National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee

Walking the Talk!
a celebration of war tax resisters & social justice activists
and talk by Tony Serra

Saturday evening, May 7, 2011
Lake Merritt Methodist Church, Oakland, Calif.

Francisco Herrera provided the music for the evening’s program. “Let’s continue working for the abolishment of that big business called war.”

Northern California People’s Life Fund gave grants of $1,000 to $1,500 to eight groups.

Most groups sent representatives to accept the grant, and each grant was given out by a war tax resister who gives some or all of their redirected tax dollars to PLF. A slide show with photos from each group was also projected during each presentation.

California Coalition of Women Prisoners presented by David Gross who started WTR with Iraq war 2003. Put his money where his mouth is. If the war ends will you stop? If we stopped the pointless cruelty of the criminal “justice” system. 11,000 women incarcerated in Calif. now. CCWP: This money goes to Peer Advocates for reentry. Hard to adjust when you get out. The Fire Inside is their newsletter.

Civilian Soldier Alliance presented by Kathy Labriola who has been a resister since 1978. CSA helps soldiers and young people trying to become COs, working directly alongside military people to withdraw military support from wars and occupations. Iraq Vets Against the War and CSA work together to stop the deployment of traumatized troops, and to slow down war effort if these soldier were not available to go back. There are links between withdrawing military support and the act of WTR to withdraw monetary support.

Bay Area Women’s Project presented by Jon Marley a resister since 1987 “to deny the federal government money for wars around the world.” Jemma from BAWP: “Honored to receive this check from you guys. This money will go to 5-day feminist summer camp over July 4 weekend in Bay Area. There is a lack of gender analysis in progressive politics today that helps to untangle patriarchy. Honored to be supported by a progressive community and nice to feel like we’re part of something here.”

Break the Silence Mural Project presented by Elizabeth Boardman from Davis, who is active in the Quaker community. Martha Caine read a statement from the Mural Project: “La Lucha Continua – a grant from the PLF is different and special and specifically from people who have decided not to fund war. Will use grant for mural in SF – a talking wall – 40 portraits of social justice leaders, and people can call in on cell phone can listen to that person speaking. This is money with a conscience.”

Hand to Hand presented by Jim Best, who started with symbolic resistance but has increased his resistance in recent years. Hand to Hand: “Teaches women self defense and how to take care of themselves, to set boundaries, to be safe and to say no. 30th anniversary in 2010. Offers free classes middle school girls, high school girls, and women. Have also begun to meet with gay men and others about bullying. A lot of suffering has happened. How to be an ally to people when they are in trouble and how to help yourself.”

PUEBLO presented by Alice Green – WTR most of her life. Didn’t seem right to give money to things she didn’t think were right in the world. Practices simple living, refusal is legal – good to not buy buy buy but live like most of the people in the world. Pueblo – People united for a Better Oakland: “Advocacy in environmental justice, police accountability, health. The moneys goes to the Urban Youth Harvest project. They pick up the extra fruit that grows in people’s backyards and deliver to low income seniors in low income housing. For the kids it’s easier to find a gun than find an apple. This is an intergenerational program – young people help to nurture elders. Young people learn that fruit does not grow in plastic. Discovering how much bounty there is in this city.”

9 to 5 presented by Steve Leeds who started in ’77 – gave $$ to PLF shortly after. Went some years not being a wtr and was miserable. 2006 he started again and was excited. 9-5 for fairness and justice in the workplace: “Bay Area chapter of the national organization. Finding now there are ‘dependent contractors’ – they get W-2 forms at end of year but not benefits – no holiday pay, no vacation pay, can’t apply for jobs in the company as contractors, not employees. Working for wages with no benefits. ”

NWTRCC presented by David Hartsough; he and his wife have been resisters since late 60s. Every day reading about drones or bombings or breaking into homes or killing women and children. Grateful to have made this decision not to fund all that. If the pentagon came to our door to ask for money for drones would we give them money? No but after being refused they go and break in to our bank accounts and take the money. At least we haven’t voluntarily supported this horrendous killing of our brothers and sisters. There’s plenty of money for health care for every American. The information that NWTRCC provides for resisters around the country is invaluable to grow and sustain a movement of people who cannot pay for war. Erica Weiland accepted the check for NWTRCC with our deepest appreciation.

Northern California People’s Life Fund

“Tales of Resistance and Doing Time”

Jay Sordean introduced criminal defense attorney and anarchist J. Tony Serra. “His passion and action before the jury is something to see.” tony serra

Editor’s note: These are notes from his talk that are more or less verbatim though abbreviated. When the video is posted online, we will make a link. You’ll note there’s kind of a mix here of direct quotes and 3rd person statements. I’m not going to edit it beyond this – stand as something of a reminder of his talk.

Tony Serra said that he would talk succinctly on two subject matters – what gave rise to his nonpayment of taxes and the continuity of that, and how was it being in federal prison camp as a consequence.

Like a lot of us, I started mid-60s. Was a Stanford philosophy major; went to UC Berkeley law school, coming out concerned with social/political issues that were amplified in all directions in that era. Became quickly disenchanted in the legal milieu; gave rise to a whole system of disbelief, disenchantments — nothing positive. Became a nonbeliever. One angry frustrated voice inside and outside of court. A naïve statement of frustration.

I didn’t believe in capitalism. Didn’t believe in banks. Didn’t believe in Wall Street. Didn’t believe in corporations. Didn’t believe in a form of democracy that was permeated by capitalism, corporations…. It was rather sad really as you lose all the precepts that you are indoctrinated with. Tax refusal started with Joan Baez. We believed that the Vietnam War would end if 10% of the population had refused the income tax. Later he learned she had money in the bank – with one hand she protested and with one hand she submits.

Didn’t believe in the collection of wealth so there was nothing for the IRS to get. After 15–17 years not filing, was prosecuted (at this level of protest the bar doesn’t strip you of your ability to practice).

I suspend reality when it comes to IRS. Went to camp at Lompoc and walked the walk around the circle and talked with the prisoners. Found that he liked federal prison camp. It’s like locking a doctor who likes to practice medicine in the hospital. Did things he’d never done before [as far as types of legal work] to fulfill things for the other inmates. I’d have a seat outside the door somewhere and like an over-busy dentist they’d line up. He’d get into law library and was able to have his office help on some cases.

Didn’t have an antipathy to being incarcerated. Found the inmates to be, in terms of interpersonal relationship stories, they were fascinating, exciting, anti-establishment. They had dared to be independent minded. Many were in for crimes of greed but there are many who shouldn’t be there. There’s great integrity in the inmates in the prison system.

Every decade he gets prosecuted and hopes to be prosecuted again and go in and do his work again.

Has no insurance or checking account or money in the bank – that all made him free. I still have nothing.

He got a big fat letter that they are going to garnish something. He filed it appropriately — as you all know — in the waste basket.

Naively and simplistically the major corporations pay no tax, and if they are maneuvered to pay any tax they pass it on to the consumers. The way taxes started, Romans conquered the territory and then they imposed a tax.

He is not going to submit to authority for corporate America. Doesn’t want his children killing for corporations.

If 10% boycotted the tax we could turn things around. And the real way to do this is not to have money in the bank.

It might be I’m aberrant — I have no fear of jail. My friends and colleagues are there and I find it more interesting than the outside. People prosecuted for Constitutional arguments, they go in for 5, 6, 7, 8 years – mostly good people who should not be in there.

To you all I give my deepest respect. “Take away the money and things will ultimately change.”

Wasn’t it Thoreau who was in jail for not paying a tax. Ralph Waldo Emerson came to him and said what are you doing in there and Thoreau asks what are you doing out there? In my adolescent mentality that I carry forever, over the years I always keep that in mind – “it’s alright to take the penalty that society imposes if you are fighting a corrupt system.” Must have people willing to sacrifice. Must be more willing to accept the ultimate sanction. There should be speeches and demonstrations around each martyr.

e.e cummings in a poem about a conscientious objector says, “there is some shit I will not eat.” That reverberates in my social conscience since about age 12. There is something out there that we have to reject ultimately. We have to throw ourselves on the wheel even if the wheel devours us.

Go forward without fear, we are right. War is wrong. We are approaching a totalitarian state that eliminates the nexus between the corporate and the state. There is so much to protest against and the tax is a very salient part of that. Thanks!

For more on Tony Serra see a NWTRCC profile of him or his law office website

See the photo page

Return to first gathering page.