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International Conference - prelim report  NWTRCC
 Sep 14, 2008 14:39 PDT 

I'm back from the 12th International Conference on War Tax Resistance
and Peace Tax Campaigns, which was held at Manchester College in
England, September 5-7. Sorry that I'm not a rapid-response blogger, but
shall update you on the listserve now and will be writing an article for
the next NWTRCC newsletter. There were about 60 people from 14 countries
- about standard for these conferences. Sadly I have to report that our
efforts to get George Rishmawi from Palestine to the conference ended in
a refused visa, so that he could not travel to the conference. The
British organizers tried really hard to get thru the red tape but to no
avail. Two people from Ghana were refused visas also. (So as an aside,
if you are someone who gave an extra contribution to help George get to
the conference, I will be in touch about how to handle those $$.)

NWTRCC sends a representative to each of the conferences, which are held
every other year, so I got to go to this one. I've attended two other
conferences over the years: the one NWTRCC co-hosted in Washington, DC,
in 2000, and the second conference in the Netherlands in 1988. As with
most conferences (at least in my humble opinion) the time spent talking
with folks at meals and between the organized sessions is at least as
important as anything that comes up in the sessions. Quite a few of my
conversations were with individuals from other countries who are war tax
resisters, who refuse to pay at least some of taxes due to their
respective governments. Many combine their refusal with redirecting the
money to some kind of fund for nonviolent defense or peace-building
funds.

As we have found in the past, it is more difficult to resist in most
countries because of the way taxes are pulled from paychecks. Those who
resist tend to be self-employed. In general, collection is much faster
in other countries than has been our experience in the US (at least up
to now), and many organizers at this conference make no effort to build
WTR, seeing it as futile. The majority of people at the conference are
working on peace tax fund campaigns or looking for ways to take their
complaint of being forced to pay for war through some court system or UN
body. I think 5 of the Peace Tax Seven were in attendance, and they are
slowly making their way into the European Court of Human Rights. Daniel
Jenkins from the US reported on the effort to bring a formal complaint
to a UN body. The Germans have a resister or two in their circles, but
are focusing on a new effort of 10 people to take a complaint to a
German high court based on the 2009 budget being a violation of
fundamental rights because of the military spending. The Germans are
trying to get away from appealing through the tax system and instead
trying this more direct route to the government officials who create the
budget. In Norway peace tax fund campaigners are appealing to their
local councils; if the council accepts their complaint as an "initiative
of national interest" then the council can send a complaint up to the
next level of the government system.

I attended two workshops that related more generally to organizing, with
both having some focus on how to widen our efforts. Groups and campaigns
in every country seem to face issues similar to our own. "How to bring
in more young people" was the topic of one workshop. While no group
seemed to be doing any better than many of us here in the US, many are
looking for answers in the internet, such as getting into Facebook and
other networking sites, and upgrading our websites. The Danish peace tax
fund campaign has been working with the model UN program in high schools
with some success at making "the right not to pay for war" a topic in
those discussions. One person noted that the activists groups that seem
to be most successful at drawing in young people are the ones that give
new members something to do immediately and regularly. There was also a
good deal of discussion of language, in particular the use of the word
"conscience," and whether that is a word that resonates with young folks
today. Because the hosting group was Britain's "Conscience: the peace
tax campaign," it was the local folks who were having this discusssion
among themselves and also bringing it to the conference. "Taxes for
Peace Not War" was a slogan that many people appreciated due to the
positive spin.

Paul Rogers, professor at Bradfor University Peace Studies Department,
gave the keynote talk on Saturday morning, "Towards Sustainable
Security: looking ahead to how we can construct a sustainable system of
security in the 21st century." Whew, that's a mouthful. It was quite a
good talk about how we got to where we are now (particulary with the
neocons taking power in the US - despite their minority appeal) and what
we need to do to bring more positive change for the future. In general
he said we need to turn the focus to "humans not states." He sees an
important opportunity for peace activists to build on what is so obvious
now - that military "solutions" do not work, and that we have to work
together with all progressive groups to turn around the climate
change/environmental crises and ease the growing gap between rich and
poor thru debt relief and trade reform - because these are the pressures
that are going to lead to further conflict in the coming years. It was a
good talk and that little synopsis doesn't due it justice. WTR was not
addressed except in seeing our work as part of the movement that must
work more together to address all these issues in a more cohesive way.

There were small group sessions to talk about the common ground between
war tax resisters and peace tax campaigns and develop ideas about how we
can all work together more across international boundaries. I don't know
if any of the groups came up with any brilliant insights on this. My
group did spend quite a bit of time comparing our tax systems and
learning more precisely what each of our organizations do. It's hard to
figure out how to work together without understanding more about each
situation; there's a lot of confusion about why there is such a "strong"
war tax resistance movement in the US as compared to other countries.
One person said rather emphatically - "I just don't understand why
anyone would be a war tax resister without also working for a peace tax
fund." Others perceived that peace tax fund campaigns and WTR need each
other, that you can't have one without the other; I said that I could
certainly resist without any connection to a peace tax fund campaign,
but I began to see that many Europeans see the effort to actually
redirect military taxes to a fund that is only for peace-building
efforts or alternative defense is primary to their peace tax fund
campaigns. I think the US efforts have never had this peace-building
fund as an emphasis; the peace tax fund bill as it has been written in
the US redirects the taxes of conscientious objectors to the
non-military spending in the US budget, not to a specific peace-building
effort. I found that insight rather interesting as I never understood so
clearly how many of the campaigns are writing their bills for this
specific purpose.

In my small group and in general there was clearly interest in making
Conscience and Peace Tax International (http://cpti.ws/) more of an
umbrella group for all of our work. Due to technicalities of nonprofit
status, NWTRCC has not been an official member of CPTI but has been a
supporter. CPTI was founded as more of a link for the peace tax fund
campaigns than for WTRs, but we'll see how things develop. Many wanted
to see more organizing successes and ideas posted on the CPTI website.
Right now it has links to the groups in each country and information on
WTR court cases and conscientious objection rulings within the UN.

Ok, that's all for today, but I will fill in if there are questions and
focus more for an article.

If you're read this far, you get the bonus link to some of Ed Hedemann's
photos from the conference. They are posted at:
http://www.nwtrcc.org/ManchesterConference_2008.html.

So glad I could go as I really enjoyed the conference. Thanks NWTRCC!
FYI, the next conference looks to be in Sweden or Norway in 2 years.

Ruth Benn, Coordinator
National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC)
PO Box 150553
Brooklyn, NY 11215
(718) 768-3420 * (800) 269-7464
Fax: (718) 768-4388
http://www.nwtrcc.org
Donate online at http://www.nwtrcc.org/contactdonate.htm
	
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