Saturday Night Panel of War Tax Resisters

Three members of the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee shared their stories on Saturday evening. Mary Loehr chaired the panel.

David Waters

David Waters lives in Birmingham, Alabama, with his fifteen year old son, Oliver. He is currently self-employed as a carpenter and does not file federal income tax returns or pay federal taxes.

Waters grew up in various communities in the South. As a child he began to see the inconsistency of singing “Red, brown, yellow, black and white, ... Jesus loves the little children of the world” in Sunday School, then listening to the adults' racist conversations outside the church.

In school he was taught to fear Communism and trust in the federal government.

He didn't get involved in the Civil Rights movement. I didn't know I could, he said.

Waters went to Viet Nam as an enlisted soldier. For the first time he questioned if he could kill someone. He said he realized, “You can't kill someone if you don't have anything against them.”

After Viet Nam, Waters found work as a prison guard and later, a state police officer. What started getting me radicalized was the racist state police, he said. Oliver's mother is Chinese.

The Iran/Contra affair convinced him of the government's lies, and he began to seek peace and justice information. During the Gulf War, Waters decided he ‘could no longer have any part in the government.”

He quit his police job ‘cold.’ That left him without an income, insurance, or other benefits.

Waters began working with Steven ?, the first war tax resister he'd ever met. Steven asked him why he paid war taxes when he believed like he did. He and Steven formed their own NWTRCC affiliate group. They hosted a NWTRCC coordinating council meeting while David served on the administration committee.

He was challenged by Pastors for Peace to go to Cuba with humanitarian aid. At first he was afraid and used his son, Oliver, as an excuse not to go. Then he was asked, “Where were you?”

“I thought about the kids being killed by our policies, and the earth being destroyed,” he said.

Since then, he has traveled to Cuba with Pastors for Peace four times. Each time he took Oliver along.

“Our country is facing huge problems. It will take a serious struggle and commitment to make any kind of change,” he concluded.

Juanita Nelson

At 77, Juanita and Wally, 91, live on Woolman Hill, in Western Massachusetts, where they grow their own food, live in a house they made from recycled materials, and do without electricity, indoor plumbing, a bank account or social security income to avoid payment of taxes. Wally has not paid federal taxes since 1948. Juanita admitted that $3.00 in taxes were mistakenly withheld from one of her paychecks.

Juanita linked her civil rights involvement in CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) with pacifism and war tax resistance after meeting Wally while he was serving 33 months in jail for not paying taxes. The Peacemakers organization further challenged her to “consider non-violence in everything we do,” she said.

In 1950-1956, the Nelsons lived in community with Ernest and Marian Brownley, the founders of the modern war tax refusal movement.

Juanita said she chose war tax refusal because she likes direct action. It's not petitioning somebody else to do something - it's me saying, this is what has to be done, she said. [As a peacemaker], I couldn't ask people, including the government, to take risks [for peace] which I wasn't willing to take.

The Nelsons refused jobs where taxes would be withheld. IRS has checked on them, even approaching Wally's egg route customers to try to assess their income.

Juanita earned a degree in speech therapy to work as a private practitioner.

Juanita was arrested for refusing a court order to show information. She met the IRS agents at her door, dressed only in her bathrobe. When she realized they had come to take her to jail, she decided I don't want to go to jail, so why should I get dressed to go?

She was kept in jail one day and taken, still dressed in her bathrobe, to the magistrate who said he did not want to put the first woman in jail for tax refusal. Later she learned of a news release which declared she didn't owe any taxes.

Refusing war taxes is not enough, Nelson said. She advocates and personifies living simply in order to divorce ourselves from the oppressive system which causes war.

David Zarembka

David Zarembka lives in a Maryland suburb of Washington, DC with his wife, Gladys. He makes a middle class living as a self-employed carpenter. He figures out his tax liability and completes the federal forms (which he has used in applications for financial aid for his children's college education), but doesn't file with the IRS or pay federal taxes, although he pays state taxes. He redirects all his assessed tax money to charities.

Although he has lost money to the IRS in penalties and interest on money collected from him, Zarembka said that basically, his position is ‘nothing happens.’ He lost a house, but that was because of his divorce, not an IRS seizure, so he doesn't fear such potential losses resulting from his war tax resistance. I will not let the IRS determine what I'm going to do, he said.

Zarembka pointed out that he doesn't smoke or drink, so doesn't pay excise tax - a hefty source of government money. He has resisted the telephone tax since the 1970s at which time it was raised to 10% to fund the Viet Nam War. The IRS attached his wages and collected about half of what he owed, but he figures that their collection costs were higher than the amount collected, so ultimately none of it paid for war.

Zarembka's first wife, who was not a US citizen, didn't want him to do illegal tax resistance. He lived below the taxable income level, which it's now hard to do since even minimum wage earners are taxed. Later he resisted the military portion of the federal tax and put the money in an escrow fund from which he could withdraw it when the IRS attached his wages to collect the resisted taxes. He has also supported the WTR penalty fund in Manchester, Indiana. The IRS tries to pit one person against the government, he said. The penalty fund connects people.

When Zarembka was charged a $500 frivolous fine for writing ‘war tax deduction’ on his IRS form for the amount of taxes he refused, he took his case to court. His son told him he couldn't win because the government pays the judges. He didn't. The liberal judge who heard his case said, If you want to do this protest, you have to take the consequences.

Zarembka sends letters to his Quaker meeting reporting his war tax resistance, so he doesn't consider it as fraud. Even though many of the people in his Bethesda, Maryland Meeting are government employees, he said they support him.

Being true to ones' own path is a lesson [my children] learned [from me], he concluded.