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More Than a Paycheck is the bimonthly publication of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, 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 Mission Statement: NWTRCC sees poverty, racism, sexism, homophobia, economic exploitation, environmental destruction, and militarization of law enforcement 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.
October 2002. HEADLINES IN THIS ISSUE:
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The idea to combine NWTRCC's biannual business meeting with the yearly SOA (School of the Americas) Watch demonstration at Ft. Benning in Columbus, GA, was a brilliant one, and war tax resisters really made their presence known at that gathering November 15-17, 2002.
NWTRCC itself had folks in from all over the country, about 45 strong, including Administrative Committee member Jessica Stewart's three week old baby Finnian. We started the weekend off with our Coordinating Committee meeting on Friday afternoon, where people really pushed for outreach. The budget and objectives for next year were discussed and approved, with the qualifier that outreach be moved to number one in priority and that a specific plan for college student outreach be added. If you'd like a copy of the budget and objectives, contact the office. We also endorsed One Million Taxpayers for Peace (a low risk wtr campaign), and will ask them to become an affiliate group. The process for hiring a new Coordinator was approved (see article this issue).
We then launched ourselves into activities for the weekend, which included tabling all day Saturday and Sunday to the more than ten thousand people there. David Waters brought balloons which said on one side "Pay War Tax?" and on the other, "You don't gotta," with our phone number. These were popular and soon were interspersed throughout the crowd. We also had T-shirts that said "War No More: Not with my body, not with my money, not with my mind" on the front, and "If you pray for peace, stop paying for war. Don't pay for the SOA!" on the back, in big gold letters, on a black T-shirt. We all wore them while we leafletted and moved through the crowd and sold out of the extras that we had brought.
We sold more literature than ever before and got twice as many sign-ups for info packets than ever before. This year people really seemed to get the connection. Many folks were coming up to our table genuinely wanting to know how they could stop paying for war! If we let people know that we exist and that there is an alternative to paying taxes for war, we may be in for some real growth in our movement.
NWTRCC's 20th birthday party, which we had while there, was fun also. We had skits, music, and historical perspective. Greetings were sent from NWTRCC affiliates, and we read from an early newsletter Ohio wtr Rod Nippert's message. He was at the first meeting twenty years ago. We wrote names of war tax resisters who have passed on to the other side, or as Robert Randall said, are out of reach of the IRS, on balloons, which floated above us during the party. The well known folk singer Charlie King and his partner, WTR Karen Brandow, came and sang four songs including one about wtr, which they also sang from the stage at the demo. The party was a great chance to mingle and chat with WTRs from other parts of the country, and to share stories and fun informally.
SOA Watch does an excellent job of organizing and remembering the hundreds of thousands of people of Latin America who have been murdered at the hands of SOA graduates. This gathering has always been a natural one for NWTRCC,and by attending in big numbers this year we achieved our goal of getting the word out in an even bigger way. Let's think about attending other similar events and helping people make the choice to stop paying for killing.
The stage is set for energizing the movement and increasing NWTRCC's level of activity in response to the current crisis. The key word is OUTREACH.
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War Tax Refusal and Social Security Eligibility
by Payno Warbucks
Many war tax refusers who do not file federal income tax returns and do not pay income or Social Security taxes are concerned about their eligibility for Social Security benefits and Medicare when they reach retirement age, and may not be able to support themselves or pay medical bills from work income alone. Until two months ago I was one of those.
To be eligible for Social Security retirement benefits, you must earn a minimum of 40 credits over your working lifetime. You can earn four credits per year. In 2002, you would get one credit for each $870 of reported wage or self-employment income, up to four credits.
The statement sent to me annually over the last few years by the Social Security Administration showed that in 21 of the first 24 years of my working life I earned wage income, with Social Security taxes withheld, so there was no doubt that I had earned enough credits for retirement benefits eligibility. I had filed no income tax returns since 1959, and had prevented withholding of all income tax from almost all wages earned after that, by claiming extra allowances on W-4 forms filed with my employers. However, Social Security eligibility is not based on returns filed or income tax paid, but on income and Social Security withholding, as reported by employers,and on self-employment income, if reported on income tax returns.
After serving nine months of a two year federal sentence for my leadership in the W-4 tax resistance method during the Vietnam War, I had to think about how to make continued war tax refusal workable for me, while earning a decent and secure income for my family. I began a career as a self-employed carpenter. I continued not filing income tax returns. No income was reported to the IRS, and no taxes or Social Security were paid for 22 years.
Seeing long columns of zeros on annual Social Security Statement mailings, I wondered what questions would be asked about this if I applied for Medicare and Social Security.
I became 65 in June, and began to need medical insurance coverage for emerging health problems. Because I had made no contributions to the Social Security Retirement Fund for 22 years, I initially intended to apply only for Medicare benefits, and to defer applying for retirement benefits until I might need them because of inability to continue working.
Applications can now be made by Internet, phone, or in person at a Social Security office. Original documents (including federal income tax returns for the prior year) must be sent to Social Security, and are then returned promptly by mail.
By coincidence, I spent half of 2001 in federal prison for a School of the Americas protest, so my income was unusually low and not taxable for that year. It was the perfect year for filing my first straight income tax return in 42 years. (I had filed 365 daily protest returns in 1984.) My adjusted gross income for 2001 was $661.68, which included $18.48 for a month and a half of food service employment in federal prison. I owed $81 in Social Security tax, but was entitled to an Earned Income Credit of $40 because of low income, which reduced my total due to $41. I recommend to non-paying non-filers that you plan to earn low income in the year before applying, so that you can file without incurring income tax claims that year.
I chose to apply by phone. The interviewer reviewed with me my record, the dates, facts and documents required for an application. She argued that it would be financially advantageous for me to apply for the retirement benefit at 65, rather than waiting until later. When I persisted in asking for the Medicare benefit only, she asked, "Are you just going to leave this money lying there?"
The Social Security web site on how to apply for benefits says, "If you have a copy of the Social Security Statement please be sure the earnings listed for each year are accurate, especially the years after 1977 and any years you served in the U.S. military."
The interviewer reviewed my earnings record and pointed out that there were no earnings credited for 1978-2000. I had carefully thought through how I would answer such questions. I replied, "I can't document that for you. I have to go with your figures." I planned to stick with that response, but she didn't question me any further about the issue. When she summarized the interview in the form of a typed application which was sent to me, she paraphrased my response to these questions as follows: "My earnings history was reviewed with me and it is correct; I have not worked during the last 23 years in public employment."
If this conversation is representative of Social Security Administration policy, they not interested in probing the earnings record as reported to them by the IRS, which collects or does not collect the required taxes. They seem more interested in paying out the prescribed benefits, based on the reported earnings. Higher reported earnings would in fact lead to a higher level of benefits to the applicant. An applicant without enough credits to be eligible for retirement benefits, if indigent, would be eligible for SSI (Supplemental Security Income) up to about $500 a month, plus additional payments from the state of residence, plus Medicaid, so the cost of an elderly person not found eligible for retirement and Medicare benefits could be greater than for someone who is eligible.
The term "public employment" apparently did not mean government employment, but employment for forms of compensation that are taxable or publicly reported.
After I was approved for Medicare, I reflected further on the Bush tax cut that put the budget back into deficit; his request for a $48 billion increase in military spending for 2003; his Star Wars and Iraq invasion plans. If I left my Social Security entitlement money lying there, as the interviewer put it, the money would not be used for benefits to elderly or disabled people. Social Security revenue surpluses would again be used to finance a federal military deficit, as they have been for most of my working life. I decided to claim the benefits and appropriate any surplus in my personal budget to urgent works of peace and justice, as I have always done. So, three months later, I applied for the retirement benefit. The interviewer for this application didn't get into my earnings record because it happened that I was eligible for a higher level of benefits as a widower, based on the reported earnings of my deceased former wife, because I had been married to her for more than ten years.
In conclusion, I recommend that non-filing non-payers plan to work for reported wages for at least ten years over the course of a working life. To earn enough credits for Social Security and Medicare eligibility, this reported income need not exceed the taxable income threshold in any year. In 2002, $3480 of reported income would earn the maximum of four credits for that year. The amount for each credit rises annually as average national earnings rise.
I believe from my experience that not filing returns and not having any reported income for substantial blocks of years will not, under present practices, prevent people from qualifying for benefits at retirement age.
However, if applicants volunteered to the interviewers that they had not filed returns or paid the taxes on taxable income, benefits might be denied until the missing returns were filed. Then, taxes claimed might be deducted in part from benefit checks, if the applicant had income above the levels that are exempt from seizure.
Further discussion of issues in this article can be found in NWTRCC's Practical # 2, To File or Not to File an Income Tax Return, and Practical #5, Low Income/Simple Living as War Tax Resistance. (65 cents each from NWTRCC.)
Payno Warbucks was an advice columnist for the Tax Talk newsletter of national War Tax Resistance between 1971 and 1974, at the height of the Vietnam War, and has been refusing payment of all federal income taxes since 1960.
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We have asked our lawyer, Peter Goldberger, for his comment on the FCC ruling. He says that the ruling (26 CFR 601.403), has been repealed. There is, however, a provision in the excise tax regulations (26 CFR 49.4291-1), effective 11/12/1996, which states that entities providing services which are subject to an excise tax (such as long distance telephone services) "shall collect the amount of the tax from the person making that payment" for the services. (You can access the excise tax regulations at: http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_02/26cfr49_02.html.)The regulation goes on to use almost the exact same language as that of CFR 601.403,upon which we have been relying all these years. (If anyone wants that wording, please contact the office.)
Peter paraphrases: "So far as the tax rules are concerned, the system is unchanged: the phone company only has to report the resister to the IRS, and that satisfies their responsibilities. But given that the FCC basically no longer regulates long distance companies, there is nothing but competitive pressures to keep a given company from deciding that the trouble of reporting to the IRS is more than they want to bother with, and just dumping the customer. In other words, Tranquilli is an obsolete precedent. [Tranquilli being a case that found in the favor of a telephone tax resister.]
"A Better plan would be for resisters who aren't being hassled by the long distance companies to spread the word to those who need a more cooperative carrier. What about cell phone companies?"
A discussion has already begun on our wtr listserve about whether we want to keep pushing telephone tax resistance as an "easy" first step. The discussion will probably get much more in-depth with this development.
Regarding cell phones, a war tax resister in Georgia reports that if you have cell phone service through Working Assets, they will honor your telephone tax resistance. Their service is not available in every region.
And finally, in the mixed messages department, one war tax resister in New York State asked the NWTRCC office for a letter saying that she is opposed to war. We sent it to her, she sent it to Verizon, and now they've taken the federal excise tax off of her bills!
Here is the letter from a WTR in Missouri, dated September 24.
I just want to update you on my latest dealings with Verizon. As you may know, I sent a letter to the President of Verizon, Ivan Seidenberg, about two months ago. At the same time, I was able to hook up with Ms. Debra Ward of the Executive Relations Office of the President for the Midwest Region. She received my letter and we chatted about the need for Verizon to implement a system for conscientious objectors to be able to withhold the federal excise tax on their wireless accounts (as you may recall, my cell service was disconnected for $ 33.86 in unpaid federal tax dollars). She recognizes that Verizon is behind the times here, especially given the climate of potential imminent war with Iraq. She stated that they are seeing more and more CO's regarding this issue. Anyway, she is one of several people who have been asked to develop a system for folks like us. I have to admit she was very friendly, understanding, and is doing a pretty good job at enlightening her fellow co-workers on the issue. In all, I had spoken to four of her colleagues about this and all were very cordial and understanding. She called me one evening and asked me, "What do you want from Verizon?" We came to an agreement that I would pay the remainder of my contract for the remaining three months. Verizon in turn waived the $200.00 cancellation fee, late fees, federal taxes, and got the creditors to stop calling me.
I explained to Debra that I had since entered into contract with Working Assets Long Distance (WALD) and that I would no longer need service from Verizon. She was very understanding given all they had put me through. Anyway, I explained to her how WALD allows for conscientious objectors to withhold their taxes monthly. I sent her a copy of the tear-off portion that I send in every month that states why I am withholding the tax. She thought this would at least give her and Verizon a starting point in implementing a system.
I also asked Debra if it were OK for me to give her name and phone number to a few of my friends here in the midwest who are in similar situations. With some reservation, she agreed. For those of you outside the midwest, I thought she may be a good resource of who you may be able to contact in your region.
For the Verizon representative's contact information, contact the NWTRCC office.
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Many thanks to the following groups that have given since our last newsletter. Your support makes a difference!
Milwaukee Tax Resistance
Southern Wisconsin Alternative Fund
Fellowship of Reconciliation
Center on Conscience and War (Washington DC)
Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center
Taxes for Life! (Asheville, NC)
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Network List Updates
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War Resisters' International (WRI), the London-based international network of antimilitarist and pacifist organizations with some 90 affiliated organizations in more than 40 countries, was in court on the anniversary of the 11 September attacks because of war tax resistance. As a reaction to the "war on terrorism", War Resisters' International's staff asked WRI's executive to withhold the proportion of their tax used to fund war.
WRI's executive decided in December 2001 to act in accordance with the request from the WRI staff, and to withhold 7% of the PAYE in line with the employees' conscientious objection to their taxes being used to fund the military (7% being the quoted percentage of taxation allocated to the Ministry of Defense).
Not surprisingly, the Inland Revenue didn't accept their arguments and asked to continue the "discussion" in court.
The meeting was anti-climactic. The Inland Revenue simply wanted to send someone to collect the money - something which WRI had already said they could do, as they want to avoid high legal fees.
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War Tax Resistance Ideas & Actions
Ever felt like more people need to hear about WTR? Over the past year, as I planned trips to a couple different activist conferences, I reserved tabling space and brought along a few NWTRCC pamphlets and newsletters to spread the word about WTR and our national support network. The response was surprising and exciting, as many folks stopped to chat, picked up literature, and signed up for the NWTRCC mailing list.
After chatting about this experience a bit, my friend Bill Glassmire and I came up with an idea for using the NWTRCC network to expand our efforts to get the word out about WTR. We envision a list of conferences where NWTRCC should make our presence known, and a second list of folks in our network who'd be interested in tabling or presenting if a conference shows up nearby.
NWTRCC's national office is currently compiling ideas into a list of conferences we should consider being at, and your suggestions would really help this effort. Think of conferences where many WTRs might already be, without an organized presence (like the annual Fellowship of Reconciliation conference), or a conference that attracts folks who would clearly be sympathetic to WTR but may not have had the chance to hear or read about it (for example, I got a great response at the National Conference on Organized Resistance).
Interested in helping spread the word? NWTRCC is also putting together a list of people who'd like to help do outreach at conferences. Most conferences seem to happen in or very near big cities, so we're looking for folks who either live in a big city or would be willing to travel to one that's near them for the conference. NWTRCC can help cover reasonable costs for travel and conference registration.
By looking for opportunities to talk about WTR and NWTRCC, especially when the U.S. government seems dead-set on war, we help break down some of the myths that keep people from becoming WTRs or supporting us, and instead let people in on the reality of our resistance: that people all over are doing it, that there are practical ways and many different methods of joining in, and that there are communities of support all over, as well as a national network.
If you have suggestions for conferences where NWTRCC would be a good fit, or if you want to help spread the word, contact Mary Loehr, NWTRCC coordinator.
In NYC, a few people have put together a simple introductory one and a half to two hour workshop for one weeknight in Manhattan and a second one, a week later, in Brooklyn.
Pete Meyers, a former NWTRCC Administrative Committee member and longtime wtr, ran for Sheriff this fall with the Green party in Tompkins County, NY. He ran on a platform of no jail expansion, restorative justice, an end to class and race bias in law enforcement, and equal enforcement of the [racist] Rockefeller Drug laws. Pete was on the working group that succeeded in getting the phrase "militarization of law enforcement" added to NWTRCC's mission statement in the fall of 1999. (See the masthead above for the full mission statement.) Pete received 26.4% of the vote (5,250 votes). Not only was it the highest percentage of votes for any Green ever in Tompkins County (including Nader), it was the highest percentage a Green has ever received in any Sheriff candidacy nationally.
At the beginning of his campaign, the Ithaca Journal's headline read "War Tax Resister Runs for Sheriff." Several weeks later, the Journal printed a longer than usual letter to the editor in which the author challenged Pete's worthiness as a candidate. The letter writer approached Pete's war tax resistance simply as breaking the law, asking what other laws Pete found "convenient to ignore." What this writer failed to comprehend was Pete's seamless commitment to accepting the consequences of one's actions. A key value within a restorative justice framework is taking responsibility for one's actions. Pete repeatedly stated that he will always take that responsibility and expected those incarcerated in Tompkins County to do the same.
In response to the questions about his war tax resistance, Pete stated, "I refuse to pay my federal taxes, not as a tax evader, but as a conscientious objector. I am public about my action and am fully prepared to accept the consequences. This is what civil disobedience is all about. I follow in a long tradition of those, including Martin Luther King, Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi, breaking the law for what we consider to be a higher law or good..."
Leslie Schultz is a member of the Ithaca, NY, War Tax Resisters.
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The Coordinating Committee approved a hiring process which will include a committee of six, and developed a process and timeline for the search. People interested in the position should contact the NWTRCC office for a job description and contract information. The deadline for applications is January 30, 2003; the starting date is suggested to be between April 16 and late May. Please note: the new Coordinator will not be required to move to Ithaca, NY! The office will move to wherever the new Coordinator lives.
There will be costs associated with hiring a new Coordinator and making the transition, estimated at about $2,000 by the Coordinating Committee. We are asking our supporters to donate a little extra in the next few months to help defray this one-time expense. Please send checks made out to NWTRCC, and earmarked "Coordinator transition," to the NWTRCC office.
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Local Group Reports
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Our goal is to introduce and promote symbolic and substantial war tax resistance strategies as an anti-war organizing tool. Our primary theme is "Boycott the War - Don't Pay for It!" We want activists to know that they have a choice about funding Bush's war polices, and that they can choose not to pay. We hope as the anti-war movement grows that we will be able to introduce war tax resistance to people who have never heard of or thought about it. We believe that by taking a low risk approach we can attract large numbers of participants and work towards becoming a mass campaign. We see this work as part of the larger movement of resistance to war, and are primarily concerned with planting the seeds of resistance in people's minds and actions.
The campaign will not be national in scope but instead stay focused on Seattle and Portland. Specifically, we will ask people to redirect either $9.11 or $91.10 to anti-war and social change organizing efforts in our cities. Our goal is to recruit 100 people and raise $3,000 in each city by February 1, 2003, and 500 people and $10,000 in each city by April 15, 2003.
Any materials and strategies developed will be shared between our two cities, and further via our web site, email, and articles with other activists who may want to join the Axis of Peace and develop a campaign in their own locale. In fact, we plan to make specific outreach offers to others in the Pacific Northwest, and as the campaign continues into the second half of 2003, we may be able to put more outreach effort into communities beyond the Northwest.
We have already spoken about our campaign at a rally in Seattle on October 26, and the response was outstanding. People in particular liked the idea of redirecting $9.11 or $91.10, and reclaiming for the nonviolent peace movement the symbolism of 911. While veteran tax resisters may not be impressed with a symbolic campaign, we're convinced that it's an important first step for a lot of people!
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Charlie Hurst and Maria Smith, two Catholic Workers and war tax resisters living in Cleveland, Ohio, have had their wages garnished in the past. When they received a notice from the IRS this summer saying that they had a right to ask for a hearing, they decided to do so. They had an appointment with an IRS agent on September 13, and brought a lot of documentation with them, including a letter of support from Bishop Thomas Gumbleton. The IRS agent was supportive but said that ultimately they were still in violation of not paying their taxes. They are not appealing and are waiting to see what will happen next. Here is the statement that Charlie read in front of the Cathedral on September 13.
My wife, Maria Smith, and I have been war tax resisters for a number of years now. We do no do this out of any quarrel with the tax system or the concept of paying taxes. We are war tax resisters because that is how our faith in Jesus Christ calls us to live and act in the world. We do not pay the military portion (fifty percent) of our federal income taxes; and instead give that money to groups and organizations working for peace, justice, hunger relief, and economic and social development in this country and the world.
My tax resistance is rooted in who I believe Jesus to be: God in human flesh, crucified and risen from the dead, and Lord of my life and of the world. It is also rooted in the suffering Maria and I have seen in others because of United States military policies.
Jesus tells us in the Gospels to love our enemies. This strikes us, even those of us professing to believe in and love Jesus, as absurdly foolish. Even immediately after Jesus' resurrection, those who took Jesus' words seriously were looked at as fools.... If struggling to take Jesus' words seriously makes me a fool, so be it.
Too often our faith does not really move us; our relationship to the world relies on strength, on weapons, on violence. We make Jesus either absurdly naive or a liar. We do not really believe him.
My wife and I spent eight months in Nicaragua in 1986-1987, during the United States supported Contra war, which too was terrorism. The Contra were armed, trained and financed by the United States government. The victims were Nicaraguan civilians, men, women, and children -- forty thousand over the several years of the Contra war. Yet we hear nothing of this terrorism.
We saw the result of the terrorism though. Ana Victoria Suarez, nine years old, shot in the leg by the Contra and left to bleed to death. Daisy Chavarria, eighteen years old and eight months pregnant, kidnapped by the Contra. What happened to her? What happened to her baby?
President Bush would have us attack Iraq. This war would cost thousands of lives, primarily Iraqi civilians, but also U.S. military personnel. It would create chaos and suffering throughout the Middle East. President Bush is planning that the US will attack first. Why? We are the only superpower; we will do whatever we want. This war would, I believe, be a profound evil. How can we quietly go along?
Violence will not ultimately bring us security. It cannot nurture our souls and our spirits. Jesus calls us to the way of
peace, a way that brings peace now, not in some day far off. This act of not paying war taxes is how I begin this journey of
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National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee
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