(Illustration by Alex Fine)

Thirty-eight-year-old service industry worker Kesh (who asked to be identified by her first name only) didn't pay her taxes last year and she won't be paying them this year either.

Last year, it was because she didn't have the money—she faced a penalty under the Affordable Care Act for not having health insurance.


"Because I couldn't afford to pay for my insurance last year, they charged me a penalty for that—a penalty for being poor," she says during her 15-minute break at work. "They took [my refund] and charged me another 85 dollars for something else [and] I'm here having to decide whether, 'OK, well do I have lights or medicine?' And then I go with lights and I get penalized at the end of the year for choosing to have lights."

This year she isn't paying because of last year's penalties and the election of Donald Trump, which got her thinking more about where her tax money goes and the fundamental "bullshit" of it all, she says.

"It's just that even the idea of me working and you're going to take things from me that I'm trying to put money together so that I have a place to live and to eat...and where does that tax money go to? Not to me, not locally—not for me or for making my neighborhood safe," she says. "It's not going to anything that I can see personally that is going to benefit me. But me paying it is definitely going to hit me. Not having that money that needs to go towards other things that I have to pay that affects me immediately. That's a loss for me."

For her, a gay, African-American woman, she just can't pay a government run by president Donald Trump: "I'm all the groups that are hated. I've decided to come to earth in this body and be black, be a woman, gay, so you know, I get hit on every side of it. I was a teenaged mother, I'm a single mom—I'm all the things [Trump and Republicans] hate."

Then there's Trump's refusal to release his taxes and exploration of, seemingly, as many loopholes as possible.

"You have someone who is the head of the country that has no responsibility—he is in the place where he could pay his taxes and not even worry about it and have the ability to take care of all his needs and for him to have loopholes, but people like me, that are struggling to even pay their light bill?" she says, then she shakes her head. "No."

Living in Baltimore, where Freddie Gray died in police custody in April 2015 and where, just last month, Trump-appointed Attorney General Jeff Sessions attempted to thwart police reform in Baltimore by demanding a pause on the Department of Justice's consent decree, taxes funding the police are an issue for her.

"I know that my tax money is going to to the police and I can walk down the street and get shot. I can get shot by my own money and get killed by my own money, and there's no one that's gonna do shit about it. So basically I'm giving you money to kill me and people that look like me," she says. "And then we still have to struggle and worry about how to live and the rest of all the things that go along with being black."

Police receive some federal funding, though they're primarily funded through local and state governments, though Kesh also isn't paying her state taxes.

Like many black mothers, she has given her three children some variation of "the speech"—about how being black in this country means you're percieved as a threat. Recently she also gave her oldest son, who just graduated high school, and is now working and so, he is being taxed himself, another speech.

"I basically tell him that all of this is bullshit. None of these things, if the system fails, you didn't fail. It failed you," she says. "It's out there but you don't have to participate in it mentally, spiritually, financially."

After work, Kesh catches a ride home from a co-worker. Usually, she'll take the bus, but it looks like it's about to rain and taking the bus is a headache in Baltimore because public transportation here "fuckin' sucks" and the buses are often late and that might mean standing out in the rain for 45 minutes. Walking from the bus to her house late at night is dangerous anyway. Lyft's an option too, she acknowledges, but she's trying to save money right now.

As she rides down pothole-packed streets on the east side of Baltimore, the conversation jumps back to Trump: "He made it really clear that paying taxes doesn't fuckin' matter. You can do what the fuck you want to do. For me to be stressed out about whether I pay or not when you can see other people totally not do what they're telling us to do and still prosper, then what the fuck?"

Unlike longtime tax resisters, Kesh is new to this. She doesn't know where it will lead her yet—hence her decision not to use her name. The Internal Revenue Service may target her, but not paying feels right.


"I'm basically saying, 'Fuck you.' I'm keeping my money. 85 dollars—I refuse to even pay that," she says. "I'm not paying until I get what I need out of it. When you go buy something and it doesn't work you don't keep buying it. I'm not buying it anymore. I'm choosing not to pay for this."