War Tax Resistance: One Story

University Essays  Lesson 6, Reading 2

By Andrea Ayvazian

The single most significant statement I have heard about war tax resistance was made confidently and in simplicity by Alan Eccleston at a 1981 workshop: “When you are ready to engage in war tax resistance you know it.” I was slightly skeptical at the time because someone had given me the same advice about marriage and it had not proven correct.

But now, five years into the process of war tax resistance, I believe Alan was absolutely right. When you are ready to become a war tax resister, you know it deep inside with little doubt or fear. I knew it-almost suddenly—on a visceral level in 1982 and, since that time, nothing that has unfolded due to my resistance has been too great a burden to carry; nothing has been too frightening or overwhelming. Once I was ready, I was ready-and I have welcomed all of it.
War tax resistance for me has involved always owing the government money in April-several hundreds of dollars in fact. As April 15th draws close, I meticulously complete my 1040 form, calculate exactly what I owe and mail my form in on time with a detailed letter explaining why my 1040 does not have an accompanying check. Everyone who is engaged in any aspect of tax resistance does it in her or his own way-there is no one way, and certainly no correct or incorrect way. Withholding money every April has worked for me, and my story has its difficult, funny and touching moments, as any tax resister can confirm.
The first year I engaged in war tax resistance, I happened to owe almost $ 1,000. I withheld the entire amount, sent it to an escrow fund, wrote an impassioned letter about war, peace, social injustice, Quakerism, feminism, nonviolence, and everything else I could fit on two typed pages, and settled back to see what would unfold.
Alan had told me that it could take the IRS two weeks to catch up with me, or two years, or nothing might ever happen. I returned from work one day in May to find a discreet little card stuck in my apartment door, saying that an IRS agent had been to visit and he would be back. Actually, I was delighted. I thought: “Why wait for him to return and find me gone again? I’ll just call him on the phone and find out what’s cooking.” So I did, and that began what has been a long, tumultuous, fairly intense relationship with Bob, “my” IRS agent.
Bob came to my apartment the next week and I explained with great emotion why I could not pay for the weapons of war, how I dreamed of and worked for a world of peace and equity. I carried on at great length, with Bob nodding and actually looking sympathetic. At the end of my monologue he asked if I was interested in hearing about their easy payment plan.
Bob and I do not see eye-to-eye. After several threatening letters, another visit, and an audit in Springfield, Bob visited my bank and withdrew the $1,000 I had withheld, plus, 5% penalty and 15% interest (this is now reduced to 9%). The bank wrote me a cursory note informing me that my account was reduced by almost $1,500.
The years since 1982 have been full of tax resistance adventures, and I have had the opportunity to see a good deal of Bob. The pattern each year has been generally the same. After I write my letter explaining why I am withholding part of my federal income tax, I receive a series of computer letters. The first is fairly benign-informing me that I owe the IRS some money (as if my withholding were simply an oversight on my part). The letters escalate with increasingly threatening language until the “ten-day notice” arrives saying that decisive action is about to be taken. About six weeks after that letter arrives, they actually do something. Every year Bob has called, and, most years, he has visited. He has tried to talk me into simply paying the IRS what he says I owe so that he can “close my file.” Every year, money has been taken from my bank account-the amount withheld, plus interest and penalty.
In 1984, when Bob went to my account, I did not have enough money there to cover what he said I owed. He emptied and closed my account and called me to review my next options. We actually decided to meet over breakfast (he paid the bill) and, told me directly, the next step was to put a lien on my paychecks so that the IRS would begin receiving a large portion of each check until my “debt” to them was covered. This made me feel very insecure-I live paycheck to paycheck-so I asked him instead to take my car. Following that meeting, I called for a Clearness Committee with some Friends from Mt. Toby Meeting. With their help, I decided to sell my car immediately to a friend who needed a reliable vehicle, give her a good bargain, put the money in the bank and let Bob take it. He called wondering what happened to my car. I told him I had sold it, so he went directly to the bank for the money.
Probably the most touching moment came in 1985 after my account had been ravished or closed so many times that I finally went to see the president of my bank. At eight o’clock one morning, the president met me at a side door and led me through the dark, deserted bank to his office. I sat across from him and told him why I was a war tax resister. I told him I was not there to convince him of anything, to defend myself or to make a case; I simply had a story that I found I needed to tell him. During the 45 minutes that we spent together, his whole body language changed. His posture eased, his voice softened, he leaned forward and asked me probing questions—and he let me tell my whole story.
Before leaving, I said: “I want to ask your forgiveness for being compelled to engage in a protest that is a nuisance for you and your staff.” He stood up, shook my hand and said: “And I want to ask your forgiveness for my being compelled to comply.”
People have asked me why I let the IRS seize money from my account. In my mind, I am never willingly paying the military portion of my federal income tax due in April—the IRS must come find me and take the money from me. I have chosen to live my life as I wish, with them responding and reacting to my behavior, not the other way around. I do not move my money around or close my account when I know they are coming because I do not wish to be further consumed by this process. Also, I know that, if they do not find the money in the bank, they will come after my paycheck or what little property I own, and I have always found those options more frightening. I believe that the IRS spends all the money it gains from the interest and penalties simply to track down and seize assets from resisters like me. The benefit to them is negligible.
Every war tax resister has her or his tales to tell; mine is not unusual or heroic. Like others, I keep on with this noncooperation because I believe it is a powerful teaching tool, because I think it makes my other work for peace and justice more credible, because it gives me a forum to talk to bank presidents and IRS auditors, because it helps make congruent my beliefs and actions, and mainly because I could no longer force myself to write that check in April believing it would buy bullets, tanks and nuclear warheads. I believe that by each of us taking the small steps that we individually can, we will quietly, but most effectively, transform the world.

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