Sunday, February 5, 2012

Civil initiative

Today Jim Corbett's name came up twice to me, once in an article I read and then again when someone spoke at Quaker Meeting for Worship. Jim Corbett lived in Arizona near the US Mexico border and got involved in the last century in a movement known as the Sanctuary movement that helped people who were fleeing oppressive regimes in Latin America. Jim said that what those who helped give sanctuary were doing was not Civil disobedience but was Civil Initiative, the quote I liked was in the March 2008 Friends Journal and states;

"Nonviolent civil initiative by covenant communities is... the way human beings preserve and develop society based on consent, in which the rule of law, as distinguished from the rule of commanders is necessarily gounded..."

So I'm thinking about this in terms of conscientious objection to military taxation and my dialog with the IRS. I think this idea of civil initiative applies when we as citizens are working to bring government or society back inline with it's agreements. It changes the emphasis from objecting or disobeying authority to that of supporting and initiating civil society. I am copying below here parts of the Jan 17th letter to my Senators explaining my situation with the IRS.

Dear Senators Bingaman and Udall;
It seems appropriate that I am sitting down to write you today, the day we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King Jr. I am writing to you both in regards to a personal concern that is also a larger concern regarding our government and conscience. I have been withholding the part of my taxes that go to promoting war and developing the military since the US invaded Iraq in 2003. Each year I put the money into an account labeled ‘war taxes’ in our credit union. Once the IRS collected money out of this account and once the money was taken from my paycheck. I do not oppose taxes and I do not ask for any special treatment.

I see my actions as civil disobedience and I accept the yearly penalties that have been applied. For the last year I have been in dialogue with the IRS over a new penalty one for ‘frivolous filing’. It is in regards to this penalty that I am writing to you and enclosing with this letter, the letter I have sent to the IRS requesting a face-to face hearing.

It is my understanding that the frivolous filing penalty was first created and approved by the US Senate. I believe that the Senate needs to now take a look at this legislation that has grown into a rather large monster that is no longer in line with the spirit of freedom of speech and conscience that has always been part of the United States of America. I do not believe that the intent of this penalty was to harass or penalize those of us who are not willing to pay taxes that go to war. I have also learned that those in the IRS do not have much familiarity with this penalty or it’s many clauses. In speaking with an internal investigator who is looking into systemic problems for the IRS, I found out that if I filed my taxes and did not fully pay them I would not be subject to this penalty. However if along with the form I filed correctly I insert a letter explaining my reasons, my thinking, my conscience I am then subject to a frivolous filing penalty. In other words if I am simply not paying based on greed, there is no problem. That is not considered frivolous. If I do not pay and politely explain my reasons, then my actions are considered frivolous.

A second rule of the frivolous filing penalty that intrigues me is the one that says ‘if you are making an argument that someone has argued before and lost’ then you are considered frivolous. It is nice to think about this today. How many times did black citizens in this country have to ask for equality? How many times did women have to ask for the vote, or gay activists have to ask for fair treatment? This country is where we are today because people have kept coming back to ask again and again. To knock on the door until it is opened. I believe that war and the war machine has dominated this country and that one day we will choose to take off the chains that bind us to the war machine and that one of the ways we will do this is through war tax resistance.

I am asking that you look into this situation with the possibility of passing new legislation that will change or eliminate this penalty so it does not work to penalize people of conscience.

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