Millions of Americans are rushing to file their federal and state taxes today by the midnight deadline. But others are using the day to protest the use of tax dollars to fund war. The War Resisters League estimates at least 45 percent of the 2015 federal budget would be used for current and past military expenses, as well as interest on the national debt, some 80 percent of which stems from military spending. To voice their opposition, some Americans are taking a stand by personally refusing to pay their federal taxes. Lida Shao, a pre-med student at Columbia University, has been a war tax resister for three years with support from the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. Shao joins us to discuss why Tax Day for her is a day of resistance.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AARON MATÉ: As we continue now to look at issues of finance and justice, we turn now to taxes. Today is April 15th, and many Americans are rushing to file their federal income taxes by the midnight deadline. But others are using the day to protest the use of tax dollars to fund war. The War Resisters League estimates at least 45 percent of the 2015 federal budget would be used for current and past military expenses, including drones and bombs, as well as interest on the national debt, some 80 percent of which stems from military spending.
AMY GOODMAN: To voice their opposition to this, some Americans, like our next guest, are taking a stand by personally refusing to pay their federal taxes. Lida Shao has been a war tax resister for three years. She’s had support from the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. She’s been active in working with youth and in food democracy and popular education, and currently is pre-med at Columbia University.
We welcome you to Democracy Now! So, you’re not going to be mailing your taxes in today, at least your federal taxes.
LIDA SHAO: Yes. Thanks so much. I’m so honored to be here. No, I’m not going to be. I actually just printed out the peace return this morning, and I think I might file that instead. And maybe I’ll send them—
AMY GOODMAN: Peace return?
LIDA SHAO: It’s a document that the NWTRCC put together that’s—you can file instead of the 1040, and it’s—
AMY GOODMAN: NWTRCC?
LIDA SHAO: NWTRCC, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. And yeah, you can submit that instead of submitting your 1040, and it explains the reasons why you’re resisting taxes to the federal government.
AARON MATÉ: What consequences, though, could you face?
LIDA SHAO: You could face a bunch. I mean, some people get threatening letters. They get threatening calls. There has been a few cases of fraud. But, I mean, really, it’s a handful of IRS agents trying to control 300 million people, so the chances of getting audited is very low. And I personally haven’t felt any risk. I haven’t gotten any threatening letters or threatening calls or anything.
AMY GOODMAN: Why are you a war tax resister?
LIDA SHAO: I’m most inspired by my father. He was born the year before Nanjing Massacre and lived through it, and he was kind of haunted his whole life about what the war did to his city. And kind of, I guess—I guess I think of my war tax resistance as a practice that I can cultivate throughout my life.
AMY GOODMAN: What if other people decided they didn’t like certain policies of the government, so they would not pay their taxes, either?
LIDA SHAO: I think that that would be great, because you can—then you can divert your taxes towards things that you actually do agree with. So, 45 percent of our tax is going to war. You could take 45 percent of your annual tax refund and donate it to organizations that you support in your neighborhood.
AARON MATÉ: So if somebody wanted to follow suit, what’s your advice to them? How do they go through this process?
LIDA SHAO: I’d say be really clear about the reasons why you’re doing it and think about how war has impacted your life, and then pick something that you know that you’re going to be passionate about for the rest of your life, and just learn as much as you can, stuff your brain, and just do it. It’s kind of like biking.
AMY GOODMAN: And to someone who thinks, "Oh, I didn’t put my taxes together. I’m not going to be able to get them in by midnight tonight, so I’ll just say I’m a war tax resister," what do you say to them? And talk about how you arrived at this.
LIDA SHAO: Mm-hmm. I mean, I think that that’s—that could be viable, too. You know, I think that war has touched all of us in so many ways, that it might be—it might make sense for somebody to arrive at that decision. But, for me, I just thought about how war has marked my life. I was a graduating class of Stuyvesant. It was in the shadow of the Twin Towers during 9/11. I saw people jump out of the towers from my early morning biology class. And I guess at that moment I realized that the U.S. would retaliate, you know, and I didn’t want more people to die, and so just really thinking about how to cultivate peace in your life and end violence and end war. And that’s really a hard skill and, I think, something very courageous, and so—learning how to do that, because I don’t think we learn how to do that. So then I discovered war tax through NWTRCC, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee. And it was a really responsive and creative group of people, and it was a lovely community. Ruth took me out to tea personally and explained things to me about taxes that I had no idea when I was just barely legal to drink alcohol. So—
AMY GOODMAN: And how does being a war tax resister fit in with your desire to be a doctor?
LIDA SHAO: That’s important. I think—for me, I think of it in the broader context of debt resistance and how in the U.S. I think a lot of the doctors have become very fearful because of the debt that they come out of med school with. And I would love to see a system that creates doctors that can be courageous along with their patients and their—and the victims of this healthcare system. And so, I guess I think of it in terms of a larger economic control over people and how they help one another.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us, Lida. I know you have a paper that you have due today, so you better get back to school
LIDA SHAO: Thank you so much.
AMY GOODMAN: Lida Shao has been a war tax resister for three years, with the support of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee.