By Kathy Labriola
Published on April 15, 2005 in The Partisan Number 20I am proud to be a Peace and Freedom Party member since 1975. I joined because of the word "peace."
I have been a war tax resister since 1978. I have tried to obstruct US wars by not paying for them with my tax dollars. As many war tax resisters have discovered, this is easier said than done.
There are many ways to be a war tax resister. There are possible negative consequences, including penalties and fines. Most people don't go to jail for war tax resistance, because the IRS just wants their money.
Phone Tax for War
One easy form of war tax resistance is to not pay the 3% federal tax on your phone bill every month. This tax is earmarked for the military. The phone company collects it from you and sends it on to the IRS, who forward it to the Pentagon. During the Vietnam war, many people withheld this tax to protest the war, and some of us have been withholding it ever since. Since the US war on Iraq began, more people are refusing to pay this tax.
If you write the phone company a letter explaining that you are refusing to pay this tax, they are supposed to adjust your bill each month to reflect that you are not being charged for the tax. Sometimes they will threaten to turn off your phone to scare you into paying this tax. However, they are legally prohibited from doing that because you owe the tax to the IRS, not to them (they just collect it).
With federal income taxes, there are two approaches -- filing and not filing. Filing involves a public refusal to pay. You file your taxes every year and include a letter to the IRS stating you are refusing to pay taxes for war. Not filing means not doing your taxes at all.
Some people file their taxes but refuse to pay a small portion of federal income taxes. Some people deduct 10% of their tax bill, others refuse to pay $10.40 as a symbolic amount based on the "1040" tax form. Deducting $10.40 or even 10% of your taxes is low risk because the amount of money you owe is probably not worth the money and staff time it costs the IRS to collect it. They will probably send you threatening letters for years and do nothing.
Some people deduct 65% of their total federal taxes and refuse to pay that amount because the Pentagon gets approximately 65% of all federal tax dollars. Others, like me, refuse to pay any federal income tax because we know that 65% of every dollar we send them will go to the military. Each year I do my taxes, figure out what I owe, and send my completed tax forms to the IRS with a letter explaining why I am refusing to pay.
What They'll Do
Here are some steps the IRS will take to collect the money from you:
1) Garnish your wages. The IRS can force your employer to deduct a small amount from every paycheck and send it to the IRS until your tax debt is paid off.
2) Repossess your car. The IRS can repossess your vehicle and sell it at auction to pay your taxes.
3) Put a levy on your bank account. The IRS can force your bank to hand over money from your bank accounts to pay your taxes.
4) Put a lien on your home. This is extremely rare but it has happened. The IRS can force the sale of your house to pay your taxes. However, that is a lot of work and expense for them.
Years of Not Paying
I have chosen to file and to refuse to pay any federal income taxes. For years the IRS did nothing but send me nasty letters. Then, about every 6 or 7 years they would put a levy on my bank account and send a sheriff to take the money from the bank and deliver it to the IRS (now it's just done electronically and is not nearly so melodramatic). Sometimes whole wars would go by before they would collect on me.
At one point, in 1991, they suddenly put a levy on my account and took the money after 8 years of not collecting on me. I remember thinking at the time, "Well, I didn't pay for the Contra war in Nicaragua, I didn't pay for the bombing of El Salvador or the invasion of Grenada, but I paid for the (first) Gulf War. I only paid for one out of four wars."
Since 2001, there has been much more collection action against me. Now nearly every year they put a levy on my bank account and collect whatever taxes I owe. However, other tax resisters have told me that they are not experiencing any more collection action than before, so it seems random rather than a change in IRS policy
Not Filing a Return
The other approach to war tax resistance is not to file your taxes at all. Many war tax resisters have done this for many years without consequences. This strategy works best for people who are self-employed, make a lot of their income in cash, have low incomes, and have few assets, as they are less likely to come to the IRS's attention.
The main drawback to this strategy is that legally it is no different from just evading taxes. So if you get caught, the penalties and fines are somewhat higher than for filing and refusing to pay.
Many tax resisters figure out how much in taxes they would owe, and donate that exact amount to a peace organization. This is known as "diverting your taxes."
Many people ask "Since they eventually collect on you anyway, why don't you just pay them?" The truth is that I am incapable of writing a check to the IRS. I know it will be spent to kill, maim, and torture people around the world. I withhold it as long as possible, forcing them to steal it from me by putting a levy on my back account. If millions of others refused to pay taxes, our joint resistance would have more impact.
For more information contact the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee at 1-800-269-7464. They have a very cool web site at www.nwtrcc.org.
[Kathy Labriola is a therapist and community activist. She lives in Berkeley. The photo of Kathy is by Frances Hailman.]