Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Retired Methodist missionary versus the IRS

I received an e-mail today from Sojourners today. April 15 is approaching, and I still have not pay my taxes. Believe or not, I was thinking along the line of Ruth Clark, not paying taxes as a way of protest. I don't mind paying taxes if it is to help people better their lives, but if it is used to fuel this war, I have no desire to fuel this war. Bush may want the war, but if the money doesn't come in, what then? If the people in the military just say no, and they don't want no part in this insane war, what then? Here is a story of a lady who choose not to pay tax as a way of protest. Unfortunately, the IRS went after her.

A retired Methodist missionary versus the IRS. by Clare Hanrahan. SojoMail 4-12-2006

To help finance a future George W. Bush has painted as permanently at war, the IRS has raided Ruth Clark's bank accounts, taking all her money. Every month, the IRS has continued to seize 15% of Clark's Social Security income, leaving this retired Methodist missionary without adequate means to meet her living expenses."I intentionally live on the edge of poverty to avoid paying for the war machine," Clark said. "Would it be right for me to murder? Would it be OK for me to make children orphans? Do you think it would be OK for me to support a war where children are maimed, where they lose their arms, their legs, their eyes? How can I pay for that?"Clark is a familiar presence to many as she makes her way throughout downtown Asheville, North Carolina. She walks almost everywhere, usually pulling behind a small, wheeled cart decorated with bumper stickers decrying injustice and war. Many Fridays she stands at Vance Monument with the Women in Black in a public expression of grief for the violence of all wars, foreign and domestic.Budget experts from Harvard and Columbia University calculate that the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq is likely to cost U.S. taxpayers - the willing and the coerced - "a minimum of nearly one trillion dollars, and potentially over $2 trillion." But the IRS seems bent on harassing the poor to collect these funds while U.S.Fortune 500 companies enjoy unprecedented tax breaks.In a Jan. 14 article in the Daily Camera of Boulder, Colorado, Molly Ivins reports "Hundreds of thousands of poor Americans have had their tax refunds frozen and their returns labeled fraudulent." Households making an average income of $13,000 are treated this way, Ivins wrote, while "mind-boggling sums in taxes are being evaded by those at the other end of the income scale."Meanwhile, Clark, whose Christian values led her to become a conscientious objector to war, has her bank account raided. "I am diametrically opposed to using any of my money to kill people. It feels bad to have them take my money," Clark said."When our government taxes me making the rich richer and the poor poorer, it's not the way the government should be run. I can't claim ignorance. I know that the monies that are being charged to my name are making Halliburton richer." According to the 2004 report, "Corporate Income Taxes in the Bush Years," published by researchers from Citizens for Tax Justice and the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, "In 2003 alone, 46 Fortune 500 companies paid zero or less in federal income taxes. These 46 companies...told their shareholders they earned U.S. pretax profits in 2003 of $42.6 billion, yet they received tax rebates totaling $5.4 billion. Almost as many companies, 42, paid no tax in 2002, reporting $43.5 billion in pretax profits, yet receiving $4.9 billion in tax rebates."The report states, "Loopholes and other tax subsidies cut taxes for the 275 [Fortune 500] companies by $43.4 billion in 2001, $60.8 billion in 2002 and $71.0 billion in 2003, for a total of $175.2 billion in tax breaks over the three years."Clark lives in a small apartment at the Brooks-Howell Home in Asheville, a community of retired Methodist deaconesses and missionaries who share a comfortable, though not luxurious, home after a lifetime of service. Despite her age, which she wouldn't disclose, there is little that is retiring about Clark, and there isn't much that frightens her. This peace-loving woman has crossed paths and shared the picket lines with several notable practitioners of nonviolent action, including Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers union, and Brazilian educator Paulo Freire."Meeting Paulo Freire was a highlight experience," Clark said. "I remember thinking, 'I wonder if this is the way the disciples felt when they stood waiting to talk with Jesus?' He was just so accepting and supporting. He helped people to recognize that they could become history makers, not merely someone that history happens to."During the Vietnam war, Clark worked as a missionary in a shanty town on the Rio Negro River in Argentina, the largest in Latin America. "I knew, and they knew, that the North American heel was on their throat."Listening to Clark as she talks about some of her experiences living and working among marginalized people, one can understand her determination not to contribute her money to finance more suffering and bloodshed."During the years that I earned more money than I needed, I found out that I could put up to $2,000 a year into an IRA to reduce my taxable income," Clark said. "I kept on amassing a bankroll because if I spent any of the money I would have to pay income tax, and that would violate my conscience."But Clark had seen enough poverty in her days to not rest easy with her own growing nest egg while others lacked the basics of life. "Now the balance of the money is used for immediate loans to Third World women's groups," Clark said.
"I was raised in poverty and I know pretty well the poverty picture," Clark said. "It's a demeaning kind of thing. But when people who haven't money enough to provide for themselves and their own family are then able to move into a position of helping others, it's really a powerful thing that happens to you. You move beyond being a victim.... For me to be able to give to Third World women, who with very small loans are able to turn their life around, to be able to make baked goods and sell them, to put a roof on their house, to buy school books for their helps to feel that you can be a history maker."During her many years as a missionary and later as a volunteer on stipend with the United Farm Workers, Clark was not required to file a Federal Income Tax form. But in 2002, after cashing the IRA, she filed the required form - under protest. "I withheld 47% of the taxes the IRS determined I owed," Clark said. "This is the percentage of the federal budget that is used to finance wars." "The IRS came after me for the deferred taxes they said I owed them." Clark said. They "put a lien on my Credit Union account in California in 2004. They emptied it out." "I wrote and told them [the IRS] of my conscientious objection to war," Clark said, "but they came back again and took the money from my bank in Asheville. My checks started to bounce and the bank, Blue Ridge Savings, charged me for each one. My Social Security and my pension from the Mission Fund had been electronically deposited. So the IRS took it all. I don't think they are singling me out. There are a lot of people they are after in the same way they are after me."According the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee, an advocacy and support group for people conscientiously opposed to paying for war, "bank account seizures and salary levies are the most common way that the IRS uses to try to collect from people who refuse to pay for war."Clark no longer has enough to meet her monthly rent, which "went up to top dollar," she said. "Now, with all this trouble, I'm in arrears. I have my pension check going directly to the Brooks-Howell Home now to help pay my rent, but the IRS still deducts 15% of my Social Security check." But Clark is quick to add, "Compared to what that money from the U.S. is doing to other countries, my plight is not so difficult. The more I read, the more radical I become.""I've been in some pretty tight circumstances, places where I wasn't sure of my personal safety, but God has never left me. Despite my lack of wisdom or foolishness in ways I have tried to solve a particular problem, God has never left me.""It is time," Clark said, "for us to come clean with all the countries, to stop telling lies and to tell the truth. It is time to help people, to really help people." She said of her substantial contribution to peace and justice throughout her lifetime that she had tried to do all she could. "My finances were limited, and I have been trying to live on as little as possible. When I am aware of the ways people in the Third World have to sacrifice in order to get by, what I have to contend with is nothing.""My hope is not that people will make a contribution to the shortness of my cash, but that they will figure out a way that they also will stop paying for war, and that they will help somebody else to stop paying for war. Then we will multiply our strength, not just by the amount of money that we refuse to give [to the IRS], but in the numbers of us who will say, 'I will not pay for war.'"Clare Hanrahan is an Asheville author of Conscience & Consequence: A Prison Memoir, and a 25-year conscientious objector to paying for war. For more information about Hanrahan's work, see, and for more on war tax resistance contact the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee at or 1-800-269-7464.


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