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Re: re-building a movement?  Lawrence A. Rosenwald
 Jul 20, 2011 10:47 PDT 
Some quick responses to Dave's very interesting remarks -
wtr-@igc.topica.com writes:
 I can imagine a couple of ways WTR could become a movement that attracts
enough people to really make waves:

1) the bulk of people who are already conscientious objectors of the
pacifisticish persuasion in their hearts come to believe that putting
their beliefs into practice in this way is essential

2) tax resistance becomes a prominent tactic of some people and groups
that are motivated by concerns other than anti-militarism/pacifism,
causing anti-war activists to wake up and say "well, we don't like what
/our/ taxes are being spent on either"

The first of these would probably resemble a religious revival or
something of that sort: anti-war folks getting so enthusiastic about
their cause or their movement that demonstrating their commitment in
dramatic ways like WTR would be more important to them than all of the
familiar anti-WTR excuses. This could be sparked from below once a
critical mass of anti-war activists adopt WTR or enough WTRs become more
public (or pushy) about the tactic. (Maybe research the abolitionist
"come-outer" movement in American protestantism to learn how something
like this gets going and builds momentum --
Since I'm most interested in what actions are within the power of those
who already wtrs, I'd strongly agree with Dave about the importance of
becoming "more public (or pushy) about the tactic."
A more likely catalyst, though, would be if a coalition of anti-war
group organizers were to, instead of announcing yet another parade or
rally, announce that they'd all committed to WTR and now considered it
de rigueur for anti-war activists, so that anyone who wants to remain
respectable in the anti-war movement either needs to do WTR or to be
able to explain why they're not. (I've suggested in the past that WTRs
consider /blockading/ peace parades to protest complacency and
feel-goodism in the peace movement and to put WTR on the front-burner.)
I like the idea of blockading peace parades! That's again within our
power. Whether anti-war group organizers will ever unassisted or unpushed
make an announcement of the sort Dave describes I can't say; I'm not
holding my breath.
For the second path, I imagine what might happen if something like the
TEA party or some other populist group were to say "we're sick of paying
for bailouts of Wall Street" (or whatever) and stop paying taxes for
that reason. If it took off and the government had a hard time coping
with it, I could see tax resistance in general getting more credibility
and attention, and then anti-war folks saying "why should /we/ pay /our/
taxes: we're just as pissed off about what the government spends money
on as they are."
I don't think this is going to happen, though I'd love it if it did. The
reason I don't think it's going to happen is that I don't see the
teapartyists as being willing to commit acts of civil disobedience - for
one thing, they seem to be advancing their cause _without_ committing such
In either case, though, contra Larry's suggestion, I think we'd be
better served by remaining flexible in our tactics and strategy. The
more tightly we try to define our methods and goals, the more people
we'd be "defining out" of the movement before it had a chance to grow.
(I doubt we could come up with a fixed answer to Larry's "What changes
in governmental behavior would it take to us to _stop_ doing war tax
resistance?" even in the small circle of a NWTRCC gathering that would
satisfy everyone, and an attempt to do so might divide us rather than
strengthen us.)
Flexible is good, rigid is bad. But too flexible is bad too, in my
judgment.   If we say, everyone in the anti-war movement needs to be doing
wtr, what do we mean by "wtr"?
Right now, to judge from the people I see at wtr gatherings and from what
I read, our community - which isn't at this moment a movement - is
composed of three different groups. They all are animated by an
opposition to war and to the systems that war is part of, but in certain
respects they seem to me profoundly different from one another.   The
first group is that of people who've chosen to reject war and the systems
war is part of by living a radically simple life, and thus making an
income below the taxable level. They are exploring a new way of living -
in Muriel Rukeyser's words, "Brave, setting up signals across vast
distances,/ considering a nameless way of living, of almost unimagined
values." But they're not doing anything illegal, and what they're doing
doesn't register as resistance with the government; it's not civil
disobedience, it's not, in Thoreau's sense of the word, "friction." The
second group of people owe taxes to the government - whatever "owe" means
in this context! - and refuse in various ways to pay them, but their chief
goal is to keep the money from the IRS, they ingeniously avoid having
leviable bank accounts, they self-sacrificingly give up jobs at which an
employer might execute a levy on their salary. For them, holding on the
money is a victory, being found and levied is a defeat. For the third
group - to which I belong, and probably I'm shaping my descriptions of the
three groups in relation to where I'm coming from! - being found and
levied is like being arrested for civil disobedience, and "civil
disobedience" is the right name for what they're doing. It's public, it's
pushy, and wtr is done in the expectation that we'll have to undergo some
penalty for doing it, and when the penalty is exacted, we can throw a
party, tell our friends, write our bank administrators or our employers or
colleagues, make it even more public than it was before.
So: given that there are, at least in my view, significant differences
among these three groups, what would we be telling people to do, exactly,
if we said that every anti-war activist needed to do war tax resistance?

As for the question Dave raises at the end - maybe we couldn't figure out
what it would take to make us stop doing wtr. But _shouldn't_ we be able
to do that? Shouldn't we at least raise the question? (Say, at some
future gathering???????) When the Montgomery bus boycott began, among the
first thing the organizers did was to stipulate what changes would cause
them to stop boycotting. One strength of the 25% group around here is
that its goal is so easy to summarize: cut the Defense Department budget
by 25%. I heard Randy Kehler give a talk once in which he addressed this
question; I don't remember what his stipulations were about what it would
take for him to stop doing wtr - maybe to have the budget reduced to the
point that all we could afford would be wars of self-defense? - but I do
remember he had some stipulations, and that he said it seemed important to
him to have them.

All good wishes, sorry for going on so long,

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