Laura Hershey's Whenever Web Column

Column from April 10, 2003

My April 15 Dilemma

Copyright 2003 by Laura Hershey

As April 15 approaches, I'm faced with a dilemma I've never encountered before: I'm reluctant to pay my income taxes.

That may sound odd to some people, those who annually resent turning over part of their hard-earned salary to the government. I've never felt that way. Believe it or not, I actually don't mind paying income taxes.

For several years, I had to depend on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). I didn't pay income taxes then. Instead of earning money through work, I lived on a small monthly check from taxpayer-supported income maintenance programs; but I also paid a high price for those benefits. I had to meet my monthly expenses on a low income. In order to keep my essential Medicaid coverage, I had to turn down work opportunities, or charge a fraction of what the assignment was worth. I had to explain myself and divulge personal information, repeatedly, to suspicious bureaucrats. All the while, I knew that some of my fellow citizens regarded me as a drain on the economy. All the while, I never stopped trying to create a situation where I could keep my Medicaid, earn a living, support myself and, yes, pay income taxes. It took a long time but I succeeded. Click here to find out how I did it.

Now, every April, paying income taxes is a concrete manifestation of my transition from economic dependency to self-employment. Calculating my deductions and liability is a pain -- I couldn't do it without the help of my partner Robin's logical, detail-oriented brain -- but once that chore is done, writing the actual check feels like an act of completion and self-realization.

This year, though, sending a check to the U.S. government takes on a different meaning. This year, I hesitate to make even a small, scarcely significant contribution to a series of military misadventures -- beginning with the preemptive invasion of Iraq -- that I don't support.

I know that every year, a disproportionate share of my income taxes goes toward military purposes. While I don't dispute the need to maintain a national defense in a well-armed world, I have long questioned some of the ways in which the U.S. government uses its armed forces. I'm also disturbed by the degree to which the defense industry exercises its political influence to inflate the U.S. military budget.

So each year, I send my check off to the IRS with these instructions written boldly in the memo line: "NOT TO BE USED FOR WAR."

Having so directed, I have allowed myself to focus on the more positive uses of my tax contribution. I'm helping to pay for public transportation, education, health care, and other essential government services. I demand equal access to these services, for myself and other disabled people, and my demand carries extra moral weight because I am a taxpayer.

This year's federal budget, however, places a much higher priority on military spending. Not coincidentally, cuts are being imposed or threatened in areas like Medicaid, schools and, ironically enough, veterans' services.

The rich are still getting their tax cuts. American companies can still avoid paying most or all of their taxes by using offshore corporate tax dodges. Who will pay the military bills, then? The money for war has to come from somewhere. Most likely, it will come out of the domestic budget. That means that the more our country wages war, the less we can spend on building a stronger nation through education, health care, civil rights, full accessibility, and employment opportunities.

The invasion of Iraq may be only the beginning of a long-term, aggressive, expensive military endeavor. "Neoconservatives [in the Bush administration] believe that the role of U.S. power should be not just to manage the world, but to transform it... [and to] remake the world in our image," said Joseph Cirincione, director of the Non-Proliferation Project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who was interviewed on NPR's Fresh Air with Terry Gross on April 1. Cirincione continued, "They see Iraq as the beginning, not the end of this process." Cirincione continued, "There's a sort of a short-term agenda which is to transform all of the regimes in the Middle East. That may seem sweepingly ambitious to some, but it's just the beginning of this view that what the U.S. can do is go into a region, or confront a country that we disagree with, and force that country to change its government." After Iraq, these administration policymakers aim to effect similar "transformations" in Syria, Iran, and the Palestinian Authority. And then? Click here to hear the interview.

As I write this, the U.S. military appears to have taken Baghdad, and is on the verge of "victory" in its war on Iraq. But what will the effects of this victory be? According to Cirincione, "It will destabilize the region, increase terrorism, decrease alliance unity and make the spread of deadly weapons more likely without measurably increasing our national security." Click here to read this article.

The war in Iraq may be nearly over, but the Bush administration's bigger War could go on for a very long time.


All of which will make life harder and more perilous, especially for disabled people and their families -- but also, eventually, for everyone on this planet.

That's why I have joined in peace marches and rallies, calling for diplomatic approaches to global conflict. It's why I write letters to Congress, supporting efforts like the creation of a U.S. Department of Peace . It's why I put two new bumper stickers on my van: "BUILD RAMPS NOT BOMBS," and "ANOTHER DISABLED LESBIAN FOR PEACE."

But is this enough? During the first Gulf War, Alexander Haig is reported to have looked out the window at an antiwar demonstration and said, "They can protest all they want to, as long as they pay their taxes."

Which brings me back to this impending April 15 deadline. Does paying income taxes make me partially culpable, by helping to finance a destructive drive toward imperialism? If I write a check again this year, do I cancel out all my peace activism?


Or maybe the opposite is true. Working, and paying my fair share of taxes, are among the rights of citizenship which I've been demanding as a disability-rights activist. Another right of citizenship -- indeed, a responsibility of citizenship -- is to speak out, to dissent on important matters, both foreign and domestic.

I'll continue paying my taxes, and I'll keep advocating for wiser spending of my tax dollars. I'll continue to insist on my own equality as a first-class American citizen -- and I'll exercise my citizenship by promoting disability rights and access, by supporting a more just world order, and by voicing my opposition to war.

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