A Call for Tax Resistance

by David Hartsough, Kit Miller, Michael Nagler, Miki Kashtan, Ruth Benn

Poster art courtesy National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee; nwtrcc.org

Editor’s Preface: The letter reproduced below is a joint appeal from leading nonviolent activists and organizations, urging US taxpayers to nonviolently express their opposition to the policies of the Trump administration by refusing to pay a symbolic amount of their US federal income tax, and instead donate that amount to a deserving charity or institution. This method of nonviolent civil resistance has many historical precedents in the U.S., most notably the Quaker John Woolman’s 18th century statements, which we previously posted. JG

Dear Friends,

We are writing to ask you to do something that you probably have never done in your life. This is a historical moment you can be an active part of shaping.

We all know the stories of people who committed atrocities and said, in their defense, that they were following orders.

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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)

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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.

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Nonviolence Work in Education: The Center for Nonviolence & Peace Studies Interview with Kay Bueno de Mesquita

by Paul J. Plumitallo

Dust wrapper art courtesy amazon.com

Paul J. Plumitallo: I was wondering what violence means to you? Can violence be more than physical? Is language ever violent? There have been some disagreements about what violence actually means in my class.

Kay Bueno de Mesquita: I believe that violence is more than physical. It can be internal as well as external: violence of the spirit, a range from psychological to emotional from mild to severe. The damaging words that someone can say can have a longer lasting harmful effect than physical violence.

Plumitallo: Do you consider yourself to be nonviolent? How does one apply nonviolent principles to their daily life? We often discuss how difficult nonviolence is in our society because we are so exposed to violence.

Bueno de Mesquita: It’s true that being nonviolent in all aspects of life can be difficult. In his first principle of nonviolence Martin Luther King Jr. states that,  “Nonviolence is a way of life for courageous people.” [Please see the text of all Six Principles at the end of the interview.] Dr. King also said, “I’m not nonviolent some of the time, I’m nonviolent all of the time.” I strive to be nonviolent in every aspect of my life including thinking kind thoughts about myself, and others; being compassionate and empathetic to all people. I’m not always successful. But I try. I try to be mindful each day and “wake up each morning with a prayer and a smile.”

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Guest Editorial: Truth And Nonviolence

by Arvind Sharma

Gandhi poster courtesy rishikajain.com

Truth and nonviolence are generally considered to be the two key ingredients of Gandhian thought. It is possible to pursue one without the other, possible, for example, to pursue truth without being nonviolent. Nations go to war believing truth is on their side, or that they are on the side of truth. The more sensitive among those who believe truth is on their side insist not that there should be no war but that it should be a just war. The most sensitive, however, and pacifists are among these, avoid violence altogether. But it could be argued that in doing so they have gone too far and have abandoned truth, and even justice. Although he was opposed to war, Gandhi argued that the two parties engaging in it may not stand on the same plane: the cause of one side could be more just than the other, so that even a nonviolent person might wish to extend his or her moral support to one side rather than to the other.

Just as it is possible to pursue truth without being nonviolent, it is also possible to pursue nonviolence without pursuing truth. In fact, it could be proposed that a disjunction between the two runs the risk of cowardice being mistaken for, or masquerading as, nonviolence. The point becomes clear if we take the world “truth” to denote the “right” thing to do in a morally charged situation. Gandhi was fond of quoting the following statement from Confucius: “To know what is right and not to do it is cowardice.”

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The Meaning of Truth

by Mohandas K. Gandhi

School of Andries Cornelis Lens, “Truth Protecting Us with Her Shield”, c. 1750; courtesy wikigallery.org

Editor’s Preface: “Truth”, “lies”, “alternate facts”, “post-truth politics”, etc., are terms very much in the air these days. Gandhi had much to say about Truth; the selection below is only a small sample focused on the root concepts behind his use of the term, and by application the root of his theory of nonviolence. This is the first of a series of articles we will be posting over the next few months on truth and truth in politics. Other statements on Satyagraha and Truth can be found on our Quotes and Sources page, via the link at the top of the page. JG

(I) The word Satya (Truth) is derived from Sat, which means ‘being’. Nothing is or exists in reality except Truth. That is why Sat or Truth is perhaps the most important name of God. In fact it is more correct to say that Truth is God, than to say that God is Truth. But as we cannot do without a ruler or a general, such names of God as ‘King of Kings’ or ‘The Almighty’ are and will remain generally current. On deeper thinking, however, it will be realised, that Truth (Sat or Satya) is the only correct and fully significant name for God.

And where there is Truth, there also is true knowledge. Where there is no Truth, there can be no true knowledge. That is why the word Chit or knowledge is associated with the name of God. And where there is true knowledge, there is always bliss (Ananda). There sorrow has no place. And even as Truth is eternal, so is the bliss derived from it. Hence we know God as Sat-Chit-Ananda, one who combines in Himself Truth, knowledge and bliss. (1)

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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.

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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.

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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.

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How Nonviolence Works

by Glenn Smiley

Glenn Smiley riding on a bus with Martin Luther King, Jr., 1956; courtesy wagingnonviolence.org

Editor’s Preface: Rev. Glenn E. Smiley (1910-1993) had made a thorough study of Gandhian nonviolence (satyagraha) while serving as a Methodist minister in Los Angeles. He later worked for the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) and was national field secretary for the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR). During World War II he went to prison for conscientious objection, but he is best remembered for his work with Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Please also see the note at the end for further information, acknowledgments, and links. JG

From the beginning of humankind’s time on the earth, for about 250,000 years, conflicts between individuals and groups have been settled on the basis of force, domination, or submission. In time, the use of force became more or less institutionalized, and continues to this day in many places.

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“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