Taxes, TEA and Fireside Conspiracy
The nettles are knee high in my backyard garden and still tender enough for a nutritious meal. The potatoes I buried last month are pushing dark green leaves up among the Jerusalem artichoke shoots that want to take over the yard, and the leeks are fat-stemmed with a firm grip in the earth. All the garden life is seeking the sun that the tulips have caught in bright golden and purple cups. The lilac scents the afternoon breeze as I write, and myriad voices of birdsong mingle with conversations of neighbors as the church bell at St. Lawrence Basilica tolls the hour. Coleman is on a conference call now with the organizing task force of the War Resisters League, and I feel I’ve got the easier work taking to the garden to write.
The cinders from our tax-day fire circle are cold but I’m still fired up from a week of action and discussions on justice and peace, activism and apathy, along with workshops on successful strategies for nonviolent direct action. On Tuesday, Asheville Area War Tax Resisters joined with Veterans for Peace and other advocates for justice in a remarkable Interanational Studies class at UNCA called “Negotiating Peace,” led by Professor Elizabeth Snyder. Among the mix of local activists was Mike Robinson, an Iraq Veteran Against the War, and Elliott Adams, former President of the national Veterans for Peace who arrived that morning via Greyhound after 28 hours travel from New York.
“It’s so hard to sit across the dinner table from my father,” one student said, her tears close. “Both he and my step mother have been in the military a long time. They believe what they are doing is right. He can’t even remember how many people he has killed,” she told us. “It’s hard to know that he makes his living this way, and that is how my tuition is paid,” her tears now streaming.
Another young man, soon to be released from reserve service, had been a soldier in Iraq. He had been to the battlefields and was enrolled in the class as a way of reevaluating the role of the military in solving world problems. After his discharge, he said, he returned as a contractor. He then re-enlisted to work with Civil Affairs as a liaison between the military and civilians in the war zone. “I found out that they don’t really know what they are doing there,” he said.
A community guest, Iraq Veteran Mike Robinson, told about the non-combatant he killed while on patrol between two villages. “We heard a noise and I was ordered to shoot,” Mike recalled, as he pointed out the places on his own body where the Iraqi man had been hit by his bullets. “You need to remember that these people have been fighting in one way or another for generations and carry AK-47’s for protection against bandits and warring factions. He wasn’t an insurgent or terrorist. He was a father of eleven, simply out checking his farm and his animals” Robinson said. “We put him in the back of the truck but he bled out. It’s why I’m against this war.” Robinson is a member of the local Iraq Veterans Against the War, and though he has told his story before, it was obviously a difficult one to relate. You could sense his struggle with tears as well. He showed photos from his website of his woodworking art. “It helps when I can use my hands to create something beautiful,” he said. Explaining that he has made more than one suicide attempt.
On Wednesday, Asheville Area War Tax Resisters, along with Elliott Adams, stepped out from Woodlawn Wilds, an activist gathering place, and walked into town behind a magnificent banner, the handiwork of designer and activist Coleman Smith. We leafleted at the library and post office, engaging the police foot patrol. At one corner, as a driver stopped and leaned out her window to take a picture, holding up a line of traffic, the chief of police stepped out of the unmarked car behind her, gave me a knowing glance, and told the driver, “You’re holding up traffic, Ma’am. You’d best move one.”
“Most of the local tax resistance crowd was headed to city-county plaza as part of the nationally organized “TEA-party.”
We soon left the post office to the donut lady who was handing $1 coupons for “Dunkin Donuts,” and thanking folks for paying their taxes. We headed down to join the other tax resisters.
At the county building we raised our banner high in front of a crowd of at least 500 citizens fed up with bailouts and pork-barrel spending. It was an eclectic mix of mostly right-wing, good conservative Americans, including folks fired up by Fox News, Libertarians, out of work workers, and young families. Anti-Obama sentiment was widely expressed. These are our neighbors – some strongly opposed to everything we might be advocating. Yet many of them are simply struggling with why and how did it get so bad? We quickly distributed 400 or more War Tax Resistance Pie Charts among the crowd. Only a few were returned—one torn to shreds. “Here, use this a toilet paper,” one woman said as she handed the crumpled paper back to me.
“Ain’t Democracy great?” I retorted.
“Yes, it is,” another spectator said, taking a flyer.
“Wait, don’t take those,” a woman shouted as I passed through the crowd. “It says to not fund the military!”
Later that evening at a potluck and fireside gathering at Clare’s Asheville home, we were joined by WRL interim staff Clare Bayrd and her traveling companions, Ingrid and Ari working with a California group known as Catalyst. As usual at our Woodlawn Wilds gatherings we had lots of good conversation over a generous amount of food. Coleman took charge in the kitchen and prepared the backyard fire circle; Clare welcomed guests as Redmoonsong continued to prep food. Steve and Rusty sat side by side on the couch working out last minute details on Rusty’s belated decision to get his 1040 filed. Elliot downloaded photos from the day’s action as everyone began filling their plates.
Local Veterans for Peace, war tax refusers, Women in Black, working folks, Raging Grannies, and an assortment of neighbors filled the house and flavored the tax day festivities. Elliott noted that in a survey of successful versus not-so-successful peace action groups, it was those who had pot-luck gatherings who thrived.Thursday, Elliott Adams led a small group of Veterans, joined by War Resisters League members in a workshop about the ways the national VFP works to support local chapters and to encourage input into policy making decisions. We then discussed specific local actions and debriefed on the Asheville VFP’s “Rolling Vigil” atop a local veteran’s flatbed truck. Elliot finished out that session with techniques to determine efficacy and target audience response. Later the evening he spoke at the University for a public event sponsored by Asheville WRL, VFP Chapter 099, and UNC-Asheville SDS on nonviolent direct action.
Elliott shared his bias that national organizations need to come full circle to restructure themselves from the bottom up with a spokes council approach. This echoes much of the common wisdom from the ground here in the Southeast as well as the intent of WRL National’s new structure and movement to realign itself with a more community-based local network of chapter’s, affiliates, and contacts.
Building connections, bridging issues, supporting each other in this work…that is what will nurture us into a springtime of hope and new directions in this world at war.