is the path to peace paved with tax resistance?

In celebration of International Human Rights Day, the Toronto Friends House is holding a banquet and fundraiser tonight in support of Iraq War resisters in Canada (details below*).

We attended this dinner last year. It was a wonderful evening, and among other joys, I learned about Conscience Canada, a war tax resistance group. For more on what members of Conscience Canada do and what they work for, I encourage you to read this older post.

Shortly after that, I found that wmtc post linked on the website of a US tax resister. David Gross, who writes The Picket Line combines tax resistance with a more general resistance to consumerism, acquisitiveness and capitalism at large. He has withdrawn his support for the military-industrial killing machine by deliberately living below the threshold for paying taxes.
Like most Amer­i­cans, I sup­ported the gov­ern­ment and its wars — I can look at an old W2 form to see just how much. I didn't want to sup­port the gov­ern­ment, but my op­po­si­tion was only an opin­ion while my sup­port was in dol­lars and cents.

Finally I decided that re­fus­ing moral sup­port isn't enough. To fol­low my con­cience I have to put my money where my mouth is.

When the in­va­sion of Iraq began, I stopped pay­ing fed­eral in­come tax and started work­ing for my val­ues instead of against them. I quit my job and de­lib­er­ately reduced my in­come to the point where I no longer owe fed­eral in­come tax. I transformed my life, con­cen­trat­ing on what really mat­ters, so that I can live well and se­curely on a lower in­come. (I ac­tu­ally found that my lower-in­come life­style was more fun, ful­fill­ing, and in­ter­est­ing than the one I had been lead­ing before.)

I have such tremendous admiration for this. It's something I've always wondered about and been attracted to, but don't know if I could ever do.

Compared to the dominant culture surrounding me, I'm not very materialistic. I don't shop for recreation, I don't buy more than I can use, I don't buy for the sake of buying. I don't want a big home or an expensive care. Beyond what's necessary, I couldn't care less about 95% of the consumer goods that are constantly pushed in our faces.

On the other hand, I like a comfortable living space, with separate work areas for me and my partner. I like filling our home with books and music and movies. I want to be able to take care of our health - whether that be expensive supplements or higher quality food - and I have a commitment to the health of our animals. And of course, I want to travel. I hesitate over that word "want," as travel feels more like a deep need.

In my 20s, when I was struggling to create a life that would allow me time to write, I wondered why I couldn't live closer to the bone. If I could be satisfied with earning less, I could have more time to write. I knew people who did that, and I admired them, but I didn't follow their path. On the other hand, I didn't choose a path of potentially much higher earning which would have precluded writing, such as law school. Eventually I stopped beating myself up about it. I realized that I had a basic comfort level, below which I wouldn't be happy, and that being unhappy wouldn't make me a better writer.

So I made peace with it. But I still wonder about a simplified life, and I still envy people who are able to strip down their life to the basics.

One of those people, David Gross, has written an excellent How To on tax resistance and an faq about his own brand of tax resistance. There's also a best-of that's well worth reading.

Our tax resistance took the form of leaving the US. It is one of the great joys and accomplishments of my life that I no longer financially support US imperialism. Of course, I know my taxes in Canada support the war in Afghanistan, and it galls me, and it's my duty to help bring an end to that.

But my taxes also support health care, and libraries, and social housing, and day care, and so on - although not enough of any of those. I'm not opposed to paying taxes. If we all paid our share - including the very rich, the banks, and the corporations - think of what an excellent society we could create.

* International Human Rights Day banquet with music and a silent auction
Benefit for U.S. war resisters Jeremy Hinzman and Kim Rivera
When: Friday, December 10, 6:30 p.m.
Where: Friends House, 60 Lowther, Toronto, 416.596.7328
Admission: $20 to $50 donation


Moorlock said...

Thanks for your kind words about my blog. I encourage you to continue your consideration of life-simplification. It isn't about giving up the things you most want and need and then pining about them. For the record: among the things I have on my below-the-tax-line income are subscriptions to two community-supported-agriculture programs that keep us well-supplied in good-quality healthy food, regular health care (and even insurance!) for our cat, a home full of books and music and movies (though largely via used book stores and the library, pandora, and netflix), health insurance and regular dental care, and travel (including a 1-month stint in Mexico a few months back). It's more about prioritizing and economizing than about denying yourself things, unless you want to go to more of an extreme than I felt the need to. -- David Gross

L-girl said...

David, thanks for your comment, much appreciated. It only took me a year to finally highlight your site!

I do understand that simplified living couldn't possibly be about feeling deprived - that would be unsustainable. It's analogous to a maintaining healthy eating habits vs "going on a diet".

So I know where you're coming from on that. However, it's difficult for me to imagine how I would live what I consider a decent life without an income over a certain threshold.

Like a lot of people, we've been in difficult financial condition lately. Zip (the Canadian version of Netflix), the library (taxpayer supported, btw) and other economies are very much a part of our lives. But rent and utilities demand a certain income. And we're not even traveling now because we can't afford it (or when we have to travel, as we did for two family weddings, it was on credit).

So it's difficult for me to imagine. But I do think about it, and you are a model and an example for me. Thanks.

Joe Gravellese said...

Ah, the great paradox that we liberals in the US face. I want to pay more taxes, I have no problem paying higher taxes, but I have almost no faith that the money isn't going to be poured down a hole into at best useless and at worst horrifyingly evil causes (bank bailouts; 'tax incentives' for oil companies, ethanol, and other crap; weapons the Pentagon doesn't even want anymore).

Of course, tax dollars also pay my weekly (tiny) salary. So I guess there's that.


L-girl said...

Once I finish my degree and (presumably, hopefully) begin working as a librarian, taxes will pay my salary, too.

Since I believe strongly in good public services, I must believe in taxes. And I do.

It's how the tax system is structured and where the money goes that's the sticking point. BIG sticking points!

Joe Gravellese said...

I know that the US federal government is basically completely hopeless, but Bernie Sanders is on a roll right now filibustering the latest coroporate tax giveaway. He's been talking for five hours and it's ripped straight out of the rant I go on at every family party after a couple of glasses of wine.

This is great stuff.

Maybe I should move to Vermont just to say he's my Senator.

redival said...

Thanks for this post, Laura; and thank you David Gross for putting so much work into that How To! This is something I've been thinking about for a while now, since reading "Nonviolent Communication" by Marshall Rosenberg (he mentions that he did this method of war tax resistance for a while). I think we will be paying extra attention while filing taxes this year to see just how much we'd have to change our lifestyle.

Laura, I'm looking forward to meeting you in person at Friends House this evening. (: --Selena

L-girl said...

Selena, how nice to see you here! Unfortunately we won't meet at the Quaker House tonight. We attended last year, but can't this year. Now I'm really sorry, since we could have finally met! Ah well... another time. Enjoy.

Also, I agree re David's website and FAQ, amazing work.

L-girl said...

Maybe I should move to Vermont just to say he's my Senator.

There are worse things you could do. He is really cool.

redival said...

Oh, too bad! We are leaving the kids home this time and I was looking forward to getting to talk with you in person uninterrupted. Maybe next time. (:

L-girl said...

Naomi Klein tweet via FB:

can bernie sanders have his own 24 hr news network pls?

L-girl said...

Is Bernie Sanders still talking?

Nice use of the US Senate today.

MSEH said...

"But I still wonder about a simplified life, and I still envy people who are able to strip down their life to the basics."

I couldn't agree with you more.

Cornelia said...

No worries Laura, just do what is best for you and what you feel comfortable with. And you can also reassure yourself that if you have more money than just whatever, you can also help more financially, also the WRSC. I think it's good for people to be able to live in accordance with their own authentic priorities and without deprivation. And it's perfectly all right for people to have different individual priorities although it can be hard to get that point across but then, you can always maintain boundaries. I am probably coming to this resolution from a slightly different angle but there's nothing wrong with that either, I hold. Well, if you also like irony, the following details might help:

1. scene: Myself talking with some guy at the library, telling him what a great invention legal aid is. Well, it seems he can't share in my enthusiasm since he says that if he gets more money some time soon, he might have to pay back. I said no worries, either way it's not a hardship, no one would try anything abusive or nasty on him or me or anyone else for that either way -)

2. Myself talking for the first time with the Lady CEO of the Gender Equality Agency of Kosovo, who is a dear friend of mine. She asks what I can help her with. Well, for very plain and obvious reasons NOT exactly with donations and sponsorships for some top conference on gender and identity. But no problem, as I am usually rather creative, we can find something else: I can elaborate recommendations for the new law against domestic violence down there in English. Done and put to good use -) (My recommendations got very well included and the law was passed in January 2010. However, the State of Kosovo is not yet able to protect their citizens but at least, we have laid some legal frame work, established some basis that will come in handy in the future yet.)

I hope that warrants my point well enough...

Cornelia said...

"But I still wonder about a simplified life, and I still envy people who are able to strip down their life to the basics."

No worries, I see no need of that, at least not when it comes down to me. If you want to admire me over something, do it over my assertiveness, rather. Well, I want and need a job in the afternoon / evening because in the morning, it's simply not my cup of tea. I absolutely prefer to sleep then and I wouldn't be efficient anyway and I am glad I can spare myself that bother since I am no longer a child or teen at school. So, I have part welfare and part work. However, I have to maintain very firm boundaries to keep some conservative folks from getting verbally abusive over wanting and needing a job in the afternoon and once, I came alas across some real bully. Next issue: There are insulation issues with my apartment and exploitation issues with my landlord. The welfare does pay for my rent and heating but the landlord demanded a dubiously high amount of money, so I decided to hand in an objection so that they got the undisputed part right away and if they felt they needed more, they could furnish proof of their claim and send their receipts or copies of it to my lawyer and if it's all right, we will apply for assistance over the rest, too. Well, that obviously freaked them out to such an extent that they got extremely abusive with me and sent me 2 very intimidatory letters in order to try to bully me into...That was real scary at first because then, I didn't know enough about my rights concerning some specific legal stuff and unfortunately I told some acquaintance whom I should not have told because that got me treated to some more verbal abuse and misinformation and some very nasty scary tales that were rather twisted, to put it mildly. So, that gave me quite a scare until my lawyer could help me with some real cool and sound info. Well, I can learn about some more legal things but nonetheless, that landlord gets on my nerves a great deal. The next arrears invoice is probably due for Christmas Eve (strictly for intimidatory purposes) and then, I will at least know what to do for Christmas: Doing some write-ups and stuff over the damn thing again, basically.

The problem is, of course, that the law needs to be amended so that the welfare can demand the receipts themselves in case the invoice is conspicuously outrageous because an office or court is well equipped to deal with exploitative bullies such as this and can keep them in check. However, the idiots of the conservative Government we are still having right now want the Federal Government to help less over heating!!! Let's see if they get this BS passed or not. If so and if the welfare does have to deny my January application for covering the heating invoice partially, then at least my lawyer and I can get the judges of the Social Court or Higher Social Court to check this out with the Justices of our Constitutional Court and get that nonsense done away with because it would be contrary to the jurisdiction and current and binding verdicts of the Constitutional Court. Let's see if that kind of redress is needed, and yes of course, I could get a cool precedent on legal aid then! Well, I like winning in court but I also like having less stress so it should be ultimately okay with me either way. Alas, some people would still misconstrue it but then, that would take maintaining very firm boundaries again.

Hopefully that stuff was interesting -)

And don't worry, Laura, a lot of good things get done by taxes, too and at least the grievances in Canada are not as severe as stateside!

Cornelia said...

No worries, a lot of good things get done by taxes, too (though yet, there could be way more of that)!

"But I still wonder about a simplified life, and I still envy people who are able to strip down their life to the basics."

Don't worry, I see no reason for envy as far as I'm concerned. However, if you wish to admire me on any count, do it over my assertiveness rather -)

And if you like my irony on issues such as this, I trust I have some more, haha!