I first learned about many of the principles behind the United States government while watching cartoons on Saturday mornings, on Schoolhouse Rock. These cartoon shorts are available to own, and if you have kids, I strongly encourage you to make that investment. In any case, on a particular History Rock episode about the Declaration of Independence, I first heard of the concept of taxation without representation, as one of the major complaints that led the American colonists to rebel against the government of Great Britain. If I recall the exact quote from that cartoon, it said, “That’s called taxation without representation…and it’s not fair.” Having learned at least a little bit more about the concept in the intervening years, I’ve decided that I agree, and I think most people in America would concur. How can a person reasonably and ethically be forced to pay for the activities of a government in which they have no ability to participate?
And yet, there is a class of people in this country that is subject to the very injustice which was part of what motivated our Founders to revolt against the rule of Great Britain. These people are ex-convicts in such states as Florida, Alabama, Tennessee, Nevada, Arizona, and several others.
It can be difficult to elicit sympathy for former prisoners; people in the United States seem to be under the mistaken impression that only bad people go to prison, and that such people are no longer American citizens. Neither statement is true.
There is a well-known fact that bears repeating: The United States has one twentieth of the world’s population, but one quarter of the world’s prisoners. Think about that. Communist China, a country with a population of over a billion and a half, and erstwhile stomping ground of such luminaries as Mao Tse Tung, has a far lower percentage of prisoners than the supposed land of the free and home of the brave. And in many states, even after they have served their lawful time in prison (most of them due to our ill-born and stillborn “war on drugs”), American citizens are denied the right to vote for several years at least, and then have to petition to have these rights “restored.”
Let’s leave aside the absurd moral notion that an actual Right even can be taken away or restored by someone else. Why is such a thing being done here in America, the beacon of democracy? Well, consider this: While the African American population in Florida is only about 15% of the general populace, almost 50% of those in the state’s prisons are African American. Now don’t fool yourself; black people do NOT actually commit more crimes per capita than non-blacks, certainly not FOUR TIMES as many crimes. Enforcement of laws in the U.S. is known to be racially biased in profound and systematic ways, as is prosecution, as is sentencing. And then, the final injustice, after release from prison, even after any probation is completed, voting rights are withheld from such individuals. The “reasoning” behind this theft of rights is patently obvious: The greatest proportion of ex-convicts–and black people–vote Democrat…and in those states which have withheld voting rights, the party in power, the party which instituted the policy of violating fundamental American voting rights, is almost invariably Republican.
I am far from the first person to point out such outrageous facts. But I may be one of the first to suggest that, given that ex-convicts are not allowed to vote, they should not pay taxes. It is an obscenity and an embarrassment to the principles on which this country was founded for people to be systematically disenfranchised and then still asked to pay for the government in which they have no say. As Thomas Jefferson so eloquently pointed out, it is only to secure our rights that governments are instituted among the peoples of the earth, and they derive their just powers only from the consent of the governed. If one does not have the right to vote, one is being governed without consent, and that is not the way things should be done in the United States of America.
The true spiritual heirs of the Boston Tea Party are the ex-felons of Florida and other states that deny voting rights. All ex-felons in these states should refuse to pay any taxes unless and until this outrageous injustice is addressed. Remember, the founders of the U.S.A. were, technically, criminals…according to the laws of their then-government, that of Great Britain. Recognizing that their rulers were not divine entities, but mere humans just like themselves, these brave people stood up against injustice and created a new nation. Now that nation has gone far astray from the ideals upon which it was founded, and this revocation of the right to vote for a carefully and deliberately selected subclass of people is only one of the manifestations of that divergence. Optimism leads one to hope that it will not require another revolution for us to restore some semblance of justice and sanity to America. But something must be done. There must be no taxation without representation within the confines of the nation founded in defiance of that very injustice.
There are a great many facts about the American criminal “justice” system which should be embarrassing and horrifying to every American citizen with any sense of ethics or knowledge of history whatsoever. This is one of the most glaring of these. As Lysander Spooner said, “If taxation without consent it not robbery, then any band of robbers have only to declare themselves a government, and all their robberies will be legalized.” The converse of this statement is that any government that practices taxation without consent-without representation-is a band of robbers, of criminals. Of course, criminals such as these deserve to be put in prison. And in Florida and similar states, this means that they would lose their right to vote, even after completing their sentences.