Naked City

Withholding from the war machine

While Ben Franklin's adage about the certainty of death and taxes may be true, anti-war activists in Austin are working against what they see as an inexorable bond between the two. With tax season around the corner, members of Austin Conscientious Objectors to Military Taxation are making it known that they do not support Bush's war in Iraq, and are working to funnel their tax money into decidedly peaceful programs.

Echoing another sentiment of the founding fathers, ACOMT finds the current system tantamount to taxation without representation. An estimate for military spending in the federal government's 2005 budget, found on the group's Web site, www.acomt.org, is a whopping 49%. With half of their tax dollars going to military-related endeavors, ACOMT members find the current system unfeasible, and have proposed a new one: the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund, where taxpayer funds would be funneled into an account used for nonmilitary pursuits. A bill, HR 2037, was drafted in Congress, to "affirm the religious freedom of taxpayers who are conscientiously opposed to participation in war, to provide that É payments of such taxpayers be used for nonmilitary purposes, [and] to create the Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund to receive such tax payments." HR 2037 was ultimately shelved in the House Ways and Means Committee, but ACOMT says a new bill will be introduced this May.

"We're all war-tax resisters. We do it in different ways," said ACOMT member Susan Van Haitsma. Resisting taxation since 1985, she intentionally lives below the taxable income level. "Others in the group are self-employed. There are people who file, people who don't." The small organization, counting teachers, doctors, and veterans amongst its ranks, was successful last year in organizing the Austin Taxpayers for Peace action, where protesters withheld $10.40 from their 1040 tax payments. On April 15, the resulting $2,600 was split between Nonmilitary Options for Youth and the American Friends Service Committee, a Quaker-affiliated group assisting civilians in Iraq.

While withholding only $10.40 is described as "low risk" by the ACOMT, some members have been punished. In the Statesman's op-ed pages, ACOMT volunteer Andy McKenna reveals that "after 11 years of inaction," the IRS began garnishing his wages of all but the federal monthly poverty level. Still, Austin tax resisters soldier on undeterred. "The war takes money, and it takes bodies. And they have to come from somewhere," says Van Haitsma. "And that's what I'm opposed to."

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