When raising awareness of military spending cost a home

  • Recorder file photo Recorder file photo

Staff Writer
Published: 11/18/2018 11:26:31 PM

COLRAIN – Federal agents came knocking at the door of the two-bedroom house on Shelburne Line Road in early March 1989 to hand deliver a notice for G. Randall “Randy” Kehler and his wife, Betsy Corner:

Their house was being seized by the Internal Revenue Service for non-payment of $26,917.11 in back taxes.

The couple, nationally known for their opposition to the Vietnam War and refusing to pay their federal taxes for a dozen years, were part of the Pioneer Valley War Tax Resisters League who declined to pay taxes used for war, and had seen their $743 bank account seized a couple of years earlier.

They – along with neighbors Bob Bady and Pat Morse on land owned by the Valley Community Land Trust – were about to begin a three-year saga that brought hundreds of protesters to the property, which was eventually sold at auction, resulted in the arrest of Kehler and dozens of other protesters for refusing to vacate the premises and  brought national attention to the case.

As war tax resisters from around New England came together this weekend at Woolman Hill Conference Center for their 34th annual meeting, they focused on 25 years since the end of the “Colrain action.”

The three-day gathering at the Quaker retreat center in Deerfield where Kehler taught high school in the 1970s, included lessons learned from the three-year-long action, personal reflections from participants, a memorial to those who died – especially resisters league founders Wally and Juanita Nelson who lived at the Deerfield center – and the impacts the action might have had on the peace movement and the tax resistance movement.

Among those asked to participate was Terry Chranesky, who with her husband Terry Franklin, purchased Kehler’s Colrain house when it was auctioned for $4,700 by the federal government.

The house was auctioned in July 1989 and there were no bidders, so the U.S. government bought the property.

The couple later negotiated a settlement with the land trust and moved from the property.

“We think that this action was a unique action, a prolonged action,” said Bady, who moved to Brattleboro, Vt., in the late 1990s and was arrested four times as part of the Colrain action. “It involved some serious risks that some people took. It involved working with the community, becoming a community – quite a difference from a lot of non-violent direct actions that go on, where people go to a site, block something and get arrested. This essentially happened in a home. And the fact that we had a vigil that lasted about a 1¾ years that went on for 24 hours a day. We want look at the elements of what all that meant, and how that could be carried forward in future organizing.”

Kehler, still a Colrain resident, said, “I look back on this as an event that affected not just Betsy and me, our neighbors and supporters, but it was part of the history of the whole wider community. I have absolutely no regrets about our having done it.”

The episode, Kehler recalls, “was exhausting for us. It was a frustrating time for me, how the ripples went on in the community,” along with “the story about the house, and about two families fighting over the house” became the focus for many people rather than “money spent on the military instead of meeting human needs.

Kehler, who says he’s always supported paying taxes other than those that support the military budget, said that one of the lasting outcomes of the action was creation of Building Our Swords Into Plowshares, a nonprofit, volunteer organization that constructed low-cost housing in Greenfield .

The vigil ended in May 1993 when Franklin County Superior Court issued an injunction to remove protesters from the land.

Bady says, “I call the military budget the brontosaurus in the living room that nobody talks about. We don’t have universal health care, or universal higher education, we don’t seem to have any money to deal with climate change or with our crumbling infrastructure, However we do have an endless supply of money for the military,” representing nearly 25 cents of every tax dollar, according to the National Priorities Project.

“If nothing else, war tax resistance is a dramatic public way of calling attention to this, he says. “What happened in Colrain demonstrates our individual connection to the military-industrial complex. It demonstrates the power that an individual can have by the example of not cooperating with the system: there was all this publicity and consciousness raising.”

Although the Pioneer Valley War Tax Resisters disbanded in the years approaching the deaths of the Nelsons in 2002 and 2015, this weekend’s conference, Bady says, conveys “there’s a value to individual acts of conscience and a value to a community rallying around individual acts of conscience. That creates an incredible dynamic.”


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