Defining Ourselves and Our Action: The Extreme Importance of Words

Workshop Number 7

Led by Robert Randall

Our workshop was both audio and videotaped. Robert began by asking our willingness to participate in these tapings. There was a request from our group that, in the future, that question of willingness to participate in audio and video recording be asked at the beginning of the conference and in every gathering thereafter.

Robert opened the workshop with a ten minute written exercise in personal thinking concerning definitions of words we use in the peace tax fund and war tax refusal movement: peace, peace tax, war, resistance, tax evasion, tax payer, conversion, war tax, war tax resister, war tax redirector, war tax converter, peace taxpayer. After we wrote our definitions, Robert handed out the dictionary definitions of some of these words.

Our discussion began with people saying they were uncomfortable with the word ‘owe’ as used in connection with taxes. One man said that, since he doesn't belong to the state, he doesn't owe anything. One woman said the concept of a peace tax was uncomfortable for her. We discussed the possibility of paying for the life affirming activities of the government but not for killing. One man suggested that he prefers talking about the military tax rather that the war tax. Another person suggested that we can define ourselves as war tax converters or redirectors, and this helps explain our desire to support life affirming social obligations. Maybe we should start saying “socially responsible tax redirection”.

One person asked for more direction on how we define ‘war’. He felt it is a state of mind- people's hatred, and thinks we are a nation at war now. Couldn't we also talk about war as happening among people? A person who is involved with the WTO protests reminded us that we could also talk about economic war: we need to go deeper. War is the taking of power, violently or non-violently.

A Canadian participant said that it sounded to him as though US citizens were saying everything their government did was bad. Canadians wouldn't feel this way about their government. One woman suggested that we always define war as done by the state.

A man from the Netherlands said he felt in agreement with the man from Canada. The Peace Tax is a mental construct now but maybe some countries will begin to spend money on nonviolent peace building activities. A woman responded by saying that war is not creative but that peace is creative and encourages thoughtfulness.

Robert ended this part of the discussion by telling a piece of history. Quakers, when they began resisting war called it ‘nonresistance’, taking their term from the Bible quote about “Resist not evil.” Part of what they were thinking was that resisting something gave power to that which you were resisting.

Tax evasion, was defined by one woman, as the action of someone who feels there should be a tax but they shouldn't have to pay it. Another said we evade when resisted taxes aren't put into positive efforts for people. A man suggested we should always say what our ethics are in our tax refusal.

Robert then asked us to share any new understandings this conversation had given us. One man remembered a quote about the Tower of Babel: Words have no meaning; people have meaning.... The man taking the video said the conversation had been phenomenal for him. I think I may become a war tax resister.

Reporter: Nancy Rice