Let’s talk about tax resistance.
Given our proximity to April 18 — Tax Day, for those who celebrate — as well as the ending to my previous article, I figured I’d explore tax resistance and its deeply complex and nuanced history, as well as formulate an argument that tax resistance could serve as an effective form of protest for 21st century anti-war activists.
The 1950s-70s saw anti-war movements in protest of U.S. involvement in the Vietnam War, rooted in desire for global peace. Significant supporters in these movements who formally resisted taxes include singer Joan Baez, who refused 60% of her income taxes in 1964 in protest of the war, as well as the 500 signers of the “No Tax for War in Vietnam Committee” pledge from 1964-67.
However, groups deriving from other ideologies have also utilized tax resistance in opposition to national policy. Prior to the passing of the Hyde Amendment in 1976, which disallows the use of federal funds in paying for abortion, pro-life activists saw tax resistance as a way to voice their opinions surrounding abortion and embryonic stem cell research. Just as how anti-war resistors justified their refusal to pay taxes, impart or in whole, based on their personal ideologies surrounding a controversial issue, members of the pro-life movement did just the same.
I find that the Hyde Amendment offers a valuable lesson: That the U.S. is capable of barring tax dollars from going toward a particular sector. I understand abortion and war are two infinitely different issues, but the promise that taxpayer’s money will not go toward something they morally disapprove of is significant.
It is clear that members of various political ideologies view tax resistance as a way to voice one’s disapproval of their government’s actions. I believe, given the capitalist society we live in, citizens of the state should have a say in political discourse that extends further than their vote, and includes one’s money.
The Selective Service allows for “conscientious objectors” to dodge the draft on the grounds of moral or religious beliefs that are antithetical to serving in the military. Objectors are still required to enroll in the draft, but they are not required to serve, and oftentimes perform acts of “alternative service,” such as wildlife preservation or healthcare services in their local area. In the same vein, I believe U.S. citizens should be granted the choice as to whether their tax dollars are used to fund the military or not, and that taxpayers who conscientiously object to war should not be forced to fund that which they morally oppose.
Now this doesn’t mean I believe people should have free range in how their taxes are allocated, as this could raise some issues. Although it may lead to increased funding toward more popular public sectors, such as education or healthcare, other sectors such as sanitation or parks and recreation may see a decrease in funding due to simple forgetfulness. The current distribution of tax dollars, although flawed, does maintain a minimum for each of these branches. However, some freedom must be offered.
It is wrong, above all, for the U.S. government to require its citizens to fund the military. Approximately 20% of the Department of Defense’s $750 billion budget is from tax dollars; If we were to remove this entirely, the military would still receive $600 billion in funding, leaving us almost $400 billion richer than the second-highest funded military in the world — China. The U.S. military would remain a global superpower, one which is still drastically overfunded compared to its competitors, and U.S. citizens would no longer be required to be financially connected to international war.
To circle back to the Hyde Amendment for a moment, I also believe a viable alternative is to offer a voluntary tax for sectors that are not federally funded, such as abortion services. Much like how companies ask customers to “round up” when shopping at their local grocery store in support of a particular charity, I believe taxpayers should have the opportunity to voluntarily donate to sectors that are not federally funded, much like how they should possess the right to not fund a sector they morally disagree with.
It must be noted that tax resistance is still a form of tax evasion, and thus a felony. However, there exist numerous resources, such as The National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, who offer information regarding refusal options on their website. Until some iteration of a voluntary “war tax” is put into place, small acts of tax evasion still present themselves as an effective form of protest when done at a large scale, as well as a fairly low-risk form of protest for individual citizens.
Now, let me be clear. I’m not saying you should refuse a small amount of your 2022 taxes in protest of the U.S.’ involvement in international wars; this is tax evasion, and tax evasion is a crime (basically, protest at your own risk). I am saying, however, that citizens should be granted the right to refuse giving a small amount of their taxable income to the U.S. military, as well as the right to fund other non-federally funded sectors, for it is morally unjust for the government to require citizens to fund that which they deeply condemn.