By Matt Wheeland, AlterNet
April 9, 2003
According to the government's Unified Budget for 2003, a measly 17 percent of the federal budget is earmarked for the military, while over three times as much is spent on Social Security and Medicare. What a great government, right? When you look at the actual budget, however (that which comes from taxes, minus Social Security funds), we're spending nearly half of our budget, about 5 billion, on past and present military expenses.
These figures are about two months old, and they're probably already seriously out of whack, especially if you consider the billion just granted to Bush for his war. Regardless of the specifics, the basic truth is about half of your income tax is going to the military. For all the millions of people who've taken to the streets in the past four months to prevent or oppose this war, this is like a kidney punch from behind: You may spend your days, nights and/or weekends working to preserve peace, but everyone who pays taxes is financially helping to support the war.
The obvious solution to this quandary is to just stop paying your taxes, right? So if it's that simple, why aren't the lines in the post office that much shorter on April 15?
The reality is quite complex, though considerably less fearful than most assume. Not paying taxes as a form of conscientious objection is much more common than is publicly known. While not difficult, it requires a level of commitment that may seem daunting to many. The beauty of this form of war resistance is that it is endlessly flexible, and there are people who have been able to maintain this protest for as long as they've been in control of their income.
The Daily Protest
In early March, before the war started, I attended a War Tax Resisters support and information meeting at a small Unitarian church in tree-lined Berkeley. About 25 people came together to learn some of the details of this movement and to share their hopes, fears and experiences.
As one attendee put it, "Not paying taxes is a way you can protest every day," as opposed to marching once a month to protest. Susan Quinlan, a Bay Area organizer for the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC), gave me a brief rundown of her 20-year experiences with war tax resistance – including the time IRS agents came to her door "requesting" an appearance in their office, and the time she quit her job in order to prevent the government from deducting money from her wages. ....
One form of resistance you can begin today is to reduce your taxable income. Called, among other things, voluntary poverty or simple living, the goal is to live in such a way that your traceable income is under the level that would require you to pay taxes. What level is that? Generally speaking, if you can stay under ,000 in income a year, you'll be able to skip the 1040. Obviously, this tactic becomes quite difficult if you live in a major urban area or have a job that won't pay you under the table. But you can reduce your income in a lot of clever ways. First and foremost would be to watch what you consume. Do you really need 500-channel satellite cable? Do you really need DSL, for a month? Do you really need your car? That's a tough one, I know, but especially for the city-dwellers, cars are quite often more trouble than they're worth, with parking and maintenance and now gasoline prices conspiring to make them chronic headaches.
Other ideas to reduce your expenditures center around creating a community of resisters. For instance, working with like-minded friends can create small economies of scale and barter systems that can make it cheaper to buy food in bulk, trade skills and services, and any of a million way to work within the "Underground Economy."
More policy-minded ideas in the works include the Peace Tax Fund, a noble effort that is scrambling to find a foothold in these "support our troops" times. It would, if passed, institute a non-military fund into which taxpayers could funnel their money, to then be used for health care, infrastructure, education, etc.
Other Taxes to Avoid
The income tax is the largest tributary to the Pentagon's budget, but it's far from the only one. Some other taxes have been in existence for decades, and a whole slew of others have been introduced in the past few years, especially since 9/11, to pad the DoD's pockets.
One of the first federal taxes to spark opposition is the Federal Phone Tax. This tax has been in existence since 1914, and has been specifically created to raise money for the various major wars since then. Originally introduced as a "temporary" tax, after 76 years the Congress finally made it permanent, and set its level at 3 percent of your phone bill.
Resistance to the telephone tax has a long and established history, and most phone companies will put up no fight to resisters who will not pay it, since they're just as happy to not collect taxes for the government. Simply include a note saying that you refuse to pay your federal excise tax for conscientious purposes, and pay the rest. Socially responsible phone companies like Working Assets make it easy for you by highlighting the federal tax portion of your bill.
That's the easiest non-income tax to avoid. The others are much harder to refuse, because they're intricately woven into the fabric of our daily lives. These are federal taxes included in the purchase of alcohol, gasoline, and air travel. Refusing to pay these taxes, especially airline travel in these tense times, means finding other ways to travel and get your jollies.
Go Ahead, Stick Your Neck Out
War tax resistance isn't easy. It's a constant struggle and its rewards are primarily ethereal. But the reasons underlying it, and the current need to take a stand, are profound and urgent. This is a movement that can make an enormous difference if enough people join the battle. Having spent the last month learning about the extraordinary community of people who have made tax resistance a way of life has opened my eyes to the spectrum of possibility for resistance, and has made me a believer.
For more information on tax resistance, read a short article by Gar Smith called "The Noble American Tradition of Tax Resistance."
Matt Wheeland is an associate editor of AlterNet.