Paul's Perambulations a personal blog

September 9, 2008

U.K. Conference on Peace/War Taxes — both good news and bad news.

Filed under: Peace — admin @ 8:08 am

Here is a very frank appraisal of this international conference that I recently attended.  Wonderful people, some very good times, some very frustrating times.  

Perhaps I spoke too much, but for me, there was very little in the way of direct action from this conference group.  This seems surprising when I consider what I know of the wonderful examples of direct action that have been taken by many of those who were present. There was a lost opportunity here. I felt I should stand up and cheer when, during the perennial discussion of why there were essentially no young people at this conference (thank you, Kristen and a few others, for being the exception), someone stated out loud that no young person could stand to attend something (often dull– my addition) as this was.  Exactly one solution was offered….let’s set up niffty interactive websites at sites where young people are active.  Since this is an older group whose members tend to be ignorant of technology,  this idea can take the form of “the answer” when nothing else seems possible.  Peacepays is a fine website, but it is not “the answer.”    My question — what do we offer after the website?  And just how great is that medium for us?  I am dubious about how well our peace message can ever compete on youth websites — it is not inherently well suited to the medium in the way that the U.S. Army has perhaps the world’s best hi-tech video games on their websites. How far can this approach take us — then what?

Our action needs to be “on the ground” and we offered not one stitch of that at this conference.  Well, I walked around Fallowfield with my “WAR, No Way, Don’t Pay” shirt on, and a number of young folks clearly looked at it and got the message.  As far as I know, that was the only hint that we gave to the many young people all around us in the town, that an international peace conference with some amazing people was being held right in their midst.  Nearby Platt Fields Park is one of the best and busiest parks in Manchester. We had two beautiful banners at the BACK of our main assembly room, and I never witnessed them being used.  Well, I  do have a picture of me standing beside the principal banner. It will be included in my report to the many people and groups that sponsored my presence at the conference.  Anyhow, why didn’t we simply take the two banners and our group of fifty or so, and walk along the street of Fallowfield and into Platt Fields Park, passing many young people and families who desperately need to hear our message?  And we would create dialogue.  Where was the real dialogue at the conference?  It was preaching to a small group of the already converted.  A group that will grow progressively smaller if we don’t take this to the streets and do some direct peaceful action.  It is also what young people, in my experience, find most satisfying and appealing. 

Pardon me for saying, yet again, that I am surrounded by 10,000 young people in my work.  As moderator for Villanovans for Peace, I agree that no Villanova student would have been caught dead at that conference.  They DO like trips to Washington, DC.  They DO like to talk with veterans (not us) who have actually been on the ground in Iraq.   Iraq and Vietnam veterans, if properly publicized, can draw a group of students and receive a respectful hearing.  Movies (“On the Ground” video did well for us) do quite well, and better if combined with a veteran.  Petitions do quite well; try to make them not too radical for the group that you are engaging.   You get people feeling that they have participated in some action, and the petition can then lead to the next step — the formal presentation of the petition, after having made a personal appointment with the appropriately-placed human to receive it.  Don’t just put it in the mail.  Our annual Iraq Boots display does very well, and many hundreds of young people walk through the display and see banners that are too large to ignore.  Speak, then listen, then dialogue. And of course, all this is also an opportunity to speak about how our taxes are the key to enabling this war.

You might reply that much of what I say here is not directly relevant to our conference topic of War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns.  I think we all realize that it is highly unlikely that war tax resistance/campaigns will ever  be the “gateway” for young people to enter the peace movement.  We need to start with a more direct and less intelectual focus.  OUT OF IRAQ – NOW! This is not a radical statement at this point in the Iraq war. Or be gentler (while making the same point, very visibly) if you are with a more conservative group. How can we get out of the war?  Present various options, and one of these is always taxes for peace not war.  But don’t expect any active response from people hearing about WTR for the first time, or even for quite a while.  Civil disobedience appears scary and difficult for most people.  Personally, I believe that WTR is generally inappropriate for anyone new to the peace movement.  I have on one or two occassions gently discouraged individuals whom I believed did not understand its full implications and were not prepared for what is required of war tax resisters. On the other hand, Mimi is a young Menonite whom I have spoken with considerably about this topic, and she became a war tax resister this year.  Her commitment to pacifism was already well developed, and thus WTR was a new and additional avenue for her to express and witness to her beliefs.  As a practical matter, in the United States peace tax campaigns are much more user-friendly to the vast majority of people and represent an easier place to start a discussion. 

I am a person who believes in street speaking. Be a public Friend or whatever you are.  Let our beliefs be known directly to the public.  Not to be in someone’s face, not as a weirdo, but let it be known (gently) to whomever you meet.  If, between now and the time of our next Conference two years hence, each of us enlisted ONE new person to our common cause, our members (well, we don’t have members really, do we?) would be dancing in the streets. We should not expect to ever be a large group, or even a young group.  What we are stuggling with now is simply to replace the old people with a new crop of experienced middle-aged people. I know that as individuals we are “activist” and willing to take risks.  What wonderful people I met at the conference.  But our work does tend to be of the legalistic and formal variety, which does not engage young people.  And to the extent that the conference itself represented how we present ourselves to the world, it was not an enticing model.

Well, I wrote this in one sitting, quickly while getting prepared to return to work.  The haste is doubtless apparent, but I see a value to get this post done now. I was glad to be able to attend the conference and will have a “nicer” report on my regular website (or google peacefulways).  The beauty of a blog is that it is much less formal and more open to expressing/sharing feelings.   Mine is an old-person’s blog with respect to its relative formality, but I value it as a venue to present some personal  feelings and ideas (for better or worse), and I encourage your comments.

Peace,  Paul


  1. I asked my stepson William (college student, age 20) his opinion about the value of websites for influencing behavior change, especially among young people. His quick respone “We look at thousands of sites and know that they all want to influence us. So it has not effect. The only thing that counts is the human.” When I inquired what he meant by that, he said “The person needs to be there, it’s OK if he is a speaker, but what counts is that a real human is present.” Interesting.

    Comment by admin — September 14, 2008 @ 11:43 am

  2. It is particularly important that we communicate with people who are NOT already sympathetic to the peace movement. We tend to gather as groups of like-mnded folks (for support, understandably), but then frequently end up preaching to the choir. My latest re-direction of war tax resistance money was to the Disabled American Veterans organization. I strove to emphasize the concerns and hopes that we share in common, as follows:

    September 2, 2008

    Hello Disabled American Veterans,

    I have enclosed my check for $42 for our disabled veterans. It is a great tragedy that war does these things to our citizens. I appreciate the fact that DAV is a private non-partisan charitable organization with members who “reflect all shades of American political opinion.” Personally, I am a Quaker pacifist who, by reason of religious conscience, believes that all war is wrong and results in needless suffering. Experience has taught me that veterans and pacifists alike share the dream of a world without war.

    As a pacifist, I feel the same pangs of conscience toward paying for war that I would feel if I were asked to participate in uniform. My conscience leads me to help support disabled veterans, but I cannot in good faith pay for the guns and equipment that enable the tragedy of war. About 40% of the federal budget is allocated to war and the debt attributable to past wars. In order to be faithful to my beliefs, I am openly civil disobedient with respect to refusing to pay some of my federal taxes. I do not keep any of this money but instead redirect it to various charitable purposes. The $42 check enclosed is my federal phone tax of the past three years that I have publicly refused to pay the U.S. government.

    In Peace,

    Paul Sheldon

    Comment by admin — September 14, 2008 @ 11:50 am

  3. Here is my formal report to my sponsors for the conference:

    TO: Interim Meeting of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting
    Chester Quarterly Meeting
    Lansdowne Monthly Meeting

    FROM: Paul Sheldon, returned from University of Manchester, UK September 5-8, 2008

    SUBJECT: 12th International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns.

    I return my Travel Minute for Religious Service with appreciation for your loving concern for my sojourn among others from around the world who are working for peace tax fund legislation and/or feel compelled by conscience to resist payment of military taxes. Approximately sixty people attended the 12th International Conference on War Tax Resistance and Peace Tax Campaigns held at Fallowfield Campus, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK. Participants were from many countries including (besides seven of us from the USA) Belgium, Britain, Canada, Columbia, Denmark, Germany, Italy, Japan, Nepal, Norway, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and Ukraine (registrants from Ghana and Palestine were denied visas). Fifteen attendees (mostly Quakers) endorsed my Minute, and these endorsements are attached to the returned Minute.

    The conference was an opportunity to learn the current status of peace tax campaigns that are in progress in many of the countries mentioned above. It was also an opportunity to hear about recent judicial efforts that are taking place at both the national and international level in support of conscientious objection to military taxes. For example, Conscience and Peace Tax International is the standing committee between these biennial international conferences. CPTI has NGO status at the United Nations and is also active with the European Council and the European Parliament. Most recently, CPTI has worked to support the Peace Tax Seven, a group of seven British war tax resisters who are taking their case to the European Court of Human Rights after being rebuked by the British courts in their attempt to pay the military portion of their taxes into a Peace Tax Fund. Their argument is based on Article 9 of the European Convention on Human Rights that recognizes freedom of thought, conscience, and religion. In 2000 the ECHR became part of UK law under the terms of the UK Human Rights Act.

    Paul Rogers, a professor of peace studies at the University of Bradford, UK, gave the keynote address entitled “Toward Sustainable Security: looking ahead to how we can construct a sustainable system of security in the 21st century.”

    One attendee described her work with the Peace and Security Liaison group, which coordinates the work of 12 NGOs that focus on security, disarmament, and arms control issues. At another session we focused on improving the structure of CPTI, particularly with respect to its membership and mission. In one workshop participants described those actions that had been particularly successful in their own countries. In another we discussed ways to attract young people to our peace/war tax concerns.

    I found daily pre-breakfast Meeting for Worship to be a particularly valuable time for reflection and preparation, and I appreciate the supportive fellowship that this group provided.

    When I reflect on my personal feelings regarding this conference, two things come to mind. First, I see that Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is in a unique position with respect to its three-century-plus historical record on war tax concerns. I feel this places a special responsibility on me and also on Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, to continue this history into its fourth century.

    Second, I was particularly drawn to discussions concerning the advancing age of conference attendees. I believe this conference would not likely have appealed to young people. We tend to become enmeshed in complex legislative and judicial issues to be resolved at some future time. The conference would do well to add proximal goals and actions, for example a march with our banner through the host town, a petition to the host town, a public press release, or some such action that has a sense of immediacy. All those involved with this issue must find ways to make our concern about paying for war more visible, relevant, and open to satisfying participation by the many who are supportive, whether or not they are led to become directly involved in either civil disobedience or complex legal issues.

    For these reasons, I value greatly the support that so many in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting have given me and others war tax activists over the years.

    In Peace,

    Paul Sheldon

    Comment by admin — October 7, 2008 @ 12:37 am

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