Many people view paying taxes as a positive investment in social goods, such as infrastructure, social services, and education. Others are critical of taxes as an inefficient or even unethical redistribution of wealth by government. Either way, they want their money to be spent wisely.
But when we pay income taxes (and some other taxes), about half of that money goes to war and militarism. War Resisters League estimates that about 48% of each income tax dollar for fiscal year 2018 is going to military-related spending. This figure has varied only by a few percentage points over the past 16 years.
Does divestment work?
In the divestment campaigns against South Africa’s apartheid system in the 1970s and 1980s, supporters identified companies that did business in South Africa. They refused to do business with those companies, and pressured institutions like banks and universities to divest their pension funds and endowments from those companies too.
Today’s most prominent divestment movements focus on diverting money from Israeli occupation, fossil fuels, and private prisons. In addition, the national Movement for Black Lives platform has an Invest-Divest plank that calls for divesting from war, including a 50% reduction in the military budget, as part of a reinvestment in black communities.
Enlace’s City Prison Divestment Toolkit describes the impact of divestment campaigns this way:
“When many investors in a company decide to sell their stock around the same time, that company’s stock comes under pressure. Over time, the stock price decreases due to shareholders selling their stock, and is then eschewed by many investors due to the negative publicity it has received. A low stock price can make it harder for a company to get loans, finance sales, or expand its business. And if the pressure is persistent and high enough, an entire industry—even a national government—can decide it’s time to change how they do business, or, can be wiped out entirely.”
Taxpayers are the “investors” in the company called “the US government.”
When we decide to sell our “stock” by withholding war taxes from the government, we engage in a powerful form of protest and we start to cut funding for the military off at its source – all of us.
How can we divest from the Pentagon?
While many war tax resisters also call for cuts in government or private spending on war, we begin by divesting ourselves from war and the Pentagon, by refusing to pay some amount of taxes. There are many different ways to do this, including:
- earning a taxable income, and refusing to file a tax return or pay taxes
- earning a taxable income, filing a tax return, and refusing to pay some or all of the taxes owed
- earning an income less than the taxable income level (and choosing either to file or not file a tax return)
Each of these methods has its own risks and benefits. For more information about methods of war tax resistance, see How to Resist on the website of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee.
How do war tax resisters reinvest the resisted taxes?
Some resisters set aside tax money in a personal escrow account to await IRS collection. Some use the money to pay necessary personal expenses.
But many war tax resisters choose to redirect those refused taxes to other causes.
Some pool their money in an escrow account with other resisters – these accounts are called alternative funds. And many resisters also personally redirect their taxes to groups they support.
Jason Rawn made 1,000 stickers that read, “Defund Militerrori$m” and distributed them to people around the US and the world.
In 2016, Southern California War Tax Alternative Fund held a press conference on April 15 in front of the San Diego Public Library and announced grants of $6,000 to Amikas’ “Homeless to Housed” program, Peace Resource Center of San Diego, Alternatives to Violence/Los Angeles, Tri-Valley CAREs, Nevada Desert Experience, and 9to5 Working Women/LA.
John and Pat Schwiebert of Portland, Oregon, have refused to pay some or all of their federal income tax in protest of military violence for more than 30 years. For many years, they have gone to the offices of the Multnomah County government in person and explained their resistance as they present a check in the amount of their resisted taxes.
In 2017 NWTRCC promoted Collective Redirection of tax dollars to resistance organizations led by Black, Brown, and Indigenous People. Groups of resisters and individuals redirected money and built relationships to enhance the interconnections between our movements. This photo shows presenters and recipients at the May 2017 Collective Redirection ceremony in St. Louis, including a presentation of resisted taxes from the Conscience and Military Tax Campaign to St. Louis-based groups. Click here for more on the 2017 Collective Redirection.
You can also watch our webinar on Redirecting Taxes to Black, Brown, and Indigenous Resistance!
We are divesting from the taxes that fund war, and investing in people, planet, and justice. We will not wait for the U.S. government to end its wars. We will not wait for government approval of our actions. We are divesting from war by refusing some or all of those federal tax dollars that fund it, or by living below the taxable income level. We invite you to join us in this public act of civil disobedience to war and war funding.
“I divert the money that I save from war tax resistance to local efforts and projects that I like. So a lot of it goes directly to my local school because I prefer to directly support education and other local projects in New York… I think a lot of people talk about what they’re going to do with their refund check, and I would like to see that expanded to, what would you do with all of your tax money?“
“As a war tax resister (WTR), a former payer of federal income tax “obligations,” I’m happy that I no longer help line the pockets of war profiteers by filing forms and sending checks to the paper tiger IRS. By refusing to pay federal income tax, I divest, I deny the war profiteers the slice they want to coerce from me.“
- Jason Rawn
“I’m a person who tries to live out my values, just in general, like the food I eat, the transportation I take, in every way… and war tax resistance is something I feel great about. Every year when I file – I submit my 1040, I submit a letter explaining that I’m morally opposed to war and I usually include some statistics about how many people have died in the past year and drone strikes and all of these reasons why I don’t support it. And then I also send them a copy of my redirection check, to show them that this isn’t about not paying taxes. That’s not what it’s about at all – it’s about not supporting war. What it’s about is supporting positive things instead.”
- Ari Rosenberg
“For over three decades, I have redirected my owed federal taxes to peace, justice and environmental protection organizations. I also deposited owed taxes in one of the many war tax escrow funds during years when I owed larger amounts. Each year when I sent in my accurately completed federal income tax forms, I enclosed a letter to the IRS explaining that I would be happy to pay my taxes if they would assure me that my money would not be used to pay for wars and nuclear weapons. I also explained that I was using my owed taxes to support local peace organizations. I sent copies of my letters to my representatives in Congress. Now I scrape by on a meager Social Security retirement check and Medicare, so I’m no longer required to file the IRS forms.”
- Kayla Starr
“My sister was a war tax resister. She was the first person I knew who actively resisted war and an oppressive government by refusing to fund them. Still, it was hard for me to take that first step, to actually withhold taxes. I’ve always loved taxes; I even campaigned for higher taxation. (Since taxes paid my salary as a public school teacher, you could say I had a direct interest in taxation.)
“So it is odd to me now to be on the other side some ten years later, where I withhold 47% of what the IRS tells me is my bill for the USA. I still believe in taxes but after decades of marching against war, after seeing the effects of war on my father, my family and my neighborhood, I’ve finally had to accept my country doesn’t use taxes for the social good but for endless war and domination. That realization did take a while, longer than it should have.”
- Anne Barron