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By Erin Sherbert
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Three years into the Iraq War, some protesters have blisters on their heels from marching and are looking for new ways to express their disapproval. So last week, a handful of Bay Area firebrands turned to war tax resistance: By withholding some or all of their federal income tax, they kept the government from turning their dollars into a couple of widgets and bolts on a bunker buster bomb. It's a noble American tradition, after all. Henry David Thoreau withheld his cash to protest the Mexican-American War, and during the Vietnam War Congressman Ron Dellums tried to legalize tax resistance as a form of conscientious objection. Now, the number of resisters is on the rise again although with people wary of consequences, many opt for symbolic gestures. Read on for three different ways to raise a middle finger to the Department of Defense.
I'll pay, but I won't like it. Those who aren't ready for a serious confrontation with the government have found plenty of creative ways to express their dissent while still paying up. Susan Quinlan has seen it all as the organizer of Northern California War Tax Resistance. Some indulge in a theatrical gesture, like packaging the tax forms and check inside a small cardboard coffin to get the point across. Others pay all but a symbolic amount like $49, to represent the 49 percent of federal taxes that resisters say is used to support war. Of course, the IRS will probably come to collect the balance, but Quinlan says every act of protest is valuable. "It really is a personal decision," she says, "and people can register their resistance in a way that feels right to them." Such people would be wise to include an explanatory note, however, so that the IRS registers the missing dollars as a protest, and not an error in check writing.
Upside: A protest with very little hassle.
Downside: A protest with very little impact.
I won't pay, and you can't make me. For David Gross, 2003 was the year outrage turned into action which in his case meant filling out a lot of forms. Gross quit his job to reduce his income, put his money into things like tuition and retirement savings, and filled out reams of paperwork for the associated tax credits. All this keeps his adjusted income below the taxable level. "Before I started I was making a pretty good amount of money at a software company over in the East Bay, living pretty fat, and enjoying all that San Francisco has to offer," he says. Now, he does just enough contract work to fulfill his needs, and home-brews his beer. But it's worth it, he says, for the satisfaction of not owing the feds a single red cent.
Upside: Totally legal. "They could audit me and look at all my paperwork, and I'd come out smelling like a rose," says Gross.
Downside: Besides the paperwork, no more Anchor Steam on tap.
I won't pay until you make me. Richmond resident Marilyn Langlois is taking the double-barreled, come-and-get-me approach. Through talking with conscientious objectors as a volunteer on the GI Rights Hotline, she came to feel that she too should stop cooperating with what she sees as an immoral war. So this year she filled out her 1040, but substituted a letter in place of the roughly $10,000 the IRS is expecting. "I feel deeply saddened knowing that federal tax dollars pay for torturing, traumatizing, and killing so many of my brothers and sisters in the human family," she wrote in her note to the IRS. Langlois is instead donating the money to nonprofits that do good, peaceful work in the world, and is bracing herself for whatever happens next. "If the U.S. government feels it has to come after me and take these taxes from me by force, so be it," she says. "I'm just not going to give them willingly."
Upside: The satisfaction of taking a strong stand.
Downside: Unless Langlois' letter slips through the cracks, the taxmen will try to get the money from her bank account or wages, complete with fines and interest.