History

Statement of Purpose

That Gandhi’s satyagraha campaigns, in South Africa and India, took place within a context of conflict is not always easy to remember from this distance in time. We have fixed in our mind the image of the Mahatma sitting serenely or striding confidently. Harder to imagine is the violence of British oppression, the police beatings, the deaths of his followers, and Gandhi’s long stints in prison. The struggle for Indian self-rule, what Gandhi would call swaraj, was beset by a host of competing forces and factions vying for influence and power. The Marxist leader Virendrenath Chattopadhyaya, to take one example among many, called for violent revolution and urged the rejection of revolutionary satyagraha. Gandhi’s nonviolence campaigns might be seen as an unresolved dialectic between violence and nonviolence, that is, a dialectic between the competing forces that compel or oppose power. This section of our website hopes to record and engage these discussions.

History of U.S. War Tax Resistance

by War Resisters League

Dustwrapper art courtesy www.warresisters.org

Refusing to pay taxes for war is probably as old as the first taxes levied for warfare. We offer below a summary of such protest, which is to say it does not include other forms of tax refusal and resistance, a common tactic in worldwide labor movements, for example, or in various anti-colonial protests including such well-known examples as the Boston Tea Party.

Indeed, until World War II, war tax resistance in the U.S. manifested itself primarily among members of the historic peace churches — Quakers, Mennonites, and Brethren — and usually only during times of war. There have been instances of people refusing to pay taxes for war in virtually every American war, but it was not until World War II and the establishment of a permanent, centralized U.S. military (symbolized by the building of the Pentagon) that the modern war tax resistance movement was born.

Colonial America

One of the earliest known instances of war tax refusal took place in 1637 when the relatively peaceable Algonquin Indians opposed taxation by the Dutch to help improve their local Fort Amsterdam. Shortly after the Quakers arrived in America (1656) there were a number of individual instances of war tax resistance. For example, in 1709 the Quaker Assembly refused a request of £4000 for a military expedition into Canada, replying, “It is contrary to our religious principles to hire men to kill one another.”

Read the rest of this article »

I Won’t Pay Taxes Any More: Shock & Awe Is the Final Straw

by David Gross

Dustwrapper art courtesy David Gross; sniggle.net/TPL/index5.php

Editor’s Preface: This article was written in March 2003 as a response to the U.S. invasion of Iraq. David Gross went on to become a leading figure in the tax resistance movement. Please see his compilation of John Woolman’s writings, previously posted here, and see also the note at the end for further information, acknowledgments, and links. JG

When the war in Iraq started, [March 20, 2003] and especially when it escalated into a full-blown invasion, I gave notice at work. My intention was to reduce my income below the threshold of taxation so as to stop paying income tax to the U.S. government. I’m writing this to explain myself to my friends, who will notice a bit of a change of lifestyle in me in the coming months. Also, I write because writing calms my nerves, and I’m a bit nervous about this. I’m starting on an experiment, and I’m not sure where it will take me.

I take on faith the philosophical speculation that each of us has free will. It does seem that a lot of the evidence lately has been going in the other direction, but that doesn’t stop me. If I’m right, I have the opportunity to try my hand at the controls. If I’m wrong, I couldn’t change my mind if I wanted to, no?

Read the rest of this article »

The Quaker John Woolman on War Tax Resistance

by David Gross

Dustwrapper art courtesy David Gross; sniggle.net/TPL/index5.php

Editor’s Preface: Tax resistance is one of the oldest nonviolent tactics, some citing a Jewish Zealot Revolt of c. 60-70 CE as the first. We are inaugurating our new series on the subject with this article about the 18th century Quaker, John Woolman. His call to conscience was one of the more influential texts on early American civil disobedience and resistance. If anything tax resistance is now not only more relevant, but more prevalent. We are posting two versions of John Woolman’s tax resistance writings; the first reproduces the original journal entries, and retains, therefore, Woolman’s spelling and grammar, with exceptions in square brackets. The second, Harvard Classics version, modernizes the language. JG

The American Quaker John Woolman (1720-1772) was a pioneer of conscientious tax resistance, and he has left a record of how he wrestled with his conscience over whether or not to pay taxes for the French and Indian War. (1) As he wrote,  “To refuse the active payment of a Tax which our Society generally paid, was exceedingly disagreeable; but to do a thing contrary to my Conscience appeared yet more dreadfull . . . I knew of none under the like difficulty, and in my distress I besought the Lord to enable me to give up all, that so I might follow him wheresoever he was pleased to lead me.” (2)

Read the rest of this article »

Nonviolent Tactics: How Anti-Vietnam War Activists Stopped Violent Protest from Hijacking Their Movement

by Robert Levering

Anti-Vietnam War rally at Washington Monument, Nov. 1969; courtesy npr.org

Only the Vietnam era protests match the size and breadth of the movement unleashed by the election of Donald Trump. One point of comparison: The massive march and rally against the Vietnam War in 1969 was the largest political demonstration in American history until the even more massive Women’s March on January 23. All around us we can see signs that the movement has only just begun. Consider, for instance, that a large percentage of those in the Women’s March engaged in their very first street protest. Or that thousands of protesters spontaneously flocked to airports to challenge the anti-Muslim ban. Or that hundreds of citizens have confronted their local congressional representatives at their offices and town hall meetings about the potential repeal of Obamacare and other Trump/Republican policies.

Read the rest of this article »

Looking Back on the Milwaukee 14: An Interview with Jim Forest

by Dyllan Taxman

A drawing of Jim Forest in prison made by his son Ben, age six at the time, for his Sunday School class.

Editor’s Preface: Dyllan Taxman, an 8th grade student in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, was doing a research project for his history class and decided to look into an act of civil disobedience that had taken place in his city in September 1968. As Jim Forest has written, “The Vietnam War was raging. A group of fourteen people broke into nine draft boards that had offices side by side in a Milwaukee office building, put the main files into burlap bags, then burned the papers with homemade napalm in a small park in front of the office building while reading aloud from the Gospel. We awaited arrest, were jailed for a month, freed on bail, then tried the following year, after which we went to prison for more than a year; for most of us it was 13 months.” The interview was conducted in February 2006. Please see the note at the end for further information. JG

Dyllan Taxman: What made you do this?

Jim Forest: I had been in the military myself so didn’t have to worry about the draft, but as a draft counselor (a big part of my work with the Catholic Peace Fellowship) I was painfully aware of how thousands of young people were being forced to do military service in an unjust war about which they knew little or nothing, or even opposed. Anyone who knew the conditions for a just war could see this war did not qualify.

Read the rest of this article »

Nonviolent Tactics: Some Reservations about Plowshares

by Jim Forest

Photograph of the Milwaukee 14 courtesy Jim Forest; details at the end of the article.

Editor’s Preface: Tactics define a protest, whether violent or nonviolent. They have been and are a matter of controversy and heated discussion within movements, as in the recent Occupy. Indeed, some would define nonviolence as a tactic, a definition not accepted by all. In the Catonsville Nine and the Milwaukee 14 protests the burning of draft files was seen by some as a justified means towards ending the Vietnam War, while others such as Dorothy Day and Thomas Merton saw it, at the very least, as a dangerous blurring of the line between violence and nonviolence. Jim Forest is here adding his word to this debate. We have also posted other articles concerning the definition of nonviolent tactics, especially Dorothy Day’s famous article, “Dan Berrigan in Rochester”, and the book review at this link of a recent history of the Catonsville Nine, which quotes Merton’s famous warning. JG

I was one of the Milwaukee 14, a group that burned draft records in 1968. This was the action that followed the Catonsville Nine. The discussion of Plowshares-style property damage and destruction in the November issue of The Catholic Agitator really got me thinking. One of the essential elements in property destruction actions is secrecy. If you tell them you’re coming, they won’t let you in. It’s that simple. The only way around it is to take pains not to be expected. You are obliged to be secretive. There are events in life where secrecy is necessary, even contexts in which life-saving actions are difficult or even impossible unless there is secrecy. For example here in Holland, my home since 1977, you had to be highly secretive about the people you were hiding during the period of German occupation.

Read the rest of this article »

Glenn Smiley: Nonviolent Role Model

by Ken Butigan

Ralph Abernathy, Martin Luther King, Smiley and unidentified woman, 1956 Bus Boycott; courtesy wagingnonviolence.org

During a visit years ago to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio, I spent a lot of time at an exhibit where you could track the heredity of rock bands. Monitors displayed a family tree detailing what groups had influenced which bands. You could trace how particular acts had inherited, adapted or transformed genres, styles and musical innovations. For example, the Rolling Stones, to the best of my foggy recollection, were influenced by Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson, and Buddy Holly, as well as by Roy Orbison and the Kingston Trio. If even one of those ancestors was out of the mix, the Stones might have sounded very different — or maybe wouldn’t have formed in the first place.

Read the rest of this article »

A Discipline for Non-violence

by Richard B. Gregg

The Wheel of Integral Non-violence is courtesy of chico-peace.org

Editor’s Preface: This 1941 article, with its Foreword by Gandhi, continues our series of important historical documents on the theory and history of Gandhian nonviolence. Gregg here argues for the value of manual labor, as advocated by John Ruskin, and as practiced by Gandhi in his ashrams, where Gregg had lived. Gandhi considered spinning and weaving essential to the routine of a nonviolent community, yet this article is one of the very few to try to explicate this. Please also see the Editor’s Note at the end for more information about Gregg, and please also consult his other article, which we have posted here. JG

Foreword (by M. K. Gandhi): ‘A Discipline for Non-violence’ is a pamphlet written by Mr. Richard B. Gregg for the guidance of those Westerners who endeavour to follow the law of Satyagraha. I use the word advisedly instead of ‘pacifism’. For what passes under the name of pacifism is not the same as Satyagraha. Mr. Gregg is a most diligent and methodical worker. He had first-hand knowledge of Satyagraha, having lived in India and then too for nearly a year in the Sabarmati Ashram. His pamphlet is seasonable and cannot fail to help the Satyagrahis of India. For though the pamphlet is written in a manner attractive for the West, the substance is the same for both the Western and the Eastern Satyagrahi. A cheap edition of the pamphlet is therefore being printed locally for the benefit of Indian readers in the hope that many will make use of it and profit by it. A special responsibility rests upon the shoulders of Indian Satyagrahis, for Mr Gregg has based the pamphlet on his observation of the working of Satyagraha in India. However admirable this guide of Mr. Gregg’s may appear as a well-arranged code, it must fail in its purpose if the Indian experiment fails. (Sevagram, 24-8-1941)

A Discipline for Non-violence

For ages military discipline has won and held men’s faith. However crude, indiscriminate, and brief may be the results of organized violence, the world still has immense respect for its show of firmness and order. Much as we dislike war, when we begin to ask how we can attain justice and peace, we come face to face with this power of the military method. What is the secret of this power? Does it lie merely in men’s fear of violence?

Read the rest of this article »

Making Our Country a Better Country: The Fellowship of Reconciliation Interview with James Lawson

by Diane Lefer

Poster art courtesy fabiusmaximus.com

Editor’s Preface: Martin Luther King, Jr. called James Lawson “the world’s leading theorist and strategist of nonviolence.”  To Congressman John Lewis, he is “the architect of the nonviolence movement.” Jesse Jackson calls him simply “the Teacher.”  According to author David Halberstam, in his study of the Civil Rights Movement, The Children he was as responsible for sowing the seeds of change in the South as any single person, except perhaps Martin Luther King. This is the third in our series of interviews with Rev. Lawson. Please see the note at the end for further information, and acknowledgments. JG

Diane Lefer: You’ve said we have sufficient activism in this country to have a better country than we have. What are we getting wrong?

James Lawson: Activism has not been appropriating and practicing enough the Gandhian science of social change. What Gandhi called nonviolence or satyagraha – soul force – is both a way of life and a scientific, methodological approach to human disorder. It is as old as the human race and can be found in the oral and written history of the human family from way back. Then Gandhi began to put together the steps you need to take to create change. He is the father of nonviolent social change in the same way that Albert Einstein is the father of 20th-century physics – not the inventor, but the person who pulled it together.

Read the rest of this article »

Sending a Mighty Message: The Waging Nonviolence Interview with James Lawson

by Nathan Schneider

Portrait of James Lawson courtesy Vanderbilt University, vanderbilt.edu

Editor’s Preface: James Lawson was one of the chief organizers of the Civil Rights Movement, especially of the Nashville lunch-counter sit-ins. Throughout his long career he has steadfastly emphasized the need to develop long-range nonviolent strategies, not just short-term tactics. Please see the note at the end for further information about Lawson, Nathan Schneider, links, and acknowledgments. JG

Nathan Schneider: For activists trying to reclaim people’s power among all the powerful corporations at work today, what do you think can be learned from the civil-rights movement? What are the lessons from your experience?

James Lawson: Well, I think that the main thing that activists must learn is nonviolent philosophy, methodology, techniques, and strategy. They need to work from an investigation and assessment of their local base, determining thereby the skills and techniques that will organize and mobilize people in that local scene. No social movement is going to take place if it doesn’t have roots in what’s going on in Cleveland, Ohio, or Washington, DC, or right across Georgia. That’s how movements take place, and that’s how movements have taken place in the United States—not by national policy, but by local groups assessing their own scene and trying to be real about how to start working.

At the local level, people need to get some processes going that will cut down the sales of certain companies and corporations and begin to send a mighty message. It may not be possible to do that in the first year, but I’d be willing to wager that steady organizing around something specific would begin to have an impact. That’s the first task.

Read the rest of this article »


hrule
“When planted in the garden, the mustard seed, smallest of all the seeds, became a large tree, and birds came and made their home there.” Luke 13:19

“For me whatever is in the atoms and molecules is in the universe. I believe in the saying that what is in the microcosm of one’s self is reflected in the macrocosm.” M. Gandhi