ONLINE Edition of the Summer 1996 Newsletter
Campaign Mobilizes for Senate Hearing
Grassroots Plays Key Role
It's a Belief, Not an Opinion
Setting the Military Budget Time Bomb
On the Trail
What Is a Person of Conscience?
Past Newsletters:Summer 1995, Fall 1995, Spring 1996
Our lobbying work in Congress will have the most impact if it coincides with letters from constituents. We need a wave of letters between now and the close of the 104th Congress in October if we are to get a Senate Finance Committee hearing.
You can help by joining us in asking Congress for a hearing on the Peace Tax Fund Bill (S. 1663). Send a letter to your Senators and ask them to ask Sen. Roth and Sen. Hatch to hold a hearing. Also, write directly to Sen. Roth and Sen. Hatch and ask them to schedule a hearing.
Your letter might talk about the importance of this issue to you, about why the Bill deserves a hearing, or how the conscience is moved by the victims of war. If you are not satisfied with the answer you receive, write back. We are interested in receiving copies of your letters and the replies they receive.
The Senate version of the Peace Tax Fund Bill (S. 1663) was introduced on March 29 by Sen. Mark Hatfield (R-Oregon). It will be the last time the retiring Hatfield will introduce the Bill. In his introductory speech, he made it clear what his wish was: "In the 20-plus years that this issue has been debated, only two hearings have been held. The last hearing was held by the House Ways and Means Committee in 1992. The Senate has never held hearings on the Peace Tax Fund. It is my hope that before I leave the Senate the Finance Committee will hold a hearing on this issue."
With the reintroduction of the Peace Tax Fund Bill, a wholehearted effort began on the Campaign's top priority for 1996: a hearing in the Senate. The strategy in Congress was to take incremental steps, with each step building on the previous one. Hatfield sent a "Dear Colleague" letter to Senators asking for additional cosponsors. Campaign lobbyists visited aides of all the Senators on the Finance Committee to explain the Bill to them and to learn their position. As a result of this, a group of seven Senators agreed to send a letter to the chair of the Finance Committee [Sen. William Roth (R-Del.)] and to the chair of the Subcommittee on Taxation [Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)] urging a hearing. This letter was signed by Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.Dak.), Sen. Nancy Kassebaum (R- Kansas), Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Sen. Claiborne Pell (D-RI), and Sen. Paul Wellstone (D-Minn.) as well as Harkin and Hatfield. Sen. Jim Jeffords (R-Vt.) also sent a letter to Hatch and Roth asking for a hearing.
Next, members of the Coalition for the Free Exercise of Religion sent letters to members of the Senate and to Hatch and Roth urging them to hold a hearing on the Peace Tax Fund Bill. Some of the organizations that signed these letters were Americans for Religious Liberty, Baptist Joint Committee on Public Affairs, Church of Scientology, the National Association of Evangelicals, the Social Action Committee of Reformed Judaism, and the United Church of Christ.
All of this was done in concert with efforts to generate letters by Campaign members in targeted states.
WHY A HEARING IS IMPORTANT
A hearing is important to the Campaign. It will lend legitimacy to the Peace Tax Fund Bill and attract more serious attention from other members of Congress. A hearing provides a permanent public record, a demonstrable record of Congressional scrutiny. Some members of the Senate will consider supporting the Peace Tax Fund Bill only after it has had a public airing. A hearing would give us the opportunity to connect the Peace Tax Fund struggle with the bipartisan support of religious freedom. It is the religious liberty issue which is currently our strongest argument. A hearing would give us a unique opportunity to make our case to the public and to other organizations and enlist their support. A hearing would be another step forward.
PROBLEMS AND CHALLENGES
This is a short, strange legislative year. Because of political conventions, Congress will be on recess all but 2 days of August. The targeted adjournment date for the year is October 4. Unless things change, this year has only 80 legislative days; only 30 remained at the end of May.
Having enough time is very important to the success of our work. By Washington standards, the Peace Tax Fund Bill is a complex issue. It takes time for our perspective to get through. As one Congressional aide rightly pointed out, people understand the religious freedom issue involved only to the extent that they have time to have the it explained carefully.
Senator Hatfield is in a difficult position. The Republicans are unhappy with him for failing to support some of their budget initiatives. The press of Hatfield's agenda during this last year is intense. In addition, he has had to give nearly half a year, as chair of the Appropriations Committee, to work on last year's (fiscal 1996) budget and only now is beginning to focus on the fiscal 1997 budget. Many persons are making demands on him, hoping for his support during the waning months of his last year in office.
Even though there are barriers to overcome, the Campaign remains committed to getting a hearing in the Senate this year. During the next few weeks, lobbyists will assemble a large and high-profile delegation of religious leaders to visit Sen. Hatch and to personally ask him to hold a hearing. The Campaign will also seek more letters from members of the Senate to Hatch and Roth.
With very little time left, we should know soon if this effort is enough.
The Honorable ____________
Washington, DC 20510
Senate/House Switchboard: (202) 224-3121
Senate Finance Committee
William Roth (DE), Chmn.*
Orrin Hatch (UT)*
Charles Grassley (IA)*
John Chafee (RI)
Alan Simpson (WY)
Larry Pressler (SD)*
Alfonse D'Amato (NY)*
Frank Murkowski (AK)*
Don Nickles (OK)*
Robert Graham (FL)
Phil Gramm (TX)*
Trent Lott (MS)
Daniel Moynihan (NY)*
Max Baucus (MT)
Bill Bradley (NJ)*
David Pryor (AR)*
John Rockefeller (WV)
John Breaux (LA)*
Kent Conrad (ND)*
Carol Moseley-Braun (IL)
*Member of Subcommittee on Taxation
John Chafee (RI)
Charles Grassley (IA)
Jim Jeffords (VT)
Max Baucus (MT)
Carl Levin (MI)
Russ Feingold (WI)
Byron Dorgan (ND)
Patty Murray (WA)
Paul Simon (IL)
Patrick Leahy (VT)
The Campaign's strategy to gain a Senate hearing on the Peace Tax Fund Bill relies heavily on participation by the membership. Even if you have written your Senator about the Bill recently, now is the time to write again.
Request your Senator write to Sen. Roth and Sen. Hatch asking for a hearing on the Peace Tax Fund Bill. Once you have done so, write directly to Roth and Hatch with the same request.
Your message is simple: point out why the Peace Tax Fund Bill deserves a hearing. This is an issue that will not go away. People with deeply held beliefs about not participating in war are suffering by losing property and income to IRS seizures. This runs counter to our nation's stated respect for religious freedom.
Our goal is to synchronize the timing and message of letter-writing campaigns with lobby visits. This one-two approach increases our impact by delivering a message which by Washington standards is complex, with a show of support from constituents.
The first wave of strategy was directed at members of the Senate Finance Committee. The second wave was directed at senators who are sympathetic to the Peace Tax Fund Bill or who have said they would support holding a hearing.
The third wave is the most important. It is directed toward all Campaign members. The message is to contact Sen. Roth and Sen. Hatch directly. Tell them about the importance of this issue and ask them to hold a hearing on the Bill.
Timing is important. Congress will recess during August and is slated to finish on October 4. The earlier Campaign members write, the more impact they will have.
Two persons, gazing in awe at the great cathedral of Riems, France, struggled to express their wonderment. "Why don't they pile rocks together like this the way they used to?" asked one. "Mon Cheri," came the reply, "in those days people had convictions, not surmises."
"It is the policy of Congress," says the Peace Tax Fund Bill, "... to allow conscientious objectors to pay their full tax liability without violating their moral, ethical, or religious beliefs."
The words indicate an understanding of the nature of belief. Yet, we are impeded in our attempt to be heard because of what most members of Congress and their aides still do not understand.
* They do not know the history of conscientious objection in the US. They do not know that during World War I hundreds of conscientious objectors were sent to prison for their beliefs.
During World War I, conscientious objectors received 345 jail sentences with an average term of sixteen and one half years. In addition, 142 were sentenced to life terms. One third of those sentences were eventually reduced, but it was not until 1933 that President Roosevelt issued a full pardon and the last conscientious objector of World War I was released from prison.
There were also seventeen death sentences. None of these was carried out, but sixteen conscientious objectors died in prison as a result of mistreatment. Next to its traitors, America meted out its most stringent punishment to its "uncooperative" pacifists. If they removed the army uniform which was required prison wear for CO's, they were sent to "the hole," each one in a dark cell, restricted for weeks to bread and water, manacled standing to the bars of their cells for nine hours every day. They had to stand on tip-toe to keep their shackled wrists from carrying the weight of their bodies. When they could no longer sustain that pose, their hands, which carried the weight, swelled and broke open. Some contracted pneumonia. With a diet of only bread and water and no medication, they died. Their bodies were sent home for burial in uniform. One who died of pneumonia was my mother's cousin. I remember well her grief in relating how that family opened the coffin and recoiled. "What have they done to you? ... If you would not wear this uniform in life, you shall not wear it in death!" they declared. They buried their son in his own clothes, then moved to Canada. Their son's convictions, after all, were not founded on opinion. Religious freedom in this country, which they had sacrificed so much to attain, had turned out to be an illusion. It remains incomplete.
* Members of Congress and their aides do not know that it was not until 1946 that conscientious objectors immigrating to this country could become naturalized citizens. In that 1946 decision, the Supreme Court said, "In the realm of the conscience, there is a higher moral power than the state." The Court seemed, at least temporarily, to understand the difference between belief and opinion.
* Some members of Congress are amazed when they learn the IRS is seizing people's bank accounts. Conscientious objectors lose a child's college education, automobiles, and even houses because they cannot in conscience pay to kill. Legislators see that willingness to risk such penalties is based on more than opinion.
* Members of Congress are also surprised when they hear of people living below taxable level, impoverishing themselves and their families, in order not to offend conscience. Some consider that a mark of sincerity.
* Unless they are helped to do so, members of Congress and their aides do not take time to consider that citizens could and do provide other services. Mennonites are a small denomination, yet they keep between 900 and 1000 persons working in Third World villages around the world. These workers do not wait to be drafted. They volunteer three to five years of their lives for demanding work at subsistence wages, often in situations of great danger. They have training to improve village life in the areas of health, education and agriculture. Members of Congress and their aides do not consider this: There is more than one way to defend one's country. Without compelling persuasion, some on Capitol Hill consider something a religious freedom only if they happen to agree with you. Yet the whole point of moral, ethical, and religious freedom is to protect beliefs with which the majority does not agree.
The above stories, and examples of your own, will help Congress to understand the difference between a belief and an opinion. Building cathedrals is slow, patient work. We carefully lay each stone, one at a time.
As predicted, the Republican-controlled Congress is moving down the track to add billions to the Pentagon's already huge request for money for fiscal year 1997. The House National Security Committee has approved by a vote of 49-2 $267.3 billion in budget authority for national defense. This is an increase of $12.9 billion over the Administration's request of $254.4 billion. The Senate Armed Services Committee is reported to be taking similar action. Much of the extra money will go to buy more weapons. Accordingto informed sources, there will be little debate in the House over this extravagant largess for the military. Nobody wants to rock the boat in an election year when posturing as "tough" on defense continues to attract. In the Senate, however, there may be more debate over giving the Pentagon more money than was requested. Some fiscal conservatives such as Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Senator John McCain (R-Ariz.) may try to resist throwing more money at Cold War weapons.
What will President Clinton do? Last year, after the Congress added $7 billion to the Administration's request, the President threatened to veto the legislation. He backed off after controversy arose over sending U.S. troops to Bosnia. This year he will have even more grounds for resisting excessive military spending. However, there are reports that President Clinton will go along with increases on the order of last year's $7 billion add-on. Presidential election politics makes it hard to be tough on wasteful military spending.
There's not a whole lot of difference between Republicans and Democrats on the military budget. Over the next 6 years they both plan to spend about $1.6 trillion. The Republicans, however, are trying to get big increases as soon as possible in order to get new weapons programs locked in. This creates an ever expanding "bow wave" of costs that no one knows how the country will pay for in the future. Total acquisition costs for new aircraft and ballistic missiles defenses alone could exceed $500 billion. Some politicians, apparently, are gambling that military spending will be raised even more in future years. They count on the military pork barrel to exercise its enormous attraction once the contracts are let and the payrolls have to be met.
It is hypocritical to pretend to cut federal spending and balance the budget while throwing more money at the military than the military actually requests! There is no good reason to keep US military spending at 90 percent of average Cold War levels. Savings of $50 billion or more every year could go far toward helping the country address domestic needs and meet fiscal responsibilities.
What can be done? This election year it will be the rare politician who will be willing to take on military waste. The burden will be on informed citizens to try to get this issue on the national agenda. Perhaps after November some in Washington will be willing to set politics aside and get on with a serious engagement with crafting a valid post-Cold War military policy.
The power of a story Nothing conveys a message quite like a story. In Congress and across the country, we are finding that stories about war tax resisters are effectively conveying some of the key issues around the questions of conscience and war. We would like to enhance our collection of war tax resistance stories by adding your story. Contact the national office for a worksheet that gives us the what, when, how and why of your war tax resistance.
New Senate Cosponsor
Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon.) has become the third Senate cosponsor of the Peace Tax Fund Bill. Wyden, recently elected to fill the vacancy from Sen. Bob Packwood's resignation, had served in the House of Representatives since 1980. During his tenure there, he was heavily lobbied by Peace Tax Fund supporters yet did not cosponsor. In the words of one Oregon activist, "After all this good field work, we finally did get Wyden."
Campaign members who volunteer time and energy form the backbone of our grassroots effort to establish a Peace Tax Fund. The national office is looking for volunteers to participate in the following important programs.
The Congressional District Contact (CDC) program is a network of grassroots activists who organize on behalf of the Campaign. Basic tasks for CDCs include maintaining a dialogue with members of Congress, educating the public about conscience, and doing outreach to local groups. The CDC program was recently reorganized and now has 25 participants. Our goal is to have 75 CDCs by the end of the year.
Volunteers are also needed to make phone calls to Campaign members. These calls follow the action alerts mailed by the national office to Campaign members in particular states or congressional districts. One time or long- term volunteers who are willing to make calls locally or nationally are needed. All phone expenses will be paid by the Campaign.
For those who prefer to organize in cyberspace, the Campaign also seek volunteers for its rapid response e-mail list. Participants receive information alerts, calls for responses to media articles, as well as legislative action alerts. Anyone with an e-mail address is welcome.
Nominations are now being sought for board members for the Campaign. The board serves as the policy-setting and oversight body. Responsibilities include attending meetings twice a year and participating in the work of board committees. Board members would begin a two-year term at the spring 1997 meeting. For more information or to sign up, contact the national office.
IRS Seizes House
On April 4, IRS agents presented Elizabeth Gravalos and Arthur Harvey of Auburn, ME with a notice of seizure of their home and three parcels of land. An auction has been scheduled for June 19. Elizabeth Gravalos is a Catholic and has been a war tax resister since 1967. Arthur Harvey began his war tax resistance in the late 1950s. They are blueberry farmers. They have two children, Emily (19) and Max (16). Responding to the seizure, Gravalos said, "It's wrong to confiscate people's homes in order to get them to pay for war."
Tax Day Actions
Conscientious objectors to paying for war organized actions in over 50 cities and towns on April 15 this year, according the National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee (NWTRCC). Actions included grants of redirected tax money, leafleting at post offices and federal buildings, and street theater. The movement received national media attention as well with an interview on Pacifica Radio's "Democracy Now" and an article by Washington Post columnist Colman McCarthy. On the local level, Campaign members published letters to the editor in local newspapers or were interviewed on local radio. There are, according to NWTRCC estimates between 10,000 and 20,000 taxpayers each year who do not comply with tax law or live below the taxable level on the basis of conscientious objection to financial participation in the military.
Reflection on this question brings a deep welling up of gratitude for the lives of so many whose personal witness in this most violent century gives burning hope to me and countless others.
What would the question be but a mockery, a taunt like Pilate's "What is truth?" if we did not have close to our hearts and souls Ita Ford and Oscar Romero, Mordechai Vanunu and Rigoberta Menchu, Liz McAlister, Phil and Dan Berrigan, Leonard Peltier, and so many others who have given so much for peace?
Persons of conscience, paying the costly price of sacrifice, are all that keep us sane and give us hope in a permanent war economy and national security plutocracy. As Thomas Merton observed, moral truth is "not a sentimental luxury... but as much a necessity as air, water, fire, food, and shelter."
But what is conscience? Does it rest in the intelligence, the heart, the spirit? Is it the divine seed planted in every human being? Strangely, it seems to me now, I was never engaged in serious reflection on these questions while growing up, or in a Quaker college, or in law school. I had no definition of good or evil except the self-interest of maximizing personal success and avoiding sickness and ruin.
Then, in the midst of outward success as a Marine Corps officer, I began to be somehow torn apart, inside somewhere. Learning to use a bayonet and mines by day and cradling my first-born child by night, I felt an incoherent
anguish that eventually became total in mind, emotions, dreams, and finally body when I entered six years of pain and physical symptoms. Conscience came to have reality for me as life brought more and more inner turmoil in my identity, my ambitions, my marriage and family, my work-truly a life and death struggle for sanity and meaning. I found myself driven, in a powerful inner way, into the wilderness alone, the mountains of Vermont in winter, gripped by a voice that kept saying, "To find yourself, you must lose your self." And there I first began to find answers to the paralysis of complicity in the midst of war and deception, assassinations and cover-ups, ghettos and economic violence. I began to experience physical and spiritual healing of the wounds caused by living as a success in a society organized by a prevailing ethic of power, greed, and violence.
I had never been interested in the peace movement, but because of the interior struggle that gripped me, I slowly began to realize that the person responsible for global evils was myself. I had eagerly volunteered for the military, supported my children with G.E. stockholdings, conscientiously paid taxes for the destruction of Indochina, and all along believed I was engaged in a good and moral life.
I dimly knew that the government was prepared under certain circumstances to carry out nuclear mass extermination in my name, yet I slept well, had a good appetite, felt no guilt. I realized that my conscience was exactly the same as Adolf Eichmann's, who said at his trial, "It is not my responsibility."
I began to recognize what Dostoevsky said, that "The world in its deepest evil is in fact me. I am to blame for everyone and for all things." And in this inner illumination of reality came not a guilt neurosis but the opening of the door to freedom, the freedom to begin accepting personal responsibility for my own sins and for the institutionalized evil I had been so closely associated with: war, prisons, exploitation of people and land.
As a society we seem tragically unwilling to acknowledge guilt and thus become helplessly vulnerable to the manipulation of our own inner incoherence. Through the unconscious repression or denial of guilt we become victim to the murderous delusion that we and our nation are good and right. The superego asserts itself as a rigid and judgmental conscience. Refusing to acknowledge and make restitution for the privileges and profits and pleasures that have come to us through genocide of American Indians, slavery of black Africans, and war and nuclear blackmail, we become a self-righteous threat to all life.
It would be so healing if we could return to the use of sacrificial goats on which to place our guilt instead of human beings. Guilt denied is the voice of vengeful condemnation of others; guilt confessed is the voice of one's conscience.
A disordered conscience creates victims; a healthy conscience knows its own guilt and own burden of responsibility and says, "Let whomever is without guilt cast the first stone." A healthy conscience knows experientially the presence of divine love and knows that there is only one force more powerful than evil-the power of mercy, the balm of forgiveness.
A healthy conscience does not strive to approximate divine judgment but to represent mature human choice. Father Daniel Berrigan was once asked about the Ploughshares Eight witness, "Weren't you trying to play God?" "No," he replied, "I was trying to play human."
How can one live a life of human conscience in America today? It is a costly question.
Franz Jagerstaetter had to choose between wife and children and his conscience. Randy Kehler and Betsy Corner had to choose between their family home and their obligation to America's victims. Brian Willson gave his legs. Gregory Levy went to the town commons, the seed bed of democracy, on Presidents' Day in 1991, and planted there his life, offered in fiery petition and lamentation.
How paradoxical it is that these and so many other loving people of conscience have had to choose not between good and evil but between two goods. The cost of holding on to job or home or security, or even life, was moral compromise, a conflicted, divided way of being. They preferred to be whole and to live as free persons alive to the inner voice of conscience.