People protest for many reasons and they often focus their protests on their government. One reason that one might protest their government is because they don’t like to fund its habit of spending money on the military industrial complex, that’s money that taxpaying citizens paid under penalty of the law. Those who resist their taxes decide to do something about their moral qualms. They decide that they don’t want to pay those taxes and they have several options for undertaking this tax resistance, some radical, some complex, and some straightforward. They can choose legal or illegal manners. They can choose manners that mean they don’t pay any taxes and some which might make them release a bit more money than their technical tax burden. Tax resistance in protest of war is a moral decision and a form of direct action. The following stories begin with the less radical forms of tax resistance and move into the more radical forms.
Person A engages in tax resistance in opposition to a war. They have a husband, two children, and well-paying job. She doesn’t want to risk arrest and she needs to retain her income to help pay her family’s expenses. Before person A fills out her tax forms she drafts a letter stating that she is paying her taxes with reticence, she describes her convictions in the letter, she explains the effects that her Nation’s’ wars have on the poor and disenfranchised in the countries we attack, she explains that she doesn’t believe the fashionable excuse that her government provided for this war or any of the other recent wars, she explains that it is an injustice for her country to continue spending so much on weapons and military contracts while so many of her peers in the country live in poverty. Person A finishes the letter, possibly with a tear, a huff of frustration in knowing that her protest will fall on deaf ears or be laughed at, and she sends the letter to the IRS along with her correct taxes.
Person B has less to lose than Person A. He lives in a city, he is single and childless, and he is financially secure in that his parents have deep pockets and the ability to help him if things aren’t working out. He is also mad about his country’s discriminatory wars in foreign lands on false pretenses and to express this anger he reduces his income to the point that he pays no taxes and he puts into practice a lifestyle that leaves him paying little-to-no taxes by reducing his frivolous expenses to avoid sales tax, not driving or using gasoline to avoid gas taxes, etc… At tax time, he files to show that he has zero tax burden and he also attaches a letter explaining his strategy, purpose, and the revenue the government missed out on due to his lifestyle changes.
Person C is a young, radical, high-earner. She opposes her government’s wars and budgetary priorities. Person C doesn’t intend to keep the money that she won’t give the government. She believes that taxes should be spent on programs that benefit marginalized segments of society. So person C doesn’t have any of her income withheld from her paycheck. Instead she calculates her tax burden, chooses a local program that provides breakfast for children, a clinic that provides free healthcare to people who can’t afford it, and an organization that delivers meals to elderly people who qualify. She produces a meticulous report that explains how she calculated her tax burden, why she won’t give that money to her government, the services that the recipients of her donations provide, and the amount that she gave to each organization. She then prepares to go to court with the the tax authority, to run a concurrent media campaign to inform people of her sacrifice, and to serve the sentence handed down to her by the court.
Person D wakes up one morning in April to NPR to discover that their nation has just bombed another wedding congregation in an entirely new Muslim nation. They hear the news claim that due to the precise nature of the bombing and their nation’s superior intelligence agencies, very few of the victims were civilians and the target really was very important. Person D doesn’t believe it. They go to the internet to check the story from a foreign news source and the other website’s coverage claims that there were 63 casualties; 16 children, 22 women, and 25 men of military age. They decide that they are sick of supporting this system with taxes and Google ‘War Tax Resistance’. They find out that their plans are illegal but are unperturbed by knowing this. Person D goes to work the next day with questions about not withholding from their check and discovers that their employer could be held liable, so they quit their job. Fortunately, they are able to freelance and work labor jobs for cash under the table. At the end of the year they send a letter to the tax authority very similar to the letters of our above-mentioned alphabet folk. The tax authority takes them to court and wins. Person D goes to jail, gets out, and continues their tax resistance.
“If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would be to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood.”
Henry David Thoreau, “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience”, 1849
This is written from an American perspective. The history of American military violence is a history of mostly-white, rich men encouraging America to send its soldiers to non-white countries where they can die, accumulate psychological disorders, and kill non-white people. These soldiers come from the poorer side of society, they are more likely not to be white than the people who’re sending them to die and kill, and the country often fails to ensure their financial security after they return. It’s funny that the people who profit from these tax-funded forays into socially condoned murder also manage to dodge hefty portions of their tax burdens, something that the poorer- and middle-classes find harder to do legally. From a class-conflict perspective, through war taxes the middle-class is paying for their actual opponent, the oligarchs, to allow the people whose interests are actually tied to theirs to kill each other off while the oligarchs continue to leech off of the system and build up their insulation from the potential of class-conflict resolving itself at their doorsteps. A War Tax Resistance movement might pave the way for a shift in incentive for our governments to continue being tools of the oligarchs.