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Bill Durland is an attorney with degrees in Jurisprudence and Philosophy. He has taught at seminaries, colleges, and law schools. He played a key role in the founding of NWTRCC in 1982, and Ruth Benn spoke with him about then and now.
Ruth: Let’s start by learning about the Center on Law and Pacifism, which you started before the founding of NWTRCC.
Bill: In 1978, Genie and I lived in Philadelphia. We had been involved with War Resisters League (WRL) and others in the broad antiwar, pro-peace groups. People came to us, Quakers or people who were spiritual or philosophical or theological, as well as the war tax resisters with cases where the ACLU let them fall through the cracks. Bob Anthony, who was a Quaker and war tax refuser, came to us. We met with Father Dick McSorley [1914–2002] in Washington, D.C., and the three of us formed the Center on Law and Pacifism (CLP).
We formed this group from a sort of religious aspect, what the gospels meant to Christians or any religious or moral people where their church was supporting war. We weren’t really so much trying to change churches but give people in churches an opportunity to be defended and applauded in what they were doing. Our first case was Bob Anthony’s. I eventually took that and several cases to the Supreme Court. I took prison cases and poverty cases and conscientious objection and civil disobedience.
Then we moved to Colorado Springs in 1980 with the idea to have a western office as well as the eastern office. Eventually the western office became dominant, and the eastern office faded after a couple years. I took a lot of cases to a lot of courts, mostly federal. I was criticized by a couple of attorneys because “you don’t take a case where you can’t tell your clients there’s a good chance of winning,” but we were witnessing. Part of that witness was the religious calling to be nonviolent and be against war and to not pay war taxes.
What inspired you to call the conference that got NWTRCC started?
We were extremely busy. WRL was busy. Everyone was busy. We all felt like if we worked hard enough we were going to get something done. Besides WRL there was another group, Ed Pearson’s Conscience and Military Tax Campaign (CMTC). We met him about six months after we formed CLP. Another one was Peacemakers. It came to my attention there was some duplication and overlapping of these organizations. That was #1, and #2 was, wouldn’t it be nice if we could communicate better and have a common approach. In 1982 Reagan was getting stronger, so I just had this little bubble in my head and mentioned it to Genie and said “I’m going to call up Ed Pearson (CMTC) and Ed Hedemann (WRL),” which I did. That’s what brought us together in September 1982 in Washington, D.C., for the National Action Conference at which we organized NWTRCC.
So CMTC was involved along with WRL and you? Was Peacemakers involved in the conference?
The Bromleys, Wally and Juanita Nelson, and others from Peacemakers were at the September meeting. It had 17 states represented and 60-plus people. We talked about coordinating actions and policies and representing people. One of the things that CLP did more than the other groups was organize the national legal advisors network. We had advisors in almost every state at one time, and these people were available to war resisters and anybody who was doing war tax resistance (WTR). So by getting together we found that we could share the distinctive characteristics of each organization.
There was humor involved as well. We were spending a lot of time over the name. Ed Pearson wanted to get “redirection” in there: National War Tax Resistance and Redirection Coordinating Committee. But that just got too long. [The acronym] was suggested as “new-trick.” I was more protective than anyone else and wanted to make it “new-track,” and then everybody said they’d call it “new track” even though it sounds like “new trick.” So that is how history is made.
Then we met in November at St. Louis Catholic Worker and that was a nice meeting. We did more of these things — structure, specifics on legal and education, actions, and planning for future meetings. We decided to adopt a logo. Three were suggested, all done by Mary Lynn Sheetz in Colorado Springs. Someone didn’t like a flower at the end of the gun as not being the right image so that got changed to a dove. Can you think — people came all the way to St. Louis, there were all these things we were doing — and we spent two or three hours on the logo!
We elected a board in St. Louis, and from 1985 on NWTRCC was the formidable organization and did a lot of good work. Genie and I and some of the others faded out, and it continued. After 30 years it’s just a gem.
So NWTRCC has fulfilled your hopes?
I envisioned all of these groups continuing and that NWTRCC would be the least active of the three, but the most necessary, because it would be simply people of all the different groups coming together and coordinating things but not a national organization. I think WRL was happy to have these other groups, because they did a lot of other things, and they were the biggest group of course. NWTRCC became the go-to group, the clearinghouse for all the others, and it certainly fulfilled my hopes.
You have done a lot over the years on what some might see as hopeless causes. How do you keep going?
I think early on we decided that you operate from significance rather than effectiveness. Americans sometimes don’t realize how long it can take to be effective, and they give up. We’ve been able to contain our disappointments. Around here there are fewer and fewer people that are out on the streets. It’s much more difficult. In the case of the Catholics, a pope came in about the same time we were so active and put in conservative priests in South America and wherever. It’s like a conservative president stacking the Supreme Court and the judges. After a while it starts changing.
What stands out from your years of activism?
When I was teaching, the teaching was so enhanced by my antiwar experience. What I was able to amplify in the books and ask students to think about, I think made a great impression. When the Iraq war started, the second one, I issued a statement to my students and the administration that I would not participate in anything that had to do with war-making. They are all part of the same thing — war tax resistance, antiwar, civil disobedience, standing up for your morality whether you are religious or an atheist. I guess I wouldn’t trade the life that we’ve had. We’re so glad at our late age that there are people who continue.
“Network News” was the predecessor of this newsletter and began with a December 1984 mailing from the office in East Patchogue, New York. That 4-page typed and photocopied mailing started with news about auctions and seizures — with some names still familiar to NWTRCC today. Robert and Linda Randall’s house in Woodstock, Georgia, had been auctioned and protest bids were submitted; the Randalls bought the house back after the sale. In Chicago, Karl Meyer reported on the cancellation of a public auction when 60 protesters showed up to protest the sale of Michael McConnell’s property. And in Colorado Springs (join us there November 2–4, 2012), the IRS removed a seizure notice for the property of Donna Johnson, because the IRS agreed that they would need to take her to court to prove that she had an interest in the group-owned property.
The newsletter included notes about telephone tax resistance, Philadelphia Yearly Meeting support for an employee/resister, and tax law with relevance to alternative funds. Our friend Carol Katonik Coney was also in the process of making the film Paying for Peace, which served as an excellent organizing tool for war tax resisters for many years and holds up well today. It includes wonderful footage of Wally and Juanita Nelson, Ernest Bromley, Maurice McCracken, and other key figures in the modern war tax resistance movement.
As you can see, we’re now in the process of a newsletter redesign, thanks to graphic artist Rick Bickhart. The next issue will unveil the new permanent masthead to go with the style changes that you see in this issue.
The Pacific Yearly Meeting has established what it calls the “Fund of Concerns” with which it will help individual Monthly Meetings help individual Quakers in their war tax refusal. “Up to $100 per fiscal year per person will be available to help with the interest and penalty expenses of war tax resisters who are members or regular attenders of a Monthly Meeting. The Monthly Meeting must indicate approval and provide matching funds.” For more information see pacificyearlymeeting.org/2012/pym-docs/3344.
Spanish tax resisters have established what they call “Offices of Economic Disobedience” in Zaragoza, Barcelona, Madrid, Ávila, Castellón, Sevilla, and Mallorca. These offer counseling on “how to resist taxes for military spending, payments on the national debt, or for the church and monarchy,” according to the head of the Madrid office, and also information on how to create worker-managed businesses and other such cooperatives that function outside of the government tax and regulation structure. For more details see sniggle.net/TPL/index5.php?entry=02Sep12.
“Forty-seven percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what… who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. … These are people who pay no income tax.”
Mitt Romney’s statements at a Florida fundraiser have been circulated widely since the video was released by Mother Jones in September. We’re not writing about this to get into electoral politics, but to consider what it means for war tax resistance organizing and outreach since war tax resistance has generally focused on income taxes and war. Are we ignoring that 47%?
Telephone tax refusal was one way to involve many more people in WTR. We continue to offer information about the federal excise tax on local phone service, but because there is no tax on long distance, cell phone, voice-over-internet, or mixed use phone service, that effort is much reduced. NWTRCC has expanded its information about other federal excise taxes like those on tobacco, alcohol, cruises, and air travel, with a web page, nwtrcc.org/other_taxes.php. In most cases, the only way to refuse these taxes is to not consume the product.
The big federal taxes that Romney ignored and that most people do pay are the payroll taxes for Social Security and Medicare. Opinions vary among war tax resisters regarding payment of Social Security taxes, which contribute to war spending because the Trust Funds can be borrowed for general federal spending, or the surplus is invested in U.S. treasury bonds, which finance federal spending. As a salaried employee it is impossible to refuse these taxes; they are a straight percentage of gross salary and are not affected by the number of allowances you put on the W-4 form. Self-employed/below-taxable resisters can — and many do — refuse to make Social Security payments. The IRS power to collect these taxes is the same as for income taxes. We hope to write more on the question of “to pay or not to pay” into Social Security in a future issue of this newsletter. If you have an opinion on this topic and are willing to write a paragraph (or so) about why, please send your statement to the NWTRCC office or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
To all who took out ads in this anniversary issue! We added extra pages to accommodate them, and we think you will find the ads worth a read too! Thanks to Ed Hedemann for his help in designing many of the ads that came in, and thanks to Jerry Chernow at Lakeside Press in Madison, Wisconsin, for the extra time required to fold and mail this issue. If you missed out on placing an ad this time, contact us for rates or see nwtrcc.org/ads.php. We’re in our 30th anniversary year, and we put ads in every issue.
Thank you to these affiliates for their recent dues payments:
Pioneer Valley War Tax Resistance, Greenfield, Mass.
Taxes for Peace Not War! Eugene, Ore.
War Resisters League National
Thanks to everyone on the network list who returned the contact update postcard. We’re in the process of making the changes, and you still have time to reply. NWTRCC’s Network List of Affiliates, Area Contacts, Counselors, and Alternative Funds appear on the website, or request a list from the NWTRCC office.
Please let us know if you are interested in being a contact on our network list: email@example.com or (800) 269-7464.
Advertising rates for this newsletter can be found at nwtrcc.org/ads.php or contact the editor at (800) 269-7464.
Voices for Creative Nonviolence, a NWTRCC affiliate, and the indefatigable and courageous peace activist Kathy Kelly, have built a relationship over the years with thousands of war victims and antiwar activists in Iraq and Afghanistan. Kathy and other Voices speakers have toured the country telling the stories they’ve learned in their travels, and they’ve connected us all with a special group, the Afghan Peace Volunteers. Recently Voices sent out the following request:
“Afghan Peace Volunteers face grave threats of escalated violence in their country. Most have already experienced traumas of displacement and bereavement. Yet, rather than seek revenge over the deaths of two million people in the past four decades of war, the Afghan Peace Volunteers steadfastly insist they want to build two million friendships, allied in the cause of seeking a ceasefire and an end to wars in Afghanistan. Could you kindly help us reach out to people in your network, encouraging them to visit the 2millionfriends.org website? The website includes a petition we hope you’ll sign, and gives information for everyone interested in setting up December 10th (International Human Rights Day) solidarity events in their communities.”
Please visit the website, participate, and make your refusal to pay for war public when you have the opportunity. You may also contact the Afghan Peace Volunteers through the website.
Another energetic war resister who is often on the speaker’s platform is David Swanson. Somehow between his writing and traveling he also finds the time to host an online radio show. The September program features NWTRCC Coordinator Ruth Benn speaking about, what else, war tax resistance. Reviews are in all the way from Australia! Robert Burrowes had this to say:
“I just listened to your interview about war tax resistance on ‘Talk Nation Radio’ and thoroughly enjoyed it for several reasons! …I liked your informative, no nonsense but ‘it’s up to the individual’ answers, Ruth. I also appreciated your relaxed, ‘give-the-interviewee-time-to-tell-their-story’ style David: rare, in my experience!”
Tune in and see what you think. Go to davidswanson.org/talknationradio. You’ll also find interviews about political theater on the West Bank, how young people shut down strip mining in West Virginia, the war on whistleblowers, the march to war in Iran, and more.
Titus Peachey at the Mennonite Central Committee sent a link to their new web page, a virtual penny poll. mcc.org/FearNot/world/pennypoll/virtual. After you take the poll a comparison to federal spending pops up.
While glancing at the conscientious objection/war taxes pages on their website, co.mcc.org/wartaxes, a quote “from the elders of the Church that men call Hutterian, May 14, 1590,” came to our attention. In NWTRCC’s 30th year, this is a reminder of the long struggle we face.
“We pay no taxes for vengeance, nor do we give anything as substitute for such taxes… We would be willing to pay an annual sum on each house where we have a communal kitchen, as long as we can be assured that the money will be used profitably for the country and for people in need.”
On Saturday, July 28, 2012, three antinuclear activists took an action that put them in headlines across the country for shutting down a nuclear plant pending an investigation. Calling themselves the Transform Now Plowshares, Sr. Megan Rice, Greg Boertje-Obed, and Michael Walli made their way onto the property of the Oak Ridge nuclear reservation in Tennessee and splashed blood and hung “Swords into Plowshares” banners on the building housing the Highly Enriched Uranium Materials Facility.
Hundreds or thousands of individuals came to war tax resistance specifically because of the nuclear weapons issue. In the early 1980s the antinuclear movement was growing and visible, to the point that Archbishop Raymond Hunthausen of Seattle was moved to say, “I think the teaching of Jesus tells us to render to a nuclear-arms Caesar what that Caesar deserves, tax resistance.” He followed that talk with his own resistance.
Megan and Greg joined war tax resisters in November 2011, when we met in Kansas City and held a protest at the Kansas City Plant. Thanks to them and to Michael for their persisten actions and for risking years in prison to bring attention to the need for complete nuclear disarmament.
A trial date is currently set for February 26, 2013, at Federal court in Knoxville, Tennessee. Learn more at transformnowplowshares.wordpress.com. Contributions towards trial-related expenses and jail support can be mailed to Catholic Worker, P.O. Box 29179, Washington DC 20017.
NWTRCC has links with the Iran Pledge of Resistance, a campaign initiated by United for Peace and Justice to build an effective and rapid response to preempt a U.S. war with Iran. Visit the website, iranpledge.org, to learn more and to sign the pledge to “join with others to engage in acts of legal protest and/or nonviolent civil disobedience to prevent or halt the death and destruction which U.S. military actions would cause to the people of Iran, the Middle East, our communities at home, and the planet itself.”
Front: Dove color graphic and “War No More — Not with my body, Not with my money, Not with my mind”
Back: “I’m Not Buying It” and wartaxboycott.org in white letters
Adult M, L, XL (Black)
Front: “Stop the War Machine” with color machine gear graphic
Back: “I’m Not Buying It” and wartaxboycott.org in black letters
Adult M, L, XL (Red)
Shirts are printed on top quality 100% heavyweight cotton t-shirts and created by AlterniTees in Colorado Springs. They are “pre shrunk,” but washing in cool water and using a cool dryer or line dry are recommended.
$15 each plus $5 postage and handling
“Thoreau and His Heirs. The History and Legacy of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience” Teaching Kit, $30 postpaid. (Includes Death & Taxes DVD, Thoreau’s essay, questions for students, and select list of historic civil disobedience actions). The kit pieces are free online at nwtrcc.org/thoreau.php.
Edited by David R. Bassett, Steve Ratzlaff, and Tim Godshall (2009)
Special price $15 (includes postage)
From 1982 to 2005, Marian Franz led the American effort to allow those conscientiously opposed to participation in war to pay taxes into a fund for non-military purposes only. This book compiles the best of her writing from over 20 years’ worth of inspiring and informative newsletter columns. Additional essays submitted by several of Marian’s colleagues reflect on the rationale for, history of, and challenges facing the movement for conscientious objection to military taxation.
To order any of the above: Send a check made out to NWTRCC to P.O. Box 150553, Brooklyn, NY 11215, or pay online through WePay or Paypal (use the comment section to list your order or send an email). Call (800) 269‒7464 with questions or for a resource list by mail.
NWTRCC would not have made it through 30 years without volunteers and the countless hours they have spent at meetings, serving on committees, reviewing literature, producing this newsletter, writing articles, contributing to the website, making slideshows and films, talking to the media, creating skits and songs, signing onto statements, stuffing envelopes, taking photos, tabling, and all it takes to keep an organization going, plus all of your generous financial contributions. Thanks to each individual who has given NWTRCC some of their time and money and to everyone who continues to work to put an end to war.
National War Tax Resistance Gathering and Coordinating Committee Meeting
November 2–4, 2012, Colorado College,
Our program begins with a 4:30 p.m. vigil on Friday in downtown Colorado Springs, followed by dinner and a program on “Resistance, Risks, Realities.” Presenters will talk about the risks of war tax resistance, military resistance, and the realities of prison. Saturday’s program is mini-conference style with workshops and plenaries on sustaining local organizing, the frivolous penalty, banking and interest, WTR 101 for newcomers, social media, mutual aid, and more. NWTRCC’s business meeting (open to all) is Sunday morning, and we end with lunch on Sunday. For more details and registration information see nwtrcc.org/meetings.php or call (800) 269‒7464.
“Forms of War Tax Resistance:
Where We’ve Been & Where We’re Going”
October 26–28 • Cambridge, Mass.
Cambridge Friends Meeting,
9 Longfellow Park (Friday–Saturday)
Democracy Center, 45 Mt. Auburn St. (Sunday)
A panel discussion, “Does WTR Have a Political Future?” starts off the weekend and other challenging topics include: Why resist? Why keep on resisting? Why stop resisting? How is WTR different in this “age of inequity”? Is a new WTR movement needed—and possible?
Once again NWTRCC will be tabling at the Shut Down the School of the Americas vigil, November 16–18 in Fort Benning, Georgia. Contact the NWTRCC office if you would like to help leaflet, table, or have a WTR workshop.
February 3–9, 2013
Everyone interested in the links between militarization, taxation, and conscience and who want to learn more about and support the vigorous anti-militarist movement in Colombia is invited to attend. The conference is hosted by Accion Colectiva de Objetores y Objetoras de Conciencia (ACOOC) and endorsed by NWTRCC, Netzwerk Friedenssteuer, and Conscience and Peace Tax International (CPTI). Sessions will take place at Casa Kolping, in Bogotá, and accommodations are at Hotel Teusaca, a short distance away. David Gross of Northern California War Tax Resistance will be NWTRCC’s representative at the conference, but we hope that others will be able to attend also. For more information and registration see peacetaxconference.org.
By Susan Quinlan
It’s not often that you find young people who are inspired to sing, dance and write poetry about taxes! But that’s exactly what happened in Oakland on Tax Day 2012 when BAY-Peace: Better Alternatives for Youth and Northern California War Tax Resistance teamed up to protest militarism and war.
In the words of Ima, one of the BAY-Peace youth leaders, “We have a right to care where our tax money goes… Most of our tax money goes to the military and prisons, and not education! We have a right to redirect and organize where our tax money should go!”
On the way to joining the all-day action at the Oakland Federal Building, organized by Code Pink and involving a wide range of organizations, the BAY-Peace Youth Action Team, war tax resisters and friends “flash mobbed” our way through downtown Oakland. The group stopped every block or two to offer a round of poetry, a skit or a dance set to original lyrics about military spending:
People People People, can’t you see? / They kill around the world with tax money — / Stealing from workers how their money’s made / I guess that’s why we broke and they so paid!
Leading our parade was a small group of millionaires pushing a wheelbarrow that held a large bag labeled “Your Tax Dollars.” Behind them youth carried military boots hanging from poles to represent the 6,500 U.S. deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a sign stating “The wars of the 1% are waged on the backs of the 99%.”
Other placards highlighted the trade offs when $1.6 million is taken out of Oakland each day to fund the military. Using the “Trade Offs” calculator on the National Priorities Project’s website, BAY-Peace youth carried signs stating “Instead of paying for war, we could be giving a $55,000 college scholarship to every high school student in Oakland,” and “Instead of paying for war, we could provide full health insurance coverage for a year for 29,000 Oakland families.”
In front of CitiBank BAY-Peace youth poets shared pieces they had written to the prompt “If my money could talk.” Megan’s poem included the lines
If my money could talk
It would sing you a melody
Tell you to stop killing trees
Just to make more of me
I’m useless, you’ll see
Crumpled up in your pocket
Ended up to profit
We’re funding a war so unnecessary
It’s all fueled by greed
And the broken backs of those who work hard,
Brown and black is their mark,
Currencies and government policies,
Political and financial self-interest capitalist infrastructure and war
There is no difference
When it’s strictly business
Government jedis perform mind tricks
When economics replaces moral logic
You can either take the path of a scholar
Or chase the American dollar
Either way we’re still leashed to the street
By a government collar
Although the security guards at the Federal Building hung back, we had several encounters with private security at banks where we stopped. Luckily, our group included several skilled peacemakers who were able to calm the agitated guards long enough to let the youth have their say and move on. During one of these confrontations, Michael shared a poem written to the prompt “War is not my occupation,” which included the lines:
I refuse to occupy war!
I will not put my time,
or my money
into this machine of killing!
I refuse to deposit
My resources into this ATM!
This Aristocratic Torture Method
I refuse to be taxed
For this American Terrorism Massacre!
I refuse to occupy War!
And I refuse to let war
We made a special point of stopping in front of Wells Fargo to highlight the fact that their money is invested in private immigrant detention facilities that are part of this country’s militarization of our borders and communities. Wells Fargo responded by shutting down their bank while we enjoyed street theater by headRush that broke down the racist impacts of the bank’s practices outside their locked doors.
After reaching the Federal Building, we decided to close our action by modeling the kind of redirection we are calling for on a national level. While war tax resisters redirected $1, $5 and $10 bills to passers by, the BAY-Peace youth handed out sandwiches and books to participants and onlookers. Our demonstration ended as a circle of sharing, with bystanders stepping up to the mic to sing, recite poetry and enjoy a simple meal together under the shadow of the Oakland Federal Building.
In the words of BAY-Peace youth leader Guayo, “Tax money is the fuel for the military, the fuel for violence. Let’s change the input for a better output!”
Postscript: I asked two of the BAY-Peace youth leaders, Lawrence Newsome and Megan Mansalas Torio, how they felt about their Tax Day Action.
How did it feel to be out there on the street expressing your feelings about military spending?
L: …[I]t made me feel as if someone was listening to my story and all the problems I see with how we spend our money.… It was good to have people with the same mindset to back you up on a big problem in the world.
M: I felt empowered. Just to have the knowledge about the truth of the military felt great. But to be able to acknowledge other people felt amazing.
If you were in charge of the budget, where would our taxes be spent?
L: Personally I would spend most of our money in schools and on the kids’ education because I believe that the kids are the future and that they will always be able to change the world, but they have to have an education to do it.
M: I would direct the taxes towards the community, like the construction people do, or the projects to build more parks or more recreation centers, anything that’ll help make the community better. Also I would push our taxes towards schools, colleges, more resource centers, and definitely health care.
How did the public react to our action?
L: We had a lot of people come to us and ask us what we were doing and so many people joined us, which was amazing, seeing so many different people come together and fight for a change!
M: The public was supportive and curious. I feel like those who supported us wanted to know more and were interested and engaged because, hey, it’s their money too that’s being misused.
Susan Quinlan is a long time member of Northern California War Tax Resistance. For the last eight years she has enjoyed the privilege of volunteering as Coordinator of BAY-Peace.