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Some Withhold Taxes To Protest The War

Believe it or not, there are some conscientious souls who look forward to this time of year: because it gives them a chance to finish a chore quickly – namely their taxes.

Don’t believe it? Consider all the ads being run by H&R Block and TurboTax, explaining how their software is the best.

As Kristian Foden-Vencil reports, there’s another group of conscientious set in Oregon, who are joining together to not pay their taxes — namely because they don’t want one red cent of their money to be spent on the war.

 Pam Allee
Pam Allee

Pam Allee owns a beautiful late-1800’s home in North Portland. With a wrap around porch and wind chimes, the old Victorian is perfect for Alee and her partner Paul Maresh.

SOUND knocking. Pam Allee: “Hi come on in."

Kristian: “Hey how you doing?"

Pam Allee: “Fine….”

On this crisp January morning she’s preparing a dinner of beans and tomatoes. It’s an idyllic scene except for one thing – for the last few years Alee says her conscience has forced her to pay fewer and fewer federal taxes.

What started with a symbolic single dollar in 2002 slowly grew to a $100 withholding. Now she doesn’t pay a penny.

Pam Allee: “I was heart broken to think of young people, who are barely out of childhood, being told to go and kill people and doing so. And in the process becoming either people who didn’t care about it anymore or people who were tortured.”

Allee and several other Oregonians are becoming increasingly weary of writing letters, protesting and holding workshops. They want to hit Uncle Sam where it hurts, they hope — namely in the pocket book.

Allee says she fills in her tax return just like everyone else.

Pam Allee: “But just at the bottom line where it says, well where is your check. I leave it blank and then I do send them a letter and I tell them exactly why. I send that letter on to my representatives. I was keeping them on file, but that computer blew up.”

Allee pays all her state taxes. And up until this year had made a charitable donation in the amount that the IRS said she owed.

She’s not alone. She’s protesting as member of the ‘National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee,’ which has been around since 1982.

Resistance organizer, Ruth Benn, says while there’s a history of war tax boycotting stretching back to 1846 and Henry David Thoreau, the group is  only now beginning to focus on what’s going on in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ruth Benn: “So we are just really through the fall kind of getting the word out and expecting things to pick up a bit more now it’s the tax season and the tax forms are arriving and all that.”

She estimates there are as many as eight-thousand war tax resistors around the country and she’s hoping they’ll all sign up with her group — so that come April 15th, they’ll be able to send Washington DC a strong message.

Ruth Benn: “People from Alaska and Hawaii are signing on. There are certain areas like Portland actually that tend to be a little more active with war tax resistance than say Arkansas, but there are definitely people everywhere.”

Not surprisingly, the Internal Revenue Service does not look kindly on the movement.

Spokesman, Bill Steiner, says whether people are refusing to pay taxes because of the war, or simply because they don't like taxes, they’re putting their home, their car and even their liberty in jeopardy.

Bill Steiner: “There have been an absolute cornucopia of frivolous arguments over the years and to be honest with you that the IRS looks on one with the same distance that it looks on all of them. And that is that a person just choosing not to file an accurate tax return or pay the amount of tax that’s owing.”

He says people will get caught, because third party documents, like the W-2s you get in the mail each year, are also  sent to the government.

Back in North Portland, Pam Allee makes a cup of tea. Her partner, Paul Meresh, has decided that he will pay his federal taxes, because he wants to help his grandchildren financially.

Paul Maresh: “This is her strongly held religious belief you know. I respect that and I’m also akin to it. I wish I had quite the level of commitment and courage that she does.”

Allee says it isn’t courage. She says her conscience simply won’t let her do anything else. She says it’s frightening to think that if she doesn’t back down, or the law doesn’t change, she could lose her home to a federal lien.

Pam Allee: “I don’t know what I will do when that time comes. If that time comes.

Kristian: “Some people may think that it’s not very democratic. That you feel very strongly about the war, but they feel strongly about drugs, that drugs shold be legal or maybe it’s something else. What do you say to that idea, that’s it’s undemocratic.”

Pam Allee: “That’s a very good question. Undemocratic. I think its undemocratic to not protect the rights of minorities and in a sense I am a minority. And as I say, it’s not a perfect solution for me.”

Allee is putting her faith in a bill that would allow Americans to stipulate that their taxes can only be used for non-violent purposes, like schools, roads and healthcare. Allee and others have asked their representatives to sponsor just such a piece of legislation—and was recently introduced— but so far, it hasn't moved.