By Bill Ramsey
The spinning wheel was the center of Gandhi’s constructive program. Redirection is the war tax resistance movement’s spinning wheel. The “constructive program” is positive action that builds structures, systems, and processes alongside the obstructive program of direct confrontation to or noncooperation with oppression. When we redirect our war taxes, we invest in imaginative and positive projects in our communities and around the world.
On Saturday morning of the May 3–6 NWTRCC meeting in Asheville, participants gathered in front of the downtown federal building to “spin a little cloth” with people who live on the street. Their community, the BeLoved House, had prepared breakfast for all of us. A street musician sang, “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together try to love one another right now!” as we gathered. One-by-one homeless people crossed the street to join us for eggs, oatmeal, fruit salad, and coffee.
We stood under a banner that read “War is a theft from the poor” and announced over $38,000 of grants from redirected war taxes from resisters in New England, California, Oregon, and from the Conscience and Military Tax Campaign (CMTC) Escrow Fund’s depositors across the country.
Each year, underfunded, innovative community projects move forward with infusions of redirected funds withheld from the Pentagon. On this day, CMTC’s oversized checks were presented to eleven projects from Pakistan to Costa Rica; from the streets of Asheville to a high school in Queens; from young people’s projects in North Carolina to St. Louis; and from the West Bank to Guatemala.
Then we stepped out to follow in the “footsteps of the most vulnerable,” as gusts of wind tilted our signs. On the way, we stopped at a center that provides showers and phones to the 500 people who are homeless on any given night in Asheville. We gathered in an empty lot, where people seek temporary, exploitative, backbreaking day-labor. Our next way station was an overcrowded shelter for men, women, and children.
As we crested a hill, we caught a glimpse of scores of 50-year-old public housing units lined up like barracks and confined on all sides by interstate highways. Down alongside the French Broad River, we viewed the bridges and overpasses where people camp illegally and scurry to hide from police enforcement. Along the railroad tracks, we saw the former site of the Old Ice House, where one homeless mentally ill man had startled another and was killed. Instead of initiating additional mental healthcare programs, authorities razed the ice house to the ground, leaving only a chimney standing.
Spinning against these hard realities, we filed into the Phil Mechanic Building, another ice house now refurbished and housing art studios, galleries, a bio-fuel processing plant, and the local chapter of Veterans for Peace. It stands, itself, as a constructive program—NWTRCC’s home for the weekend.
Bill Ramsey lives in Asheville, North Carolina, after decades of activism in St. Louis. He manages the Conscience and Military Tax Campaign Escrow Account on behalf of 278 war tax resisters. For more information on the fund contact, CMTC, PO Box 2551, Asheville, NC 28802, (314) 374‒7446, firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reports are in from some of the groups that announce grants at public redirection ceremonies, like the one in Asheville that Bill Ramsey describes above. Along with the group redirections, we know that individual war tax resisters around the country make their own redirection choices, but we have not been to come up with a system to collect that information and offer a total. So, consider the amounts listed here as the tip of the iceberg!
The 2013 grants totaling $9,000 from the Conscience and Military Tax Campaign Escrow Fund were given to Anti-Racist Alliance for the work of a student social worker in Bronx public high school; Beloved House for self-employment workshops for chronically unemployed people; Bureau of Investigative Journalism in London for research and publishing the names of all those killed by U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan; Christian Peacemaker Teams in Chicago for counseling for returning volunteer accompaniers; DMZ in Massachusetts, a new public education campaign on the ineffectiveness of, suffering from, and complicity with war; First Friends of New Jersey and New York to purchase phone cards for destitute detainees in four immigration detainee facilities; North Carolina Student Power Union to challenge the influence of wealthy opponents of public education; Pied Asp Music in Massachusetts for promotion of a multi-media presentation illustrating the history of U.S. social change movements; Sweet Home Costa Rica to support a film on pacifists who formed a community in Costa Rica where the armed forces had been abolished; Western Carolinians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East for a local artist to teach painting on the West Bank and return with an art exhibit; and Young Activists United St. Louis to raise public awareness of the student debt dilemma.
$22,000 in grants from Northern California People’s Life Fund (PLF) were distributed in a ceremony on tax day evening at the Co-Housing Common House in Berkeley. One of the priorities is to fund groups that include in their leadership the people impacted by the work of the organization. Among this year’s grantees are Berkeley Copwatch; Berkeley Students & Families for Equality for supplies for homeless student support; Communities United Against Violence for leadership skills development; Courage to Resist for Rivera family support fund; Emiliano Zapata Street Academy for restorative justice staff training; Hella Organized Bay Area Koreans to send material goods to North Korea; Love Balm Project for artist fees; Network of Bay Area Worker Cooperatives for information, consultations and referrals; Northridge Cooperative Homes for a community garden; Students for Justice in Palestine for “DAM” musical performance; and Youth Spirit Artworks for the “Art Cart” jobs venture.
New England War Tax Resistance (NEWTR) in Boston Massachusetts, divided $3,800 among these grantees: Association of Haitian Women, Beantown Society, Coalition to Fund Our Communities / Cut Military Spending 25%, Dorchester People for Peace, Prison Birth Project, and Youth Justice and Power Union. NEWTR member Mary Regan reported, “I was going to a tax day event to announce the grants from our refused taxes. It was a protest to spotlight the need for our economy to turn from war to human needs. But because of the terrible events of [April 15] in Boston, the event was canceled. People are hunkering down to be with family, but I wish we were still protesting, because we need to show that violence should be met with love.”
Oregon Community of War Tax Resisters in Portland meet before tax day, and each puts some redirected taxes into a combined fund, which totaled $3,250 this year. Then they decide together which groups will receive grants, making sure the grantees are willing to accept publicly. On tax day they held a potluck dinner and redirection ceremony at the Peace House and gave grants to Food Not Bombs, One Million Bones Project, and the Bradley Manning Defense Fund.
Photo: Elizabeth accepted the donation of redirected tax dollars for Food not Bombs. Photos by Al Stern.