the king of France. His property was seized.
Since the Sept. 11 attacks and the United States' invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the interest in war tax resistance has been revived, said Ed Hedemann, an organizer with the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, based in New York City.
“We know of people in all 50 states doing it, and we're seeing a trend toward people who are not the typical peace activist getting involved because the popularity of the war is waning.”
The organization estimates that each year at least 10,000 Americans refuse to pay all or some of their federal income taxes over objection to military spending.
The IRS does not know how many Americans do not file income taxes, or keep track of the reasons people do not pay their taxes, said Jean Carl, spokeswoman in the Denver IRS office. War tax resisters are just one kind of tax protester — others refuse to pay taxes because they believe the system is unfair, unconstitutional, invalid or voluntary.
Not filing tax returns or paying taxes can result in audits, liens and seizures of assets and wages, Carl said, and possible imprisonment.
Hedemann said although property seizure and imprisonment aren't unheard of for tax resisters, such actions are rare.
“We're not advocating fraud — we do this on principle,” he said. “We're up front about challenging not the tax system itself but how the money is being spent.”
There are several ways to be a war tax resister. The most common method, Hedemann said, is to file a 1040 tax return and withhold a percentage equal to the percentage the federal government spends on defense and military, past and present. His organization estimates that to be about 50 percent.
Most war tax resisters send a letter to the IRS, explaining that they oppose war and don't want to pay for it, said Durland, whose tax stance stems from being a Quaker.
Some do not file tax returns, or file a return but do not pay anything, or earn a wage below the taxable amount, which for a single person under age 65 is $8,750 for the 2007 tax year. Some resisters increase payroll exemptions so they don't have as much deducted from their paychecks for taxes, Kisamore said.
Many also boycott paying federal excise tax on telephone bills, which had raised money to pay for wars and now goes into the general federal budget.
Panel offers tips on tax protest
The facts and fears of war-tax boycotting will be addressed in a panel discussion presented by the Western Mountains Peace Action Workshop.
The discussion, titled Why Isn't Everyone Who's for Peace a War Tax Resistor?, will be held at 6:30 p.m. today in Room 202 of Ricker Addition at the University of Maine at Farmington.
A panel including Eileen Kreutz of Industry, Eileen Liddy of Wilton, Henry Braun of Weld and Larry Dansinger of Monroe will discuss their present and past experiences of withholding all or part of their federal taxes as a protest. The options of war-tax resistance, which range from symbolic amounts, such as $50 or $100, to refusing to pay all of the federal tax, will be addressed. The panel will also present ways to redirect the tax money, Liddy said Friday.
"I'm fed up with the war, and I want to do something more. As a citizen I have the right and obligation to do this," she said.
Nonviolent civil disobedience is a part of the nation's history, she added, citing the Boston Tea Party and the ideas of Henry David Thoreau and Martin Luther King, Jr.
Liddy wants to send a message to the government and the Maine congressional delegation to stop funding the war.
"There are ways to do it safely, even with just smaller amounts," she said, quoting author Anita Roderick: "If you don't think small things do make a difference, then you've never been in bed with a mosquito."
War-tax boycotters are part of a growing movement of taxpayers led by the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, she said.
But people need to be aware and plan accordingly, Liddy said.
Meanwhile, back across the Atlantic...
Joe Jenkins reports on the the Peace Tax Seven, a group of conscientious objectors seeking a judicial review of the war tax policies in BritainIt is difficult these days to find apologists - particularly in Gordon Brown's cabinet – who supported the invasion of Iraq. However, alongside the 50 per cent or so of the population who supported the war in 2003, it is no exaggeration to say that millions protested, held vigils, went on marches, lobbied MP's and signed petitions to try and stop the war, but the government went ahead and executed their war, in our name, and with our taxes. As Alexander Haig, US Secretary of State said, when confronted by the historic anti-nuclear marches in 1982, 'Let them march all they want as long as they continue to pay their taxes'.
Some taxpayers however - following the examples set by the American writer Thoreau in the nineteenth century, Joan Baez during the Vietnam war and pacifists in Britain in the 1980's and 1990's – withheld the military portion of their taxes maintaining that in matters of deliberate killing, personal conscience reigns supreme and no state can over rule the individual conscience and force its citizens to pay to kill. The courts however ruled that 'war tax resisters' have no option but to pay up.
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In 2004 seven taxpaying citizens decided to form a group - calling themselves the Peace Tax Seven campaign - to obtain a Judicial Review for a change in the law so that conscientious objectors can have the military portion of their taxes redirected to peace building and conflict resolution initiatives. Their lawyers, led by Phil Shiner of Public Interest Lawyers, maintain that since the Human Rights Act and the right to freedom of conscience has now been enshrined in British law, British citizens have the right to translate an ancient and compelling conscientious objection directly into tax policy on this specific issue, yet, UK tax policy ignores this fact.
The group, are taxpayers from all walks of life - a retired teacher, an accountant, a psychiatrist, a writer, a toymaker, a university lecturer and a single mother who argue that they have a legal right to have the military portion of their taxes put in a ring-fenced fund solely for peaceful purposes. Their campaign has taken its toll on all seven given that alongside individual legal proceedings, bailiffs, fines and possible bankruptcy and imprisonment, they have had to raise over £50,000 to take this case all the way to the High Court for a Judicial Review. Such has been the public outrage about the invasion of Iraq that the group managed to raise the money and in July 2005 their case was heard in the High Court.
Building a culture of peace
Although the judge found the Peace Tax Seven arguments 'forceful' their request for a Judicial Review of current UK tax policy was turned down. At an appeal court hearing in March 2006 it became plain that the British judges acknowledged the validity of the arguments, particularly when three Lord Justices, while refusing permission for a judicial review, cast doubt on previous rulings that had previously prevented cases like this moving forward; recommending that having exhausted the British legal process the group are now in a position to take their case to the European Court of Human Rights.
Earlier this year papers were lodged with the European Court at Strasbourg and the group is currently waiting on a decision as to when they will have their case heard. Already the legal bills are mounting and the group must raise another £70,000 to successfully fight their case in Europe.