Published in the Peace Newsletter, April 2001

I’m Not Paying Uncle Sam on April 15

By Andy Mager

My commitment to a peaceful and just society has led me to refuse to pay federal income taxes for the past 19 years. For a dozen of those years, when my income was above the taxable limit, I have redirected money which I "owe" to the government to support efforts that carry out the work which I believe government ought to be undertaking.

At times I feel rather lonely and inconsequential in my stance. After all, I know of few other war tax resisters in Central New York, and there appears to be little interest in this historic approach to ending war.

The early steps taken by our new resident in the White House have reinforced my belief in the importance of this form of direct action. After two months, it is quite clear that the Bush administration will be actively working for several key goals related to the budget:

1) to make the tax burden even more regressive–the wealthy pay less, working and middle class people pay more, 2) to reinvigorate the military with a new generation of weaponry, including a massive Star Wars system, and 3) to reduce spending which seeks to meet human needs, address social injustice and protect the environment.


What is War Tax Resistance?

War Tax Resistance is the simple notion that those of us who believe that war is wrong, who would refuse to kill for our government, should also refuse to pay for such bloodshed. Centuries ago the equation was very simple–people with means could pay others to fight in their place. While we don’t have quite such a direct connection now, the idea is the same.

There is a rich tradition of war tax resistance in the U.S., beginning with early Quakers and first brought to significant public attention by Henry David Thoreau who was jailed overnight in 1846 for refusing to pay taxes to support a war of conquest against Mexico. Organized war tax resistance began after World War II. During the Vietnam War and the nuclear disarmament movement of the early 1980’s interest in war tax resistance multiplied.

There are a variety of methods to resist war taxes, including living below taxable income, refusing to pay the federal telephone tax, refusing a symbolic share of federal income tax and refusing to pay any federal income tax. (Some resisters have also chosen not to pay state taxes because of their use to expand the prison-industrial complex and the death penalty.)

I want to make it clear that I am not seeking to "evade" taxes, but rather to redirect them to support social justice, nonviolence, and true human needs. Doing so publicly is a way to take responsibility for my actions and to encourage others to take individual and collective stands for peace and justice.

Those of us who refuse to pay for war assume some significant risks. Although war tax resisters have rarely been imprisoned for that action, it is common for the government to attempt to seize our assets–homes, bank accounts, cars, etc. as well as to attach liens to our salaries.

Why Take the Risk?

I will soon begin the process of deciding where to send the money which I am keeping out of George W’s coffers. Instead of funding Star Wars and other corporate subsidies, my money will go to groups in Central New York which provide low-income housing, food for the homeless and engage in community organizing and social justice advocacy. I will send money to other parts of the world where people are struggling to resist the injustices of globalization or putting their lives and communities back together after the results of U.S. military intervention. And, I will give money to groups like the Syracuse Peace Council which work to help us create a vision of a peaceful and just society. It feels very good to do this.

I recently heard a radio program about "bullying" and how families, schools and communities can address this issue. There were many insightful and valuable comments made. However, no one mentioned that our nation is the world’s bully. Our national actions teach our children that the biggest and most heavily-armed people have a right to get their way. So, perhaps my refusal to pay for war is part of a personal "anti-bullying" program. Unfortunately, like any program, it needs the support of others to succeed. I ask you to consider joining me.

Andy Mager is a domestic violence educator and social activist. He is a former editor of the Peace Newsletter.