I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, to discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms, and, if it proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience, and to be able to give a true account of it.

Be careful what you wish for…you just might get it. Would you hire an assassin to kill someone for you? Kill someone with whom you only hold ideological differences with? Kill someone with whom you have never met? No??? Of course not, if you did you would go to jail. And yet everyone who pays taxes does exactly that. They pay highly trained assassins to kill for them.

I was 17, and the war in the Persian Gulf had just started. I didn’t really know anything about; I didn’t watch TV. Andy, the lovable guy that worked with me at the outdoor store, asked me when will I turn 18, and had I filled out my selective service card yet? I had no idea what he was talking about. “You might get drafted”, he said. I still had no idea. My mind was filled with U.S. History, Physics Labs, memorizing the new score for choir, and the plays for the football field. I wasn’t aware of the history being made.

The year was 1990, and the U.S. was about to enter Kuwait and Iraq. I had just received my selective service card in the mail. Not sure what it was, or why it was important, but I knew I didn’t want to kill another. I researched it, and found that people like me could declare themselves a conscientious objector. A conscientious objector (CO) is an “individual [who has] claimed the right to refuse to perform military service” on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion.

As the war escalated, it seemed more and more probable that I may be drafted. Of course now that seems a little far fetched, but at the time, I thought it would happen the next day. Several students organized a walk-out, and walk-out we did. On a cool crisp morning during forth period, all the students that in someway felt opposed to the war, and those students who just wanted a reason to get out of geometry met out on the steps of US Grant High School to protest. The media were invited and some showed. Dr. Myra Rose the principal watched from afar and I noticed a glimmer of pride in her eyes. Happy we were becoming…something at least.

I was the student body president, and everyone expected me to speak. I didn’t know how I felt, I didn’t even know what I thought. I certainly wasn’t going to get up in front of the student body and profess…my confusion over the whole matter. What was I to do, what was I to think. All I knew was that I wasn’t a coward, but I just didn’t want to kill another person.

In school I was given detentions and nearly expelled for fighting when I was younger. There was the time Scott Eschelman was bullying me. He pushed and shoved me to the ground and I defended myself and we duked it out for 30 mins. There was the time a bully, Tim Kapperman, wouldn’t leave me alone, and finally I knocked his tooth out with a punch. There was the time in seventh grade when a group of boys didn’t like me. The all followed me home after school and I had to fight the class hero. Each fight I cried afterward. I thought I was going to die during that fight. I knew I wouldn’t kill them…but I wasn’t so sure that they wouldn’t kill me if they had the chance. It was a brush with your own mortality…and it was scary.

Each time, I was pulled into the principals office, why…because I won, the bullies never got in trouble. The movies show that the underdog who beats up the bully is the hero. Real life doesn’t work that way. A bully can torment you for years until you snap, punch him once in the face, and then he learns that his actions have consequences. That is what happened with Tim Kapperman. I’m not advocating fighting by any means, but Tim, Scott and I all came to see each other as more human afterward. We all were deeply effected by the violence. We dropped being mean to each other, and became the best of friends after that.

However, the powers over our 11 year-old lives would give us maxims such as: “Two wrongs don’t make a right”, “Fighting never solves anything’, “Be the bigger man, just walk away”, and “Fighting is wrong because it always escalates till someone is hurt so bad that they don’t recover.” But, when you turn 18, the same people in the seats of power make you sign a card saying that at a moments notice you will be called to fight for someone you have never met, for a cause you don’t believe in, and with means that you think are un-ethical.

I knew that there had to be a different way to not participate in the war and actually do something about it. We had just finished reading, “On Walden Pond” by Henry David Thoreau in English class. Thoreau’s answer was Civil Disobedience (Resistance to Civil Government) is an essay that was first published in 1849. It argues that people should not permit governments to overrule or atrophy their consciences, and that people have a duty to avoid allowing such acquiescence to enable the government to make them the agents of injustice. Thoreau was motivated in part by his disgust with slavery and the Mexican-American War. He also refused to pay a poll tax because he felt it was wrong…so he didn’t.

Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator? Why has every man a conscience then? I think that we should be men first, and subjects afterward. It is not desirable to cultivate a respect for the law, so much as for the right. The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right.

I made a pact then and there to impede the government’s decisions that I didn’t agree with. I vowed to oppose a government’s decisions that I in good conscious believed were not ethical. While I had little clout in the world, and that very government wouldn’t listen to all the voices raised in opposition, I promised to use what little means I had at my disposal to not give in to war. The only tool at my disposal was the dollars taken in tax to support the killing of my fellow man. Thus, like Thoreau, I refused to pay a tax that I felt wasn’t in good conscious.

Since making this decision, I have never paid nor filed income tax. 20 years of holding fast to what I believed. It isn’t that I have a problem paying taxes, on the contrary I am more than happy to do so, but when over 50% of the US budget is being used for defense (read Offense) I will not contribute. If I could give my tax dollars to schools, roads, cleaning up rivers, or creating more bike paths and green spaces, I am all for it.

http://www.warresisters.org/pages/piechart.htm

When enough coincidences start happening you begin to understand it is probably providence. So I’ve been waiting 20 years, many things have happened and changed and yet all the while, I’ve been waiting for the government and the IRS to challenge me. I’m not going to say it has been easy waiting. But, the wait has been far easier to bear than the guilt of asking my cousin who served in the National Guard (who aren’t even supposed to be deployed over sea) to take the debilitating injury he received in Afghanistan because I asked him to with my tax dollars. Far easier than asking any mother to give up her son for a cause that they both weren’t sure they believed in.

Well, my wait is over. The IRS confiscated the last vestige of funds I had left. I had planned to give those funds to those in need upon my departure. Now over 50% of those funds will go to buy a rocket or a gun that will kill someone, instead of to a hungry girl and a single mother to feed them. It will go to buy bullets to kill and maim rather than to senior citizen who is too crippled up to walk let alone work.

The universe is laughing at my “plans”. Yet I am humbled and in awe. The universe waited to spring this surprise upon me when I was finally prepared to handle it. I am ready to go to jail now. I am now mentally and spiritually ready to face the “punishment” that the government will meet me with for speaking my conscious. I’m OK with that. In jail, if it comes to that, I can tell all the wonderful people inside about the nature of love and compassion. I also join a good group of people who were imprisoned for their conscious— Thoreau,  Martin Luther King, Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, etc. Funny how all of this happens only 12 days before my departure. The universe has quite a sense of humor.

I on the other hand have much to learn about humility. I had grand plans and designs about getting a new pair of shoes before I depart. However, with humility, this experience has taught me to remember that most of the people that our bombs and rockets kill don’t even have shoes, let alone brand new ones for their “Peace Pilgrimage”. I had planned to buy this and prepare that for the pilgrimage…and yet as I see now, all that is required is my willingness.

Yet, the universe is compassionate, giving me 12 days to back out. To go running to the IRS saying, “I’m sorry I’m sorry. What can I do to get back into the good graces of the government that would choose to shackle me to my station within the mine and dig”. It graciously has giving me 12 days to give up. To be like a 1000 other peaceful pilgrims who would succumb to the pressures and weight of stepping out of line.

Let it be heard now. I am only one man. But, I will not be made to change my allegiance out of fear. Perhaps I am only one man, but perhaps one man that two or three might follow, and perhaps two or three might follow them. Fear, that is really the only tool they have within their grasp. And yet this great tool of their only resides within ourselves. Fear of what— death…prison? The death of my conscious and the imprisonment of my sense of right is far more weighty on my mind. And yet I have compassion upon them.

I have compassion for all those who think that war is inevitable, and that peace isn’t possible. My heart goes out to all those who lay down their conscious and picked up their stones. All those who stood by the side and went along with the status quo. I love you military personnel. I love you officer of the law. I love you judge. I love you IRS person. And yet, I love peace more.

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