Friday, February 23, 2007

The Power of the Purse is Not Just for Congress

The United States Government is pouring $2 billion a week into the war in Iraq. It is in the process of sending more troops and requesting still more funding. Increasingly, the public is fed up, angry, bewildered, and discouraged. More people are turning up for rallies, vigils and marches. The “Iraq Body Count” – the sea of flags that is traveling from one university to another brings tears to our eyes.

A number of years ago, Father Daniel Berringan wrote a short statement that comes as a deep challenge to the nonviolent peace movement. In it he points out that we yearn for peace, but we are unwilling to make any significant sacrifices to obtain it. The United States public takes for granted that, for a war effort, families will be torn apart, young men and women’s careers and education disrupted, and young soldiers will die. But we in the peace movement want to set our own schedules, fit our peace activities safely into the rest of our lives.

As the horrors of this war and the disastrous policies of this administration reach deeper into our hearts, more and more people have been calling on congress to exercise its constitutional powers of oversight. Many have been calling on Congress to exercise its power of the purse to stop the bull-headed direction this administration is taking our nation and the world. Some in Congress seem to have the courage and willingness to make the sacrifice – to risk their security and careers to take a stand. Others seem to be waiting for a politically more convenient time.

For some of us in the peace movement, it is not only Congress who holds the power of the purse. We believe it is each individual’s right to say, “Not in my name, and not with my money!” Some of us are willing to sacrifice security and comfort by refusing to pay for the war through our federal income tax. We are war tax resisters and here are some of our stories.

Carol has been a war tax resister since the invasion of Iraq. She does not consider herself a pacifist, but believes this war is illegal and a violation of international law. In an attempt to reduce the amount of taxes owed, Carol has been giving away one third of her income to charities -- putting her money toward services where Federal and State budgets have been cut. The first time the IRS came after her with threatening letters she got frightened and sent the money. The following year she forced the IRS to garnish her wages. After the 2006 elections, Carol paid her 2005 taxes as an act of faith that the new Congress would fulfill its Constitutional responsibility of oversight.

Ben and Janine, the young parents of an infant boy, have been war tax resisters since returning from Colombia, South America, in 2003, where they witnessed firsthand the devastating effects of US military intervention. As conscientious objectors to war raised in the historically pacifist Mennonite tradition, they are practitioners of nonviolence and oppose all military spending. They would gladly pay taxes if their money supported only peaceful endeavors such as education, health care, and social services. Instead of paying for war, they attempt to reduce or eliminate the amount of taxes they owe by living close to the poverty line. In the years they do owe taxes, they withhold the funds and donate them to organizations that they believe give life rather than take it, including the local school district and international aid organizations. Last December, they received a notice from the IRS informing them that they would be levied. As of this writing, however, they are still waiting for the IRS to act.

Back in the late 1070s, Peg learned about the War Tax Resistance Movement, and since 1980 she has refused to pay all or part of her Federal income taxes, as well as the telephone Federal Excise tax. Over the past 27 years, she has paid the taxes once, had her salary garnished, bonds and bank accounts levied, and currently her Social Security checks are being levied. She has place the “refused” tax money into escrow accounts where the interest can be used for peace-building purposes, or has redirected her tax dollars to causes she believes in. She will not voluntarily pay her taxes to a government with policies that lead to war, fear and corporate greed.

These stories are a sample of what some people have chosen to do to help stop this war. Former Secretary of State Alexander Haig said during the Vietnam War, “Let them protest all they want, as long as they pay their taxes.” Having our tax dollars used in this war is a level of complicity we simply cannot accept.

(this post was written by members of the Taxes for Peace, Not War Group in Eugene, Or., in which this blogger is a member)

1 comment:

Marika said...

People should read this.