October 21, 2002

Ithaca Group Resists War

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Opponents of war who live in Ithaca have been busy lately.

The “die-in” protest at the Apple Harvest Festival, the founding of a student campaign and an Ithaca city resolution condemning war on Iraq have publicized opposition to the war.

But local activists and an Ithaca group, the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC), have been campaigning for years against all wars.

“Just as I wouldn’t want to go out and kill someone in a war, I don’t want my tax money to pay killing,” said Mary Loehr ’82, the head of the NWTRCC.

Many pacifists use their tax money for charity, according to Loehr.

Religious and pacifistic objectors to war began evolving war tax resistance since at least the Vietnam War, according to Loehr.

“People were [not paying taxes] individually during the Vietnam War, but resistance is more powerful with an organization,” she said.

The NWTRCC is 20 years old and includes between five and 8,000 lay activists, according to Loehr, the only paid staff member. They publish a newsletter, have an 800 phone number, a website and provide other resources to those interested in war tax resistance.

“War tax resisters come from a very big spectrum,” Loehr said. “The thing they have in common is that they don’t want their tax money paying for killing.”

War tax resisters estimate that the amount of money from their federal income taxes that pays for war is close to 50 percent, although other people contest that figure.

Some people do not file any taxes or withhold symbolic amounts, while others write protest letters to the IRS, representatives in Congress and newspapers, according to Loehr.

“According to the IRS I am in debt,” said Leslie Schultz, who has not paid federal income tax in over twenty years. “According to a higher moral law, I am not.”

“I redirect my federal income tax to life affirming sources,” she added.

The IRS does not recognize a tax exemption for war tax resisters and pursues them as they would for any other tax evader.

“The thing that inhibits most people [from withholding taxes] is fear,” said Ed Pearson, a Virginia war tax resister. “They see the IRS as boogey-men who can sweep down on them.”

“They don’t have the kind of power most people credit them,” he added.

The IRS has seized back taxes from Schultz’s bank account, but the IRS never took any other action, Schultz said.

“Sometimes people are really scared to do it,” Loehr said, adding that “only six people in the last 40 years” have gone to jail. “There is a freedom I get from doing what I believe.”

Religious groups, including Quakers and Catholics, have long opposed war, and many religious objectors founded the movement.

“We render unto God rather than render unto Caesar when the two come into conflict,” Pearson said.

Pearson undertook a tour of the churches in his county in Virginia after Sept. 11.

“While many churches are concerned with the well-being of their members, there is relatively little activity beyond the doors of the church.”

With the war in Afghanistan barely over and the potential of a war in Iraq, tax resisters have been actively involved in the recent protests.

“I have done everything I can to speak out against war with anybody ever,” Schultz said. “Ensuring that the military-industrial economy we live in now will be sustained has very little to do with Iraq and everything to do with [President Bush’s] personal agenda.”

Archived article by Peter Norlander