National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee

Our Life Is More Than Our Work

Joe DeRaymond

“…we ain’t paid no whisky tax, since 1792.”
—from Copper Kettle (The Pale Moonlight), by Bob Dylan

My war tax resistance began in 1973, when I was 23, in the last days of the United States military presence in Southeast Asia. I had been denied the opportunity to resist the draft because my draft number was just out of the range of being called for duty. Tax resistance seemed like a reasonable method of resisting the war machine of my country. When I worked for a few months at Bethlehem Steel, I claimed eight exemptions on my W-2. Later I worked as an independent contractor and did not file tax returns. I contributed my projected tax payments to a local War Tax Life Fund. As each year passed, I thought that any minute the minions of the IRS would be swarming around me, demanding my returns, my money. I took my “resistance” very seriously.

While my initial reason for tax resistance lies with the United States invasion of Southeast Asia, the ensuing years have given me no reason to cooperate with this government. My adult life has been lived in a culture of continuous war. Chile fell on September 11, 1973, accompanied by the murder of tens of thousands at the hands of men like Henry Kissinger. United States interventions in Latin America have been criminal and have subjugated the entire population of this region to untold suffering. I traveled to Nicaragua in 1983 and 1985 and worked in solidarity with the Sandinista revolution, while it was under attack by the United States created contra army. In 1986, I participated in the Pledge of Resistance action which, in the Rotunda of the Capitol, challenged the illegal funding of this contra army, even after a judgment by the World Court. I was found guilty, with 17 other protesters, of criminal counts in federal court for this “crime.” United States policy has been similarly brutal in the Middle East, Indonesia, and Iraq. I feel these past and present horrors, and the fascist framework of the “War Against Terror” create a situation in which citizens have a responsibility to resist, under principles well recognized under international law.

The government seizes the taxes of the working people of this country by withholding from wages, because otherwise it would not receive them. The working people, the poor, know that our government is a sham today, that we do not have a voice, that money rules politics on every level from the local to the national. Tax resistance is a natural for us. We are a nation fashioned out of tax rebellions; whisky taxes, stamp taxes, taxes on tea: “No taxation without representation!” Certainly, this could be our cry today.

As for my personal experience with tax resistance, I worked as an independent contractor till 1990, and paid no federal income taxes. I ignored 1099s and heard nothing from the IRS. I became a nurse in 1990, and have since allowed normal withholding, but limit my work to part-time and thereby minimize my contribution. There are contradictions in tax resistance, for I believe in the ultimate ability of people to organize themselves and create government mechanisms for the benefit of all. I do not believe that the amount of taxes any person withholds makes any difference in the ability of our economy to function. It is the act of resistance which is important, in my opinion. IRS has made one attempt to garnish wages, and at that time I changed employers and closed my checking account. There have been no further attempts to garnish wages or contact me. I receive a yearly notice of a considerable debt owed for 1992, a year in which a substantial 1099 was filed.

I have never filed a federal income tax return, yet I have no illusions that my tax resistance is the sum total of my activism. I pay sales taxes, gasoline taxes, state and federal withholding taxes, local taxes. I believe resistance must be cultural, visceral, with our presence in the seats of power; in Washington, D.C. protesting the IMF/World Bank; in Fort Benning, Georgia; in the offices of our Congressional representatives; at the gates of Lockheed Martin; in the dusty nations of Latin America in solidarity with the people living on the margins of the global economy; in the streets with leaflets and information suppressed by corporate media. For we live within this culture and we support its oppressive machinations by our very lives. Tax resistance, for me, presents an insurrectionist paradigm, incisive, nonviolent, and clear — we won’t pay for this madness. It sends a message to the people: there is hope for change, join us and reclaim our nation.

I have continued to work in solidarity efforts with people and groups in Central America. I was in Nicaragua and El Salvador in February and felt the sadness and desperation of people who are being crushed by a system, the same system which we try to resist here. I have attended the School of the Americas Watch demonstrations and crossed the line for the last four years. I have run as an Independent and Green Party candidate for County Council. I have published independently and believe in the power of such publications as More Than a Paycheck. I participate as possible with the local peace and justice group, LEPOCO. In short, I do what I can for our brothers and sisters on the other end of the global economy. Having said that, I like Charlie King’s phrase: “My life is more than my work, and my work is more than my job.”

From the March 2002 issue of More Than a Paycheck. Joe DeRaymond died from a brain tumor in 2009. We post this piece as a tribute to a life well lived.