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The People’s Life Fund Awards: A Night to Feel Good about Taxes

Gar Smith
Thursday April 22, 2010 - 10:01:00 PM

On Tax Day, April 15, the Northern California War Tax Resistance (NCWTR) and People’s Life Fund (PLF) handed out nearly $20,000 in grants to local nonprofit organizations. What made this especially newsworthy is that the prize money came from tax resisters who had chosen to give the taxes claimed by the US Treasury to the PLF instead. For pacifists, the PLF offers a way to “positively protest” one’s unwillingness to write checks to a government that currently spends 54 cents of every dollar on the Pentagon’s current costs and past debts. 

War tax resistance really took off during the Vietnam War. Today, there are more than 50 alternative funds established to repurpose money that would otherwise be in paid as tribute to the Pentagon’s lock on the Federal budget. Instead, a portion of this rechanneled wealth is given away to support positive, life-affirming purposes. “By creating alternative funds, we move a step beyond resistance,” the NCWTR explains. “We determine the priorities for the use of our tax dollars. And by this determination, we not only empower ourselves, but we also provide critical funds for human services that the government is not adequately supplying.” 

The People’s Life Fund was formed by Bay Area war resisters in 1971. Now, every April 15, the PLF makes grants to community organizations working for peace and justice. Grants are made to Northern California groups whose work falls within one of three priority areas. First: Provision of essential, day-to-day human services (food, health, child care, housing, etc.) combined with educational work aimed at changing the root causes of the problems. Second: Provision of essential human services without an explicit, conscious attempt to provide an analysis or eradicate the problem. Third: Education or action, in a spirit of non-violence, aimed at social, economic, or political change. People’s Life Fund grants are drawn from interest earned on a pool of income tax dollars that have been withheld by people who cannot, in good conscience, support the military by paying these taxes. Instead, they choose to re-direct their taxes through the People’s Life Fund.  

Last week’s event in Berkeley began with a screening of the 30-minute film, “Death and Taxes,” which featured interviews with 28 local and national tax resisters including Julia Butterfly Hill whose refusal to pay more than $150,000 still stands as the largest act of war-tax resistance in US history. The film goes on to answer such questions as: “What are the consequences” and “How does war tax resistance fit into one’s life?” 

And, what are the risks? Well, according to the War Resisters League, "Since the modern war tax resistance movement began during World War II, only one person (in the 1940s) has been jailed for resisting his war taxes. Only about 30 out of tens of thousands of people in the U.S. who have resisted war taxes have even been brought to federal court and convicted." As one PLF representative observed: “Tax resistance is easy because you don’t have to get beaten up by a cop. And the best part (if you’re an activist) is: no meetings!” And the worst thing that can happen is the government will put a lien on your earnings and “take away the same money you would have given them in the first place if you were a regular taxpayer.” 

War resistance continues to grow because, as Code Pink notes, “instead of less money, we now have MORE of our tax money going annually to war-profiteers under Obama and the Democrat majority than ever under Bush and the Republican majority.” 

At the Berkeley ceremony, the checks (ranging from $750 to $1250) were handed out by local activists who first shared brief personal stories about their experience as war-tax resisters. Here are a few of those stories: Martha, a Berkeley High School teacher, began resisting taxes in 1980s after she visited Japan and made a walking pilgrimage to Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Alex grew up in Seattle and has been a non-filer since 1987. Kathy explained how she started to write a check to the government in 1973 but just couldn’t do it: It took 10 years before the IRS got around to garnishing her wages. John had gone to Nicaragua during the “low-intensity warfare” days of the Reagan Administration and has been sending his refused taxes to the PLF for the past 23 years. Jay recalled having to deal with a $500 “frivolous filing” fine that was assessed for including an explanatory anti-war letter with his return. (This “frivolous filing” suits, designed to discourage tax resistance, were subsequently ruled an illegal attack on First Amendment rights.) Jim, a Kaiser employee, who has been a resister for 25 years, said that the IRS would be seizing around $2500 in unpaid taxes from him this year. He then produced a check for $2500 and announced that he was donating it to the PLF. 


Here Are the 2010 Peoples Life Fund Winners: 


Asian Pacific Islander Youth Promoting Advocacy and Leadership 

AYPAL’s mission is “building the power of low-income youth to fight social inequities and to advance an agenda for progressive social change.” A schoolgirl named Honey (who had earlier addressed an Oakland rally demanding support for schools-not-war) accepted a $1,000 check and marveled that a fund existed to support organizations like hers. “How do you DO that?” she smiled. She promised that she was going to learn more about tax redirection. 


Babae works with Gabriella, an activist group resisting military occupation in the Philippines. Although US military bases were closed down after the People Power revolution swept dictator Ferdinand Marcos from power, the Pentagon has returned to the country under a Visiting Forces Agreement. On accepting the grant, a Babae representative explained that the US now spends “$1 billion on the fascist government” at the same time that more than 1,100 people have been “disappeared” by government security forces. 

Bay Area Community Land Trust 

In a depressed economy, dragged down by a collapsed housing market, the importance of “resident-controlled affordable housing” has never been more important. BACLT exists to provide cooperative housing opportunities “that will benefit workers, families, students, seniors, disabled, and other low and middle income folks from widely diverse backgrounds, now and into the future.” 

Courage to Resist 

This organization provides legal defense to soldiers who dare to defy the military. Courage to Resist has aided Lt. Ehren Watada, military mom Alexis Hutchinson and Mark Hall, a soldier who was ordered back for a third tour of duty in Iraq under the Pentagon’s controversial “stop loss” program — even though Hall had suffered traumatic brain injury from an explosive device and was at the end of his enlistment. When Hall recorded an anti-war rap song protesting the Stop-loss program, the Pentagon arrested him as a threat to military and transferred him to a US prison in Kuwait. His trial was set to take place in Iraq this month (ironically, at the US base called “Camp Liberty”) but, at the last minute, the Pentagon decided to usher Hall out of the service with an “other-than-honorable” discharge.  

Destiny Arts Center 

The goal of this Oakland-based arts center is to end violence in kids’ lives by using both martial arts and performing arts to teach “a culture of peace.” 

Ecumenical Peace Institute 

Berkeley’s Ecumenical Peace Institute was born during the days of the Vietnam War when clergy and lay people mounted counter-recruitment actions at the Oakland Armed Forces Induction Center. EPI hosts an ongoing Thursday noon vigil in front of the Oakland Federal Building and stages a “Living Graveyard” protest every third Thursday. 

Faithful Fools Street Ministry 

This group works with the poor and homeless of the Bay Area. In order to express solidarity with the poor and to provide some “reality training” for volunteers, the ministry invites the non-homeless to participate in 6-hour Street Retreats and an annual weeklong experience in living and sleeping on the streets. The Ministry, which runs a “safe space” for the homeless on Hyde Street, also boasts its own Fool’s Band. 

Full Picture 

The Pentagon has a $5 billion budget to send military recruiters to high schools. Full Picture is a coalition of groups working under the umbrella of the American Friends Service Committee that provides “counter-recruitment” education to students who are targeted by military recruiters. 

Haiti Action Committee 

HAC works to support the freedom of the Haitian people and to keep alive the spirit of the revolution begun by President Aristide. An inspiring booklet listing the social justice achievements of the Aristide government (which had devoted 20% of the national budget to education) provides a powerful indictment for the forces behind the US-backed coup that toppled Aristide’s popularly elected government. 

The Mosaic Project 

The Project develops cross-cultural comraderie by sending kids from different backgrounds to share the bonding experience of living and surviving in the wild — even more important today since schools are now “more segregated than they were in 1968.” The nonprofit reaches children in elementary school “before prejudice can become entrenched” and unites students through a “unique human-relations outdoor school.” 

Nevada Desert Experience 

Members of this group maintain a vigil at the US military’s weapons testing range located on Native American land in the Nevada desert. They also mount protests against nearby Creech Air Force Base, the site of the command center used by soldiers guiding the remote-controlled drones that are used to kill from Afghanistan to Somalia in a cold-blooded form of “video arcade war.” 

National War Tax Resistance Coordinating Committee 

NWTRCC is a national coalition formed in 1982 to provide information and support to people involved in war tax resistance. NWTRCC’s goal is to maintain and build a national movement of conscientious objectors to military taxes by supporting war tax resistance, protest, and refusal and the redirection of military taxes to meet human needs. 

Out of Control 

Out of Control is a committee of ten Bay Area women formed in 1986 to organize resistance to the Lexington Control Unit for women — a subterranean, high-security prison in Kentucky that used sensory deprivation, mind control methods, and group isolation to "break the spirit" of the women prisoners. Out of Control publishes the “Out of Time” newsletter. 

Peace Crane Project 

An anti-nuclear education project based in the Bay Area, this group promotes a “Remembrance Day” to commemorate the US atomic bomb attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and the installation of “peace pole” as a constant reminder of the horror of war. 

Phat Beets Produce 

Honored for its work providing “Eat Right” programs and introducing kids to urban gardens, this Oakland-based group provides equal, affordable access to organic fresh fruits and vegetables, grains and legumes to North Oakland families through wholesale pricing. 

Piedmont Yoga Community 

Provides yoga services expressly designed for the disabled and cancer survivors. The PYC will soon be relocating to Berkeley’s new Ed Roberts Center across from the Ashby BART station. 

Prison Activist Resource Center 

The Center provides a nationwide list of resources to aid prisoners, “some of the least-served members of our society.” PARC is a prison abolitionist group committed to “exposing and challenging all forms of institutionalized racism, sexism, able-ism, heterosexism, and classism, specifically within the Prison Industrial Complex.” 

Prisoners Literature Project 

The Center sends donated books to prisons around the country. The project started in the early 1980’s in the back of Bound Together Books, the anarchist bookstore on Haight Street. The grant was presented by David Gross, a local tax resister who recalled how his jail stint was relieved by the discovery of a battered copy of “The Great Gatesby” in a run-down prison library.  

Somos Familia 

This all-volunteer organization offers support to LGBT Latino families. In addition to hosting “family gatherings,” Somos Familia will be organizing the first Latino Family contingent in San Francisco’s Gay Pride Parade. 

Sparks Fly 

This group stands up for incarcerated women political prisoners, including poet Marilyn Buck who has spent 25 years in jail for supporting the Black Panthers. Now dealing with cancer, Buck is looking forward to being released from a Dublin prison later this year. 

Tri Valley CAREs 

This longtime watchdog organization monitors the health hazards at the government’s Lawrence Livermore National Labs, offers critiques of military spending (particularly on the $7 billion the Obama Administration wants to spend on new nuclear weapons by 2011), and hosts the annual Hiroshima Day vigil at the gates of the LLNL. 

As the evening drew to a close, Bay Area WTRCC activist Susan Quinlan reminded the audience that tax resistance is “a form of direct action we can do everyday.” Addressing the PLF grantees in the audience, Quinlan noted that, by redirecting taxes to escrow accounts like the PLF, “we are not just saying no to war, we are saying yes to all the wonderful things you people are doing in this community.” 


For more information, contact: Northern California War Tax Resistance/People’s Life Fund 510-842-6124, nowartax@riseup.net