Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Income tax day musings

Friends of mine are doing a very good, very right thing this Tax Day.

Peace activists withhold taxes

Two aspects of American foreign policy in the past few years pushed Ethan and Rima Vesely-Flad to step up their protests against the government's militarism.

One was the war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006, when the Israelis used American-made cluster bombs in civilian areas, they said. Another was the continuing occupation of Iraq and their sense that there was no way to influence U.S. policy there.

"We've been out and marched and protested and contacted members of Congress, did all the things we were supposed to do as citizens of our democracy, and it wasn't having any effect," said Ethan Vesely-Flad, 40, who works at Fellowship of Reconciliation in Upper Nyack, a peace-and-justice group committed to nonviolence.

They began to think more deeply about the connections between the money they pay to the government and how it flows to military purposes. So last year for the first time the couple held back 51 percent of their federal tax check and deposited it in an escrow account in protest. The 51 percent is the amount peace groups calculate is going to the current war, the general Defense Department budget and other military-related spending.

In withholding their taxes, as they are doing again this year, the Vesely-Flads are joining a long tradition of protest whose most famous practitioner is probably Henry David Thoreau, jailed after refusing to pay taxes during the Mexican-American War, but includes generations of Quakers and other religious groups that have protested military spending, weapons of mass destruction and armed conflict.

Lower Hudson Valley-LodHud.com
The Journal News
April 15, 2008

Ethan and Rima are correct in their understanding of our relation to U.S. wars -- these wars do continue because we, the people, allow them. In fact, they continue because we pay for them.

Too few of us care enough to undertake the kind of protest my friends have chosen. What makes numbers of people undertake protests of such determination and scale that governments cannot brush them aside?

I was reading some thoughts on this question by Tony Karon just now. They were not happy observations. His topic was the recent International Monetary Fund projection that food price inflation threatens the survival of 100 million people; the World Bank fears that food riots could bring down some 33 governments.

When all that stands between hungry people and a warehouse full of rice and beans is a couple of padlocks and a riot policeman (who may be the neighbor of those who're trying to get past him, and whose own family may be hungry too), the invisible barricade of private-property laws can be easily ignored. Doing whatever it takes to feed oneself and a hungry child, after all, is a primal human instinct. So, with prices of basic foods skyrocketing to the point that even the global aid agencies -- whose function is to provide emergency food supplies to those in need -- are unable, for financial reasons, to sustain their current commitments to the growing army of the hungry, brittle regimes around the world have plenty of reason for anxiety.

Behind the wars are the vicious inequalities, the wealth of some and the destitution of many. Unless we, the rich, can learn to say "Enough" to our consumption and our desires, the wars will go on.

I say this as someone whose present employment has me flying around the country for weeks at a time, staying in comfortable hotels, eating out continuously. I'm not loafing. Though to most of the world my surroundings amount to luxury, to me they are a blur of work. But the planet and its inhabitants can't take having numbers of people living as I am at present. Can we scale back without crashing?

Actions like Ethan and Rima's challenge us to consider these dilemmas. They challenge us to edge toward consistency. That's a gift. Thanks you two!

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