Sunday, February 17, 2013

War Tax Resistance

This past week I provided my 2012 tax information to my accountant (whom I refer to as my financial therapist—he’s the best). Entering into this year’s tax season has made me think back to the years when I was a war tax resister. The first year that I paid taxes was 1979. I was no longer in college and I worked a regular job (not work-study or a fellowship) so I had to file income taxes for the first time. The more I learned about federal spending allocations, the worse I felt about paying taxes. I don’t mind paying taxes, but I would like to have the right to select what programs my taxes should go toward. I resent paying for weapons development and for war.

I don’t remember how I found out about the War Tax Resisters League (WTRL) in the days before the internet. They were an organization based in Seattle that had set up a way to help people conscientiously resist paying taxes for military use. I used their services. This is how it worked. They created a pie chart that showed how the federal budget (each year) was allocated. It was painfully clear from the pie chart that the lion’s share of the federal budget went to the military. I (as did many others) used the annual WTRL pie chart to determine what percentage of my taxes would go to the military. Then I subtracted that percentage from the total taxes I owed. Next I opened a war tax resistance interest-earning savings account through the WTRL and I mailed a check for the portion of my taxes that I would refuse to pay to the IRS to Seattle instead, where the WTRL deposited the funds into my account.

When I filed my taxes, I wrote a letter to the IRS explaining that I had put the percentage of my taxes that would have gone to violence (military, defense, weapons, war) into a bank account and I would save it there for the feds until the government quit waging war on other nations (both covert and outright). I then wrote a check made out to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for the difference (the percentage that went to non-military purposes) and mailed that in with my tax forms to the IRS. There were consequences, of course. As you can imagine, I received increasingly threatening letters from the IRS telling me I owed them tax money.

Having taken the plunge and become a war tax resister, I persevered for several years afterward. I learned that if I declared a lot of dependents on my W4 when I was hired for a job, then I would have hardly any money withheld and I would owe a lot of taxes in April. That method made it possible for me to refuse to pay very nearly all of my income taxes that would have gone to the military when I filed my taxes each year. I used the annual WTRL pie chart to get the percentage and then I subtracted that portion from my taxes. I always made a point of paying for the percentage that goes to veterans benefits. But I sent the portion that would have gone to fighting wars and making weapons and all that defense/military stuff to the WTRL to put in my savings account. I also sent additional money to the WTRL account to cover the cost of fines and interest that would be charged when the IRS eventually collected, as I knew they would. They are a bully with enormous muscle.

If you can believe it, I successfully resisted paying war taxes from 1979 to 1984. Over the years, the letters from the IRS became more frightening. They said they would impound my car, turn me out of my apartment, garnish my wages, arrest me. I diligently responded to their threats, told them the account number of the savings account at the WTRL where I had put the money for them. Patiently and politely explained that I was a pacifist and I did not approve of the government’s use of my money. I told them they could have it if the government stopped waging war.

Finally the IRS got fed up with me. Or I should say with us, because by then I was married and Ron and I resisted war taxes together. One day the IRS swooped in and cleaned out our bank accounts. Poof, like that. Not the one in Seattle at the WTRL, but our regular, daily-use bank accounts. I was outraged that the IRS had the power to just pluck my money straight out of my bank account. We literally had no money to buy food. We had no credit cards in those days (I applied for my first one after this fiasco with the IRS happened). Our money disappeared to the IRS during the year that I was staying home with my first baby. I called the WTRL in a panic and they were terrific. They wired us some money to help get us by until they could mail us a check for the large sum of money we had stashed in our account with them over the years. The IRS held us accountable not just for all our back taxes, but also the interest the money would have earned for the IRS over the years according to their calculations, plus they levied a fine. Even after they wiped out our bank accounts, we still owed more to them, and I decided to finally pay it. I had a child to think about and I could not handle the stress and uncertainty of resisting paying war taxes. So we settled up with the IRS.

I have paid my taxes ever since that time. For many years, I made my income tax check out to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services or the U.S. Department of Education, just to make a point. When the canceled check came back (because in those days you could still get one), it always had “IRS” stamped on the back. Oh well. I always wrote a letter stating that I did not wish to have my money go to the military. I wondered if the IRS agent would read it and if it would cause any thought on that subject.

When I googled War Tax Resisters League, I couldn’t actually find the organization in Seattle that helped me back in the early 80s. I did find the War Resisters League (WRL) and they do create a pie chart every year to show the federal budget allocations. Here is the link to the WRL.  And here is the link to their pie chart.  Here, below, is a pie chart I downloaded that shows government budget allocations for 2013.

I continue to find it difficult to pay my taxes, knowing what the money goes toward. By paying taxes I am complicit in murder and torture. My taxes pay for the waterboarding of political prisoners and the bombing of children, they pay for construction of nuclear weapons and sophisticated heat-seeking missiles. They pay for the grief, anguish, pain, and loss of others in countries less prosperous or privileged than my own. This is a fact of my life that I must live with and frankly it makes me feel ashamed.

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