Tax Resisting Takes a Stand on Tax Day
by Daphne Muller, Writer
April 20, 2009
Last Wednesday was tax day for most Americans. I say “most Americans” because there are some who recognize the legal obligation to pay taxes, but who chose not to pay some or all of their taxes for ethical or moral reasons. And, in big cities all over the United States, groups gathered on April 15 to protest the bank bailouts, gay marriage laws, and the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq with the argument that paying taxes to the federal government encourages corporatism, discrimination, or unjust combat.
In the United States, some citizens subject themselves to IRS fines and penalties and actually resist paying taxes. And while many Americans may be disgruntled by Timothy Geithner’s bank plan, tax resisting (not to be confused with tax evasion, which is subject even stricter penalties and possible jail time), has always has been an integral part of American democracy in spite of the the fact that it is subject to fines and penalties. In the 1790s the first US Treasury Secretary, Alexander Hamilton, implemented a controversial luxury tax on whiskey that had some citizens so riled up that they actually tarred and feathered a handful of tax collectors. While Hamilton insisted that the tax had to be instated in order to pay off debts from the Revolutionary War, the tax resisters were not pleased with that explanation, and in 1794 Washington had to send an army of 12,000 to rural Pennsylvania to quell a rebellion (by the time the troops arrived, the dissenters had dispersed).
Of course, Henry David Thoreau is probably the most famous tax resister, spending a night in jail for refusing to pay six years of back taxes on the principle that he did not support the Mexican-American War and institutionalized slavery. But what about today? Is withholding taxes, despite the fact that it is subject to heavy government penalties, still one of the best ways to show anger and frustration towards one’s government?
A resident of Brooklyn, who I will call Barb Smith for purposes of anonymity, thinks that if you’re frustrated with your government, it makes you a “more responsible citizen.” At a demonstration on the front steps of the New York Post Office, she and fellow disgruntled citizens gathered to lend their voice to the anti-war movement. Handing out fliers that document military spending in this country, Smith, a third-year tax resister and war protester, pointed out that, “Money has an impact and where you spend your money has an impact. My decision [not to pay federal taxes] is in alignment with my conscience.”
Also gathered on the steps on the Post Office was a small group of elderly women from an international pacifist organization. One woman brandished a sign that said, “Raging Grannies and their Daughters.”
However, the sign did not mention granddaughters and Smith noted that, “Unfortunately, there are not many young people involved [in the tax resisting movement]. It’s mostly middle-aged and older people who are passionate about the issue.”
However, despite the age gap, the movement definitely gained momentum this year in cities around the country. Fox News had all day coverage of “tea parties” in cities like Atlanta and Salt Lake City where protesters angrily voiced their tax boycott of the Wall Street bailouts. In Austin, Texas, Governor Rick Perry galvanized a crowd of angry citizens and even suggested that Texas might secede one day while, in downtown Houston, close to 2,000 people turned out to protest the federal government and threaten secession.
In Boston (the home of the first tea party back in 1773) gay rights groups gathered to protest their inability to file federal joint tax returns, even though Massachusetts has legalized gay marriage. A group with similar concerns gathered on the steps of the New York Post Office but when asked, none claimed to be resisting taxes. “We just want Albany to give us equality,” one woman implored.
Yet, despite all the hoopla surrounding tax resisting this year, the demonstrations still beg the question, does tax resisting in spite of the potential penalties really make a difference?
“I don’t know if the IRS cares,” another protester, who I will call Mark Johnson for anonymity, a fifth year tax resister from New Jersey said, “but I’m appalled at what the money is used for and I resist with a token amount.”
When asked what he does with the money he owes, Johnson insists, “I don’t keep it, I give it to organizations that do good that hopefully counterbalance what the government would do with the money. This year, I’m giving the $198 I owe and I’m sending it to the Iraq Collateral Repair Project.”
And, while he admits he only protests with a small amount of money, Johnson notes that there “is not enough outrage” and that he does the little that he can to press the point that he is not pleased with military spending in this country.
Although it is doubtful that Congress or the Obama administration paid much attention to tea parties, protests, or tax resister demonstrations on Wednesday, many see tax resistance, despite the fact that it is illegal, as the one act outside of voting that citizens can participate in to vocalize their disappointment with their government. And, while there is always the possibility that you can be audited, Smith notes that, “This is America. I’m not afraid of the IRS.”
Editor’s Note: This Web site does NOT in any way endorse or condone any act of tax resisting or tax evasion. Because of possibly incriminating statements, the names of quoted individuals were changed at the request of the editor.