Today is April 15th, Tax Day, when millions of Americans scramble to file their income taxes on time. It’s also a day when people across the country are planning to protest the use of tax dollars to fund war. In dozens of communities across the country, demonstrations are planned at IRS offices, federal buildings and weapons factories to protest ongoing massive U.S. government expenditures on drones, missiles and bombs. According to a new pie chart released by the War Resisters League, 47 percent of federal taxes goes toward war in some form or the other. To protest paying for lethal weapons, some Americans are taking a stand by personally refusing to fund the military. These tax resisters are risking jail time by withholding all or a portion of their federal income taxes, and instead redirecting the money to humanitarian efforts. We speak with Ed Hedemann of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. He has redirected the federal portion of his tax bill to nonprofits and humanitarian efforts for 40 years. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: "What If We All Stopped Paying Taxes?" That’s Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
Well, today is April 15th, Tax Day, a day when millions of Americans scramble to file their income taxes on time. It’s also a day when people across the country are planning to protest the use of tax dollars to fund war. In dozens of communities across the country, demonstrations are planned at IRS offices, federal buildings, post offices, weapons factories, to protest ongoing massive U.S. government expenditures on drones, on missiles, on bombs.
According to a new pie chart released by the War Resisters League, 47 percent of federal taxes go toward war in some form or other. To protest this, some Americans are taking a stand today by personally refusing to pay their federal taxes. These tax resisters are risking jail time by withholding all or a portion of their federal income taxes, and instead redirecting the money to humanitarian efforts. One tax resister, Juanita Nelson of Massachusetts, has not paid federal income taxes since 1948.
JUANITA NELSON: I felt it was—from the beginning, it was part of a whole nexus of ideas, not just the tax refusal. Just I decided that I was a pacifist. And, for me, nonviolence, I would say, more than—what do you call it—pacifism, is a way of life. And I—my whole—since I was in my twenties, in particular, early twenties, it has always been my idea to try to go further and further to try to live what I believe. And that was certainly a very direct thing. You don’t like war? Don’t pay for it. Why should I pay for it?
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Juanita Nelson from a documentary, Death and Taxes. She hasn’t paid her federal taxes for more than 65 years.
Tax resistance has been a regular form of civil disobedience throughout American history. Most famously, the writer Henry David Thoreau refused to finance slavery and the Mexican-American War in 1847 by withholding his poll tax.
Well, for more, we’re joined by Ed Hedemann, a conscientious war tax resister who has redirected the federal portion of his tax bill to nonprofits and humanitarian efforts for 40 years. He’s a member of the War Resisters League, the U.S.’s oldest secular pacifist organization. In 1982, he helped found the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee to provide information and support to people considering war tax resistance. He is also author of War Tax Resistance: A Guide to Withholding Your Support From the Military.
Ed Hedemann, welcome to Democracy Now! You’re one of a couple dozen people in this country. You haven’t paid taxes for some, what, 40 years. Why did you stop? And what portion of your taxes don’t you pay?
ED HEDEMANN: Well, I stopped after I refused induction in the military. This is in 1969. The government tried to draft me to go to war in Vietnam; I refused to go. A year later, I thought, well, it’s not good enough for me not to go and yet pay for others to go into the military, so I stopped paying the following year taxes to the IRS that eventually would help the government’s war in Vietnam and subsequent wars.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what happened to you? What does it mean? How did to figure out—what exactly do you do on Tax Day?
ED HEDEMANN: Well, I refuse to pay 100 percent of my federal taxes, my federal income taxes. I pay Social Security, Medicare, state and local taxes, but none of the federal income taxes. But actually, in fact, I do pay them, just not to the IRS. I take the entire amount of money and reroute it to other organizations helping to build a better world rather than helping to kill people.
AMY GOODMAN: And what has the federal government responded?
ED HEDEMANN: Routinely I get letters, threatening letters from the IRS. They look for bank accounts. They look for property that I might own to seize. They look for salaries that I might have. I go out of my way to be uncollectible. I don’t have readily accessible bank accounts. I don’t have a salary. I’m self-employed. I have had salaries in the past. And I really don’t own any significant property. Now, the IRS has gone as far as to take me into federal district court. They did that in 1999 to get me to reveal sources of my assets, because the IRS has been unable to find anything significant to collect. I refused to give this information, and that was the end of it.
AMY GOODMAN: What did the judge do?
ED HEDEMANN: Well, the judge—I said that, "Well, I’ve already paid my taxes to other organizations, not to the IRS. I cannot pay money to help kill people." And I didn’t want to incriminate myself by giving this information to the IRS, a potential criminal investigation. The judge ignored everything except for the latter part and said that I didn’t have to give the information to the IRS because I might incriminate myself.
AMY GOODMAN: On Friday, we spoke to Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, retired Catholic bishop of Detroit. He’s been a leading voice for peace, justice and civil rights. He explained why he also refuses to pay his taxes.
BISHOP THOMAS GUMBLETON: I feel a good portion of those taxes goes to our war budget, which is our so-called defense budget, but it’s really a war budget. It’s the largest of any nation in the world. And years ago, Pope Paul VI said the arms race—and that’s what we are doing with our defense budget—is, in itself, an act of aggression against the poor. Using that money for weapons and strategies to use them is taking money away from the poor and causing them to starve. We should be using our natural resources and our wealth to promote development and to promote justice in the world. When you have a world where there’s such a gap between the rich and the poor, and such huge numbers suffering because of that, the church has a real responsibility to use whatever income it can bring to—I mean, our nation has a responsibility to use its income to help development happen, because that’s the basis for peace.
AMY GOODMAN: That is Detroit’s retired auxiliary bishop, Tom Gumbleton. He was in our studio for the hour on Friday. You can go to our website at democracynow.org to see the full interview with him.
The National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund is lobbying for a peace alternative for taxpayers. It would recognize the rights of conscientious objectors to war to not have to physically or financially contribute to war in any way. Alan Gamble of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund explained how it would work.
ALAN GAMBLE: There would be a fund established within the federal Treasury that would accept the money of designated or verified conscientious objectors to all wars, and they would get a receipt from the federal Treasury, which they would attach along with their income tax forms when they send their taxes in. Then, all of their taxes would go into this federal special trust fund, which would then be allocated out to whichever government programs needed it, with the exception of things with a designated military purpose, such as Department of Defense.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Alan Gamble of the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund. Ed Hedemann, are you for such a fund?
ED HEDEMANN: Well, I think it would be better that—if such a fund existed, but I wouldn’t participate in it, because part of the reason that I—well, first, that fund would be—the government would determine who is acceptable as a conscientious objector to military spending, and I think it ought to be up to the individual, not up to the government, to choose. But also, part of the reason I refuse to pay is I want to be an irritant to the government. I want to make a protest that can’t be ignored. And I think that the government would use such a fund, if it were to be formed, to shuttle away people who are noisy and people who are protesters and people who agitate. And I refuse to do that. I want to do a protest that the government has to pay attention to.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s go through the pie chart, for why you feel this way. It’s "Where Your Income Tax Money Really Goes" from the War Resisters League. The chart says 43 percent of human resources—43 percent goes to human resources, 20 percent to past military, 27 percent to current military—so that’s close to half of the money. Explain this to us, for people who are resisting and for people who aren’t but want to know where their money goes.
ED HEDEMANN: Yeah, well, this is the percentage of federal funds that are spent. So if you look at your 1040 form, there’s going to be a line on the back of the 1040 form that says "federal tax" and that—these percentages relate to that. They do not include Social Security funds, because that’s money that’s raised separately through—I mean, if you’re salaried, you have a deduction for Social Security.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what about someone who says, "I’m a tea party activist"?
ED HEDEMANN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Says, "I don’t want you to take—I’m not going to pay Social Security." And someone else says, "I’m not going to pay for this." And someone else says, "For this." How does the government function?
ED HEDEMANN: Well, I think that people have a right in a democracy to choose what they’re going to support and not support. If these people in the tea party and others refuse to pay for these programs and are willing to take the risk, like I am, in their refusal, well, then that’s up to them. I think that’s part of what’s a democracy. But what I do on top of that is I don’t keep the money for myself. I reroute it. I wonder if these tea party people do the same with their money? I doubt it. But—
AMY GOODMAN: What about those who say they don’t have the same luxury as you? They have a salary. Their account would be attached. People like Randy Kehler, a peace activist in western Mass, had his house taken from him.
ED HEDEMANN: Yeah, and he continues to refuse today, despite his house being taken. I think that’s the risk you take. But, to me, part of the issue is that the protest is as important as how much money is resisted. And I think that there are people who are war tax resisters that do have their salaries seized, but they continue to protest despite that, because the point of the—of refusing to pay, from my point of view, is protesting.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back in history to the Henry David Thoreau, 1847. The writer famously protested paying for slavery and the Mexican-American War by withholding his poll tax. He was sent to jail for a night, but when he was released the next morning, he refused to budge. He argued he had the right to remain in jail and register his repulsion of slavery. Thoreau was eventually thrown out of jail and went on to publish his influential essay called "Civil Disobedience." In it, he wrote, quote, "If a thousand men were not to pay their tax-bills this year, that would not be a violent and bloody measure, as it would to pay them, and enable the State to commit violence and shed innocent blood. This is, in fact, the definition of a peaceable revolution, if any such is possible." How many people resist, Ed?
ED HEDEMANN: Hard to say. I would say several thousand people in this country. A lot of people do it quietly, and they don’t tell, well, me or National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee or the IRS. They just do it. And it’s hard to say.
AMY GOODMAN: The phone tax, what is it?
ED HEDEMANN: Well, the phone tax is a 3 percent federal excise tax on local telephone service. It used be also on long distance. And so, if you have a land line, then there is going to be a 3 percent charge on telephone service.
AMY GOODMAN: For what?
ED HEDEMANN: That goes into the general federal budget pot, just like the income tax, and it began, however, being put on telephone service during the Spanish-American War over 100 years ago.
AMY GOODMAN: And it’s still there?
ED HEDEMANN: Well, it keeps going—coming and going. After the Spanish-American War, it went off.
AMY GOODMAN: We have 10 seconds.
ED HEDEMANN: Yeah, and then after World War I, it went on, came off. But it is on there now.
AMY GOODMAN: And people resist by just not paying that portion of their phone bill?
ED HEDEMANN: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: Does the phone company eventually cut off your service?
ED HEDEMANN: Generally not.
AMY GOODMAN: Where are you going to be today?
ED HEDEMANN: I’m going to be in front of the IRS at 4:00 and then march through Times Square with the Rude Mechanical Orchestra to the general post office at 6:00.
AMY GOODMAN: Ed Hedemann, I want to thank you for being with us, conscientious war tax resister.