An Act of Conscience is a 1997 documentary film by Robbie Leppzer about the war tax resistance of Randy Kehler and Betsy Corner and years-long struggle that ensues after the IRS seizes their home in Colrain, Massachusetts in 1989, to recover $27,000 in unpaid taxes, penalties, and interest. The film premiered at Sundance Film Festival and was shown on Cinemax and the Sundance Channel. It is narrated by Martin Sheen and features cameo appearances by activist-priest Daniel Berrigan and political folksinger Pete Seeger.
After the house is seized, the couple and their daughter refuse to move out and Kehler is arrested on December 3, 1991, by US Marshals and IRS agents. Community supporters move in, helping them to occupy the house. On February 12, 1992, the still-occupied house--but not the land, which belongs to the Valley Community Land Trust--is sold at auction to Danny Franklin and Terry Charnesky for $5400; the IRS had failed to receive any monetary bids at an earlier auction. The sale results in suits and countersuits between the Franklin-Charnesky family and the Land Trust. Despite the sale of the house, the Kehler-Corner occupiers refuse to leave. However, on April 15, 1992, while Kehler, Corner, and their supporters are away, Franklin, Charnesky, and their supporters move-in and occupy the house. Kehler, Corner, and their supporters begin a lively protest and round-the-clock vigil just outside the house, eventually even building a small wooden structure to shelter the protesters. On May 28, 1993, the Franklin County Superior court issues an injunction against the Kehler-Corner protests and, subsequently, several protesters are arrested and jailed after violating the injunction. Still, the protest continues until September, when they are finally discontinued. The battle over the house is ended in December 31, 1993, when an out-of-court settlement is reached between the Land Trust and the Franklin-Charnesky family, who agree to leave the house and deed it and the land-lease to the land trust in exchange for an undisclosed sum of money.
From a review on IMDB:
Although many people like myself don't mind paying taxes, we hate the idea that a significant percentage of our tax dollars go to defense contractors and the war effort. It's painful to be working for anti-war efforts knowing that you are also in a sense supporting them financially. Therefore, there are groups of people who refuse to pay their taxes. They figure out how much they owe the government every year, and give that money directly to charities that help with education, health care, housing, the environment etc. I'd like to be one of those people but what stops me personally from doing that is that I am aware of the anarchy of what would happen if everybody just supported what they morally saw as correct. Millions of fundamentalists for example would be supporting Christian schools and housing, leaving people who need secular public schools and housing out of the loop.
Still, I support the intentions of the family depicted in this documentary. The government has auctioned their house away, and a working class family has bought it – for a fraction of what the house is actually worth. What the tax protesters fail to accept though, is that they've lost their house, not their home. They try to talk the new family into understanding their predicament, and at first the new family is sympathetic, but the family also knows that they will never be able to afford a house like this again. There is stubbornness on both sides. The tax protesters attract a lot of support and attention, and those who find the tax protesters 'un-American', side with the new owners of the house. What ensues is a three-ring-circus that is a perfect microcosm of America as it stands today; divided and profusely inflexible. The tax protesters try to bend over backward to help the new family by building them a new house, but the new family refuses to move – which I can't blame them for after the way they have been painted as evil by some of those in the tax protesters' circle. The solution to me would have been to build the house for the family of tax protesters who were kicked out of their house (which is inevitably considered). One has to accept that one must make sacrifices for what they believe in, and to attach oneself to a piece of land and the material things on it is antithetical to the ideals they espouse. This is an interesting documentary, but it spends too much time on the sensationalist battle, instead of covering the wider picture of the tax protester's movement.
Nov 15, 2007, 14:57:57
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