Why tax resistance?
"Personal isn't the same thing as important." --Captain Carrot, Ankh-Morpork City Watch
In The Truth by Terry Pratchett, Sacharissa reminds William de Worde that most people don't come from wealthy families the way he does. They're too busy just worrying about making ends meet to think about larger issues, like whether the Patrician has been framed or not. William acknowledges this, but retorts that someone has to think about the larger issues. Those ordinary people, struggling to get by, will find things much harder if the powerful and corrupt are allowed to run the city as they please.
William's one of those people who have seen what nastiness looks like up close, because he was raised by a nasty person. He wants to be nothing like his father Lord de Worde, a racist and an elitist, someone who thinks laws do not apply to him. William gave up being rich in order to hold onto his integrity. In the end, though, he cannot escape some similarity to his father. He's ruthless, and he knows how to use power to achieve the desired results. He just has different views on what those results should be... and he sends his father packing.
The Truth was published in 2000, well before 9/11 put the focus on Bush, and well before he thoroughly screwed everyone over with his incompetent, immoral, and wrong-headed policies. Nevertheless, Lord de Worde and George W. Bush have a lot in common, differing mainly because de Worde sounds intelligent when he talks.
I'd love to see someone step up to play William to Bush's Lord de Worde. Expecting someone else to take action, though, is a bit like asking "Who's going to bell the cat?" ...or the lesbian sheep problem. That leaves, as a solution, deciding to be the person you're hoping to find. ("Act as though by your act, you will universal obedience to the principles by which you act," says einstein9073, quoting Kant.)
My goal is to get the ball rolling on impeachment, for Dubya and his fellow criminals, and I want to see clear and unmistakable progress by the end of the year.
Now... I briefly mentioned in an earlier post that I intend to take up tax resistance. Allow me first to clarify, for those who missed this subtlety: My 2005 taxes have been filed. Well before 2005 ended, the Federal Government had already received from me enough tax (taken directly from my paychecks) to cover me for that whole year. I filed my taxes honestly, and I'm getting a small refund from the IRS. When I say I won't pay any taxes on my 2006 income, I mean exactly that. I'm working as a contractor at present, so it's up to me to set aside enough to pay tax. But since I just started (was not a contractor in the first quarter of 2005), I am not required to make quarterly payments. I can save it all up, and pay when 2007 rolls around... and I'll do that, if Bush is facing impeachment by then.
So, those of you who are worried I'm going to get thrown in jail: Get Bush impeached by the end of this year, and you've got nothing to worry about. :)
Like the de Wordes, I have a sense that entitlement (in my case, feeling extremely fortunate for the positive circumstances in which I was raised, rather than simply being wealthy) carries with it a corresponding sense of duty. The question becomes what, exactly, that duty entails, and how it should be executed. Traditionally, the de Wordes only ever make one significant contribution to their fair city: When a war's on, they defend the city with their lives. William would no doubt call this "dying stupidly", and make reference to his (late) elder brother's terminally brain-dead notion that bravery can replace armor. He's not above taking a risk, himself, but he puts a lot of thought into what risk that's going to be. I'm attempting to do the same.
Unlike William, I have two wonderful parents, and they've been most vocal (in email) about warning me of the risk I take by refusing to pay taxes. So have people here. What surprises me is how little support I've gotten for the idea. The majority of responses have been warnings, with the exception of a few people maintaining a more neutral stance, along the lines of "Well, it's your decision." Yes, it is, but I'd still like people to understand the reason I'm making it.
There are two parts to the reason. The first is to gain visibility for my point of view. Writing letters and making phone calls to Congress is good; at least they'll know how I feel. Giving money to groups that place ads in newspapers, calling for Bush's impeachment, is also good; perhaps a few more people will see those ads and the message will get back to Washington, D.C. Marching in the streets is something I haven't done yet, but that's another fine way to draw attention. A large enough demonstration draws media coverage, and Congress certainly hears about it. I worry, though, that all of these acts have become too easy for the opposition to ignore. They can say something like, "I'll take your views under advisement," and then keep doing what they have been doing, casting their votes according to the lobbyists rather than to their constituents.
You can argue that when people march in the street, the message isn't meant for Congress, but for voters... but then I have to point out that the last two presidential elections were stolen, and I'm not confident that the next one won't meet the same fate, or a worse one. We can't count on the usual forces of democracy to rescue us. If voting with our votes doesn't work, voting with our money is the next logical step. If a lot of people did that, the Government would have a lot less money with which to do damage. Money, after all, is the primary thing motivating the Congress right now, and an awful lot of that's coming from big corporations via lobbyists. To have equal sway, we have to demonstrate willingness to withhold equally huge amounts of our own money. Naturally, just my own taxes won't make that much difference, if I'm the only one who makes that decision. But once again, "Act as though by your act, you will universal obedience to the principles by which you act." I can only decide for myself, and hope that others will do the same. I can't wait around for ten thousand other people to commit to it before taking that step myself. It's the Lesbian Sheep thing again.
Now, disturbingdream warns that this act may be misinterpreted. Instead of being seen as a patriot, I may be seen simply as a selfish criminal who'd rather keep the money for myself than use it to pay my taxes. My parents, too, suggest that not paying taxes could destroy my reputation. My response to that would be to calculate my taxes as usual, then give precisely that amount of money to worthy causes, particularly aid groups working to repair the damage we've done in Iraq. Beyond that--well, people will form their own opinions of me no matter what I do. I have no control over what others choose to think of me, only over what I choose to do and why. DisturbingDream also points out that some of that money goes to perfectly worthy causes such as pensions. True, and I'm certainly in favor of Government programs that help the needy. I think it's atrocious that such programs are being cut, while more and more money goes to "defense". Unfortunately, I am not in a position to dictate what the Government chooses to do with the money it has. If I paid half my taxes, stating that I was unwilling to pay the half that goes to fund the war machine, would the Government respond by putting that money in an account marked Do Not Use To Buy Guns? Certainly not. It's all going into one big pot, and the Government has shown willing to take money even from accounts with designated uses (think Social Security) and use it for whatever the hell pleases them.
My parents make the argument that paying taxes is a duty, and to refuse damages my integrity. I would counter that it's required by law... but I'll decide what is, and isn't, a duty for myself. My choice must be to do what is best for the whole world, first, and for my country, second. Paying taxes, and more generally, obeying U.S. law may, or may not, coincide with what is best for the world and/or the country. The Government is not to function as my parent, telling me what is right and wrong. I make my own moral decisions, and that is how I guard my integrity. In this case, I feel it is more important that Bush et al. be removed from power than that I pay taxes.
zaratyst warns we might lose our house. This is doubtful. Even if I pay no taxes in 2007, it will take the IRS a while for me to become a big enough pain in their side that they actually take meaningful action. By then, we hope to have a back-up plan. We'll try to arrange to have alternate living space, and for assets to be in Suzy's name rather than mine. (We aren't legally married, so they can't seize anything of hers to cover my own failure to pay taxes.) If the 2008 election rolls around, and appears to be a fair one (even if someone I dislike is elected), and Bush takes no special steps to remain in office beyond the usual two-term limit, I'll be willing to start paying back the 2007 taxes. If Dubya's still in power in 2009... well, I hope by then everyone will realize our problems dwarf anything Bush can say about terrorism from outside our country.
I've been warned multiple times about being arrested and thrown in jail. It is, after all, illegal to refuse to pay taxes. I can accept that. I know it's an unpleasant, even scarring experience, and I've never been through it before so it's not as if I'm at all toughened to it. I'm not so foolish that the thought of it doesn't scare me. I'm living a wonderfully full and happy life, here, and I hate the thought of trading it for a miserable one. The thing is, I subscribe to Carrot's philosophy: Personal isn't the same as important. I'm just one person, and if surrendering my personal freedom can strike a blow for freedom on the larger scale, that's a rational sacrifice.
Let me be clear: This tax refusal idea, up to and including being jailed, is a moderate measure. It's nonviolent. The time may come when the situation grows so desperate, the government so oppressive, that the only appropriate response is to wipe the slate clean--to rise up and overthrow the government we have now, and start fresh. This is something the Founding Fathers realized, and is the reason for the Second Amendment. It's also enshrined in the Declaration of Independence: That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Actually doing so, though, would constitute a civil war, and necessarily a lot of death and destruction (guns have gotten a lot bigger in the past 230 years), so it must be a last resort. I'm not suggesting we've reached the stage where this is required of us, but I am saying this is where we're headed, if we can't turn things around quickly. And I'm attempting to illustrate why being thrown in jail is not such a big deal, when you consider the possibility of actually laying down your life in the fight to restore justice.
Along with sending a message to the Government, that I refuse to be so unjustly governed, it should also send a message to the rest of the citizenry. Should I be thrown in jail, that should provide the perfect excuse to start putting the media back to its intended purpose: being critical of the Government (dammit). Like William de Worde, I would hope to use the press to my advantage.
Now assume for a moment that the message is completely lost on everyone. Would that suggest it was all a mistake? No, because I now come to the second reason: Morally, I cannot condone what is being done with my tax money. It's being used to buy guns, hand them to our poorer citizens, and ship them overseas, where they shoot innocents for the purpose of making rich corporations richer. It's being used to pay torturers. It's being used to fund operations that spy illegally--and Bush has some balls, I must say, to admit it and refuse to back down--on all of us, particularly those of us who disagree with him. None of this is legal. None of it is acceptable. And if I keep paying taxes, it is all my fault--and the fault of every other citizen who continues to fund these illegal activities by continuing to pay taxes. We are morally obliged to do everything in our power to put a stop to these atrocities. Were we Germans during World War II, living just down the street from a concentration camp, the imperative would be no greater. Seen in that light, tax resistance feels woefully insufficient. But what more can we do?
This is where I fall short of William de Worde's example. I have neither his wealth, nor his connections, nor his knack for seeing how to apply them to achieve the right result--to see justice done, the powerful brought down. I believe we can be powerful if we work together, but most of that power lies in advancing ideas, and the Neocons are adept at using propaganda to counter them. Ideas like "The Government is here to serve us, not vice versa", "He's not really the President--don't obey him", and "Just because they're rich doesn't mean they can do whatever they want", while true, appear false to a lot of people. They've had the opposing ideas, like "You can't stand up to the Government so don't even try", pounded into them for a long time.
So, I'm not cut out to lead a revolution, even a bloodless one. Like William, I'm a decent wordsmith, and I do my best to speak the truth. That's about it. I doubt it'll be enough. Tax resistance is not a perfect plan. It is simply the best plan I've been able to come up with so far. I'm more than happy to listen to other ideas. Y'all have the rest of 2006 to help me arrive at something better.
On that note, my parents made a suggestion that I work within the system instead: find a politician or political candidate with whom I agree, and support him or her. That's a fine notion, but this is not really about individuals. It's about a Government that's choked with money. What makes Bush and his buddies so horrible is that they're rich and corrupt. I want someone poor and humble, and the system is set up to make such people unelectable. Even if you could manage it, once inside the system, the powerful force of money operates on everyone, twisting them into something very different. This is not a new situation, but rather a recurring theme of history. Every so many years, there has to be a grassroots campaign in which the weak band together to seize power from the few who are hoarding it. That's where we are now. I'd love to implement some fixes to the system, such as campaign reform, but we're in no position to get them passed yet, not with a pack of criminals running the show. My immediate goal, as I said earlier, is to get Bush impeached. We have to remind the powerful that they are accountable to us, and to the law... and we have to stop the killing that is continuing as I write these words. Then, working with a slightly more receptive Congress, we can work on getting the money out of politics.