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October 1997. IN THIS ISSUE:
Organizations, Institutions, and WTR
Vigil to Protest Social Security Levy
Counseling Notes (Seizure Of Pension Funds, Checking Account Denied, Phone Tax Resistance, Social Security Numbers For Children)
Legislative Updates (New Improved Peace Tax Fund Bill)
WTR Ideas and Actions (Taxpayers Choice Campaign, Matching Funds, Networking)
My Visit with the IRS, By Steve Kretzmann, Louisa, VA
Local Group Reports (Waukesha, WI, Boston, MA)
Perspective: WTR as a Spiritual Discipline, By Randy Kehler, Colrain, MA
About More Than a Paycheck and NWTRCC
NWTRCC's fall meeting outside of Philadelphia in Moorestown, NJ, will focus in large part on what we've been calling "corporate WTR," that is, the involvement of employers, contractors, and financial institutions in conscientious objection to military taxes.
Why are we emphasizing this topic? Because in the past ten years the IRS has tightened up both reporting requirements and guidelines for independent contractors, making it much more difficult for individuals of conscience to make a living outside the withholding system or to conduct financial business outside the reporting system. As a result, the IRS is using organizations and institutions to do much more of their tracking and tax collecting for them, and individual war tax resisters are much more dependent on the places we work and do financial business to support us if we wish to continue redirecting our taxes.
NWTRCC is tracking possible trends involving organizations and institutions, such as the pension fund collections and denial of a checking account mentioned in this issue's Counseling Notes (see p. 2). There definitely appears to be a recent increase in employer/contractor levies. Since our report in the June MTAP, NWTRCC has talked with an employee of a Quaker school, the pastor of a Brethren church, and a Friends United Meeting employee who are facing levies on their paychecks, with differing levels of support from their employers/contractors.
Titus Peachey, a war tax resister from Pennsylvania, tells of negotiating with their Mennonite Credit Union to see if it would refuse to honor an IRS levy. The Credit Union Board deliberated on the matter, but decided to comply with the IRS. In describing the situation, Titus thoughtfully summarized the issue of corporate WTR:
"As we reflect on this experience, we realize that we and the Credit Union acted out of very different roles. The Credit Union staff and board acted out of responsibility for the financial assets of their members. We acted out of concern for the victims of war whom we had met during eight years of humanitarian work in Vietnam and Laos. We believe both of these concerns are legitimate, and are not yet willing to concede that the one concern always excludes the other."
"We recognize, however, that the systems in our country which protect and multiply financial assets are often at odds with concerns for peace and justice in our world. Just as we must decide on a personal level how much risk we will take with our "financial nest," so institutions must decide how much risk they will take in order to hold to their core values and beliefs. In a society where money is quickly becoming the primary value and ethic, it is especially important for church institutions to examine what informs their decisions and why."
Some conscientious objectors to military taxation have made it their business over the years to work with organizations and institutions about their role in tax collecting. Others have found ways to make a living and still satisfy their conscience without dealing with corporate WTR issues. However, individual options are getting more limited. Living under a taxable income may become more appealing, as well as creating alternative financial institutions in our communities. But for many of us, if we want to continue keeping the fruits of our labors out of the Pentagon budget we may have to look more closely at corporate WTR.
If you can, please join war tax resisters as well as representatives of organizations and institutions that interact with WTRs at the Moorestown, NJ, Friends Meeting, Saturday, November 8th, 1997, to share ideas and mutual support. Peter Goldberger, a Pennsylvania lawyer who is representing Priscilla Adams in her Tax Court case and has consulted with and/or represented other WTRs and employers over the years, will be a resource person for the day. For more information, contact the NWTRCC office.
Seventy-eight year old peace activist Ruth McKay has been refusing to pay the military portion of her income taxes for over twenty years. Now the IRS has levied her Social Security check to collect back taxes. As a protest, Ruth and about 40 members of New Hampshire Peace Action held a vigil at the federal courthouse in Concord, NH on August 6th, the 52nd anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima.
Ruth grew up in a conservative family in rural New Hampshire. In the 1960's, during the Vietnam war, she was influenced by the young men she was teaching in her Sunday school class who were facing the draft, and by her teenaged daughter who decided she couldn't play her French horn in the high school band for a Memorial Day parade. Ruth became a draft counselor, and then a war tax resister. In the 1980's she unsuccessfully challenged the IRS in court, arguing that requiring religious pacifists to pay for the military represented a violation of the First Amendment guarantee of religious freedom.
The vigil attracted a mixed group of old and young folks with various religious and personal motivations. A few, besides Ruth, were also war tax resisters. The careful publicity by New Hampshire Peace Action resulted in a newspaper profile of Ruth before the action and an article reporting on the vigil. The paper also printed at least three letters to the editor about the event.
SEIZURE OF PENSION FUNDS
In our last newsletter we pointed out the IRS policy of not seizing pension funds except as a last resort. A small but noticeable number of WTRs who have been the subject of IRS collection activities for many years are now having pension funds seized. If you are a long-time WTR and the IRS has been trying, whether successfully or not, to get money from you for quite awhile, any pension funds you have may be at risk. Even if you haven't been doing WTR for very long and haven't had other money seized, we can't guarantee the IRS will leave your pension funds alone.
A couple of WTRs who have had money seized from Pax World Fund, which identifies as a socially responsible fund, are attempting to dialogue with them about what that means in regards to cooperating with IRS seizures of refused war taxes.
CHECKING ACCOUNT DENIED
A WTR in Washington DC was recently denied a checking account at a bank due to a credit check on the bank computer which came back with, "Do not open account." Apparently the denial was in response to IRS liens filed on the WTR.
NWTRCC consulted with someone from the Maine Banking Bureau about the situation and learned that financial institutions can refuse to open accounts at their own discretion. In addition to credit checks on potential account holders, banks and credit unions can get their checking account histories. Such histories would report past IRS levies.
This is the first that NWTRCC has heard of someone being denied a checking account because of their war tax resistance. If anyone else has had the experience, please let us know.
In response to this situation, another WTR suggested talking with the customer service representative at the financial institution and bringing copies of your correspondence with the IRS, perhaps before you open an account. A relationship with a live person who is authorized to make a decision may help if their computer's automatic credit check says "no," and/or if the IRS comes knocking for a levy.
This same WTR closed her checking account to avoid IRS levies and had quite an interesting chat with the customer service person. The employee wrote the real reason for closing the account on the exit interview form, and some time later, when the WTR ran into her on the street, said she had written a letter to her Congressional representative based on what the WTR told her!
PHONE TAX RESISTANCE
Because of the proliferation of phone companies and the turnover of their employees, NWTRCC gets a small but steady number of calls from phone tax resisters who are dealing with confused or recalcitrant phone companies about the federal excise tax on their bills.
As has been true for many years, the phone company is empowered to collect phone taxes, but not to enforce collection of the tax. Enforcement is left up to the IRS; the phone company is simply supposed to inform the IRS of the refusal. They are not themselves liable for paying the tax to the IRS. NWTRCC has copies of the IRS regulations regarding phone companies and the excise tax, plus a New York State Department of Public Service decision on the matter which covers the pertinent issues very clearly. We also have sample letters from a couple of phone companies showing their correct understanding of their role.
If you are having trouble with your phone company, you can request copies of the above from NWTRCC. It may also be helpful to contact your state's public utility oversight body about the situation, sending them copies of the regulations and the NY decision, and to let your phone company know you are doing so. You can also consider contacting the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) about the matter (NWTRCC has information on filing a complaint).
Occasionally phone companies try to tack on fees for processing phone tax refusal. At least a couple of state public utility oversight bodies have denied their request to do so, including NY state in the decision mentioned above. One cellular phone company has thus far gotten away with it; it probably will require someone to file a complaint with the FCC to get rid of the extra fee they claim they are due.
SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBERS FOR CHILDREN
In recent years the IRS has required that, to claim a deduction for a dependent child, you must have a Social Security number for them no matter what their age. NWTRCC knows of a few WTRs who have resisted getting Social Security numbers for their children. One family in Maine has been filing each year and claiming their children for deductions, but not supplying the IRS with Social Security numbers. The IRS has been threatening to disallow the deductions for several years and finally did so for 1996.
The notice to them from the IRS says, in part, "If your child(ren) is not eligible to obtain a social security number, you need to file form W-7, Application for IRS Individual Taxpayer Identification Number." Form W-7 says it is for individuals who are not U.S. citizens or nationals, but the WTR family is going to try to apply for numbers for their children in lieu of Social Security numbers. If anyone else has experience with refusing to supply Social Security numbers to the IRS for dependent children, or with form W-7, please let us know.
NEW IMPROVED PEACE TAX FUND BILL
After the last Congressional elections, lobbyists from the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund (NCPTF) identified a number of changes in their legislation which they believed would broaden their support in Congress. One would be to focus on religious liberty and take advantage of the current Congressional support for religious freedom issues. Another would be to include less detailed instructions in the legislation about the mechanics of operating a fund, which might appeal more to the IRS. They also decided that shortening the bill would make it easier to attach as an amendment. Finally, the group agreed they should only mandate where a CO's taxes cannot be spent, as opposed to where they should be spent. To keep the bill compatible with the beliefs of the NCPTF membership, certain essential parts of the bill were not up for negotiation. It will continue to keep detailed and specific definitions of military outlays, and to mandate an accounting of CO tax dollars with a separate reporting process.
The Campaign lobbyists put together a draft of the revised bill including the following changes: The legislation has been renamed the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act, with references to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the First Amendment. It highlights the consequences military tax CO's have suffered while working to gain legal status. The revised bill does not mandate where the redirected tax money should go; nor does it spell out the designation, transfer, or reporting of taxes by COs, which would be determined after passage of the bill.
The newly revised bill also has new lead sponsors. Rep. John Lewis (D-GA) in the House, who planned to introduce the bill in September, and Sen. Tom Harkins (D-IA) in the Senate.
The NCPTF will take time out of their busy lobbying schedule to celebrate their 25th anniversary with a gathering in Washington, DC on Thursday evening, October 23, 1997, featuring Sen. Tom Harkin and other speakers, storytelling and good food. They are putting together a commemorative booklet with statements, stories, sentiments, poems, and photos. For more information and/or the text of the new Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Act, check the NCPTF's web site at: www.nonviolence.org/peacetax, or send a self-addressed stamped envelope to the NCPTF, 2121 Decatur Place NW, Washington, DC, 20008-1923, (888)PEACE-TAX, email: firstname.lastname@example.org.
TAXPAYERS' CHOICE CAMPAIGN
The Self-Directed Income Tax, a concept NWTRCC discussed in this newsletter a number of years ago, languished for awhile but now is back as the Taxpayers' Choice Campaign. Dana Bellwether, the new coordinator, offers it as a way of addressing the concerns brought up in our recent Perspective columns regarding CO tax credits and the (newly named) Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill.
The Taxpayers' Choice proposal would allow for individuals to direct their taxes to the areas they specifically wish to support. It would provide a page in the 1040 form showing what percentage of taxes currently goes to each federal department, office, and program, with spaces next to the figures for the taxpayer to fill in the percentage of their tax payment they wish to expend on that department, office, or program.
As Dana points out, this proposal is even more vulnerable than the CO tax credit idea to the objection that Congress, not individual citizens, should determine how tax money is spent. On the other hand, if it could be passed, she says, "it would make a real difference in how much misery and untimely death the Pentagon, CIA, prisons, etc., could cause."
Information on the Taxpayers' Choice Campaign says that people in all parts of the U.S. have been asked how they would distribute their federal income tax money, given the choice. With little variation from one region to another, the average taxpayers would increase the budget for human resources, multiply by four the present budget for physical resources, which includes environmental protection, and cut the military budget to a seventh of its present size.
For more information: Taxpayers' Choice Campaign, c/o Dana Bellwether, 1207 Kubli Rd., Grants Pass, OR, 97527, (541)846-9254, email: Ihavewings@hotmail.com.
A WTR family in Vermont decided to get more value for their tax resisted buck. They refused to pay 50% of their tax liability and redirected it to Plan International's Childreach program. Childreach has a fund drive for a project to help children in Nepal and Ghana, and has received a challenge grant from the US Agency for International Development (USAID). This means that the $211.69 that the WTR family has redirected will result in a $423.38 matching contribution from the US government!
NWTRCC Administrative Committee member David Waters of Birmingham, AL, subscribes to the New Internationalist, a British-based magazine which focuses on 3rd world and global issues. NI recently solicited input for upcoming issue topics. So David wrote them recommending an issue on war tax resistance. "If we believe in peace, justice, equality, sustainable living and lifestyle," he asks, "why do we pay for war?"
By Steve Kretzmann, Louisa, VA
On July 7th I had a meeting with an IRS collection agent in Charlottesville, Virginia. I haven't paid federal taxes for 10 years. Each year I file a tax return and pay only the social security taxes that I owe. I include a letter with my return explaining that I'm a conscientious objector to war and its preparations. I refuse to pay federal taxes because such a large percentage of the federal budget is used for military purposes. I was a conscientious objector to military service and, in the same spirit, I cannot allow my tax dollars to be spent for war.
Each year I usually get two or three threatening computer notices from IRS regarding the money I owe them. For the first three years of my war tax resistance I put the money I owed into various escrow accounts set up for war tax resisters. Since then, I have given away the money I owe to various alternative funds, who then distribute it to organizations working to alleviate the effects of a militarized economy, such as soup kitchens, peace and conflict resolution groups, free health clinics, and so forth.
Once, back in 1989, the IRS levied $250 from my checking account in partial payment for refused taxes. That was the only time that any of my money was taken since I started my war tax resistance. About four years ago I spoke with an IRS collection agent on the phone about my refusal to pay. That conversation took place shortly before I moved from Washington, DC to Twin Oaks Community in central Virginia. I still live and work at Twin Oaks, a thirty-year-old egalitarian, secular, income-sharing intentional community.
The meeting in July was the first face-to-face encounter I've had with the IRS since I started my war tax resistance, so I was a bit apprehensive. Much to my benefit, I had just spent a week with over 2000 other Quakers at the Friends General Conference gathering in Harrisonburg, Virginia. I left the gathering feeling spiritually centered and prepared for my witness at the IRS.
At the beginning of the interview in Charlottesville, the agent stated that he found my case to be refreshing due to the conviction expressed in my letters to the IRS. That set the tone for a very positive experience. I said that I was dismayed that the IRS continues to oppose any legal remedy to my, and others', dilemma regarding paying for war.
The purpose of the interview was for the IRS to determine the nature of my assets, presumably in order for them to seize them. Thus, we discussed the income-sharing nature of Twin Oaks. Vehicles and other major assets are collectively owned at Twin Oaks and members receive no wages. Our room, board, and other essentials are provided in return for our labor. Twin Oaks is legally classified as a 501(d) organization (similar to a monastery). This status was unsuccessfully challenged in court by the IRS several years ago. It became clear during the interview that I had no assets for the IRS to seize.
The interview lasted an hour. Near the end the agent said that he had gotten all the information he needed and that he would make sure that I no longer receive notices from the IRS for back taxes owed through the 1996 tax year (the total owed, including interest, was nearly $8,000). I thanked him for his courtesy and emphasized that I want to pay federal taxes, but can't because of my conscientious objection, and that I have nothing to hide. In addition, I reiterated that the IRS needs to know that it won't be able to collect from me and other individuals with similar beliefs as long as there is not a legal alternative to paying military taxes. I said that I was saddened that our country, with all its wealth, continues to spend to much of its resources on war and the threat of war. He thanked me and said that he knew he couldn't change my mind.
I was relieved and thankful that the visit went so well. I came away from the visit feeling more empowered as a war tax resister and grateful that I am in a living situation that makes my taxes uncollectible. Members of Twin Oaks have been and continue to be supportive of my war tax resistance. In fact, I am not the only war tax resister at Twin Oaks. Many members have participated in the Louisa Alternative Fund (LAF) over the years. In recent years LAF has given away thousands of dollars due to funds in escrow being held beyond the statute of limitations for tax collection (ten years). Living in community at Twin Oaks gives me a unique opportunity to live in harmony with my beliefs on nonviolence, sharing and living lightly on the land, as well as not contributing to the militarization of our economy.
Susan Van Haitsma of the Austin, TX, Military COs group sent us newspaper clippings about a WTR from her hometown in Wisconsin. Judith Willams has for many years refused to pay the military portion of her taxes, and most recently has worked to close the School of the Americas in Ft. Benning, GA. She was one of four people chosen for the local YWCA's Peacemaker Award this year. However, after the YWCA received a letter from a donor and former board member, admonishing them for "honoring Ms. Williams, a lawbreaker whose policies if adopted would place our country in extreme jeopardy," they excluded her from the awards ceremony. The donor said he would withdraw his support until the YWCA got back on "the right course" again.
Willams said, "I was very hurt, and I cried," when she learned of her rejection about an hour before the awards. However, after a special board meeting to discuss the issue, the YWCA decided to give her the award after all. At the subsequent presentation, Williams refrained from criticizing the YWCA and instead spoke and showed a video about the School of the Americas. News clippings of the event included reference to her war tax resistance. Ironically, she probably reached more people than if the YWCA had not initially denied the award!
The New England War Tax Resistance Group organized a celebration of Cynthia Foster's 90 Years of Resistance in September to honor her 90th birthday! Cynthia, a stalwart of the Boston area group for a very long time, has been dealing with IRS levies in recent years. Despite discouragement she keeps hanging in there.
WAR TAX RESISTANCE: A SPIRITUAL DISCIPLINE?
By Randy Kehler, Colrain, MA
Sometime last year I heard activist, theologian, writer, and war tax resister Ched Myers say, in passing, "War tax resistance, for me, is a kind of spiritual practice -- a spiritual discipline." His remark instantly rang true. It made me aware of some obvious parallels I'd never seen before -- between my bumpy experience withholding and re-directing war taxes over the past 30 years and my more sporadic experience during the same period as a sometime practitioner of yoga, T'ai Chi, meditation, and prayer.
WTR is often described as "an act of conscience," but the word "act," which connotes a one-time action, is misleading. WTR, like the spiritual practices one normally thinks of, is on-going -- a repeating of something over and over again. Like sending in our completed 1040 form, with no money attached, every April 15th; composing a letter of explanation to go with it; and figuring out which groups we will send our tax money to. And, like yoga or T'ai Chi, we WTR practitioners usually become more skillful over time and the experience becomes, or can become, deeper and more meaningful the longer we practice.
But that raises a problem -- the problem of keeping going. What first occurred to me after hearing Ched's comment was the frequent desire I feel to stop practicing.
WTR, or its side effects, are constantly getting in the way. Having to pay bills with cash or money orders because we can't have a bank account, not being able to take a job where taxes would be withheld or having to switch major consulting clients every two years when the IRS gets around to sending them levy notices, or having to explain to colleges our daughter applied to why the federal income taxes we said on the financial form that we'd "paid" didn't actually get sent to the IRS. What a nuisance! Yet, for the most part, we persist. Not just because it may, somewhere, somehow, produce some positive outward effect, but primarily because, like practicing meditation, it is a personally satisfying thing to do -- something that makes us feel more alive, more human, more in tune with our deepest values, more like the kind of people we want to be.
Still, like any other form of exercise, spiritual or otherwise, keeping on with it always involves overcoming a certain amount of resistance and inertia, not to mention all manner of distractions and preoccupations. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese poet, activist, and mindfulness teacher, has said that "our greatest enemy is forgetfulness." How easy it is for me, amidst all my busyness, to forget, to not see, certain disturbing realities of the world I live in -- like the great suffering of other beings and the escalating assault upon our green earth -- and to avoid seeing my connection to and responsibility for these realities.
So, when our local mailman comes to the door with yet another certified letter containing an IRS lien, it's like a wake-up call -- not unlike the gentle whack on the shoulders from the Zen master when you're beginning to fall asleep while "sitting." It's a jolting reminder that there are things going on out there in the world that I have chosen not to support with my tax money. If the purpose of meditation is to be in touch with reality in all its manifestations, from the breath that passes through us to the genocide in East Timor, then, for me, practicing WTR serves a similar purpose.
As with most spiritual practices, WTR carries with it certain dangers. At one time or another, I'm sure I've succumbed to each of them. To complacency -- going through the familiar motions as a matter of habit, as though sleepwalking, without thinking about what I'm doing and what it means. To idolatry -- putting WTR on a pedestal as though it, in itself, is the ultimate good, the thing that justifies my existence. And to self-righteousness -- wearing my tax resistance on my sleeve as a badge of superiority, something that distinguishes me from the "lesser" people who, I tell myself, pay their taxes out of ignorance or fear.
And, finally, there are two aspects of WTR that have I've not encountered in my attempts to practice T'ai Chi, meditation, or prayer. Yet it feels as though these aspects have, or can have, spiritual implications, too. One is the material discipline that WTR imposes on my life. If acquisitiveness is an obstacle to spirituality, or awareness, then WTR is a useful practice because it keeps my possessions to a minimum (relatively speaking, of course). While I am often dismayed by all the "things" I seem to have accumulated, at least I don't have to worry, thanks to the IRS, about owning property or valuable cars, or having financial assets to look after and protect.
The other way in which WTR seems different from spiritual practices of the usual sort lies in its exposure of the practitioner to certain unpleasant yet ultimately worthwhile aspects of life: risk and censure. In his homily during the communion service he led in our IRS-seized home in 1992, Dan Berrigan opined that in a world of danger and threat, "to be at risk is to be at home, and to be at home is to be at risk." Which is to say, the presence of risk in my life allows me to live life more wakefully, and thus more fully.
As for censure -- the disapproval, often vehement, of family and friends, neighbors and strangers, not to mention government officials -- it's the part of WTR I have the hardest time with. But as painful as it has sometimes been, the censure has been a useful teacher, forcing me to examine my need for approval and to go deeper into my self to reconnect with that place of inner knowing and acceptance that I believe resides within us all.
More Than a Paycheck is a publication of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC), a clearinghouse and resource center for the conscientious war tax resistance movement in the United States. NWTRCC is a coalition of local, regional and national affiliate groups working on war tax related issues.
NWTRCC sees poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, economic exploitation, and environmental destruction as integrally linked with the militarism which we abhor. Through the redirection of our tax dollars, NWTRCC members contribute directly to the struggle for peace and justice for all.
Hard copy subscriptions to More Than a Paycheck (6 issues per year) are available for $10 per year. Editor: Karen Marysdaughter.
Past online issues: October 1996, December 1996, February 1997, April 1997, June 1997, August 1997
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