Special Collections and University Archives, W.E.B. Du Bois Library, University of Massachusetts Amherst
Randy Kehler Papers
A pacifist, war-tax resister, and advocate for social justice, Randy Kehler was born in Bronxville, New York, on July 16, 1944 and raised in Scarsdale. From Philips Exeter Academy, Kehler went on to Harvard University, graduating cum laude in 1967 with a degree in government. It was at Harvard that Kehler first became politically active, working with the Harlem chapter of CORE to organize support for the 1963 March on Washington and directing programs for inner city children at a Boston settlement house. He credits Martin Luther King's "I have a dream speech" during the March on Washington with changing his life, moving him toward an increasingly radical stance.
In 1964, Kehler went to Africa to teach in Tanzania. There he met Congolese refugees who had been forced out of their villages when unmarked U.S. planes had dropped napalm bombs. At one point he was mobbed because his backpack said "U.S. Army." This experience had a profound effect on Kehler. Upon returning to Harvard, he heard that the United States was dropping napalm bombs on the Vietnamese and he began organizing against the Vietnam War. In 1965, Kehler started "Letters for Peace," a letter writing campaign to Washington. A short time later, Kehler signed a petition entitled, "We Won't Go" and acknowledged to himself that he was willing to be imprisoned for anti-war beliefs. Although he moved on to Stanford in 1967 to pursue graduate work in education, he left after only three weeks to work full time in the movement against the Vietnam War.
Taking a job with the War Resisters League in San Francisco in 1967, Kehler joined a small number of protestors by refusing to pay his telephone taxes as a protest against military expenditures, and he returned his draft card to the Selective Service. As a result of his non-compliance with the draft, he was arrested in 1969. He represented himself at trial and argued that the law itself was unjust. He refused to argue his case as a conscientious objector because he felt that was simply a form of cooperation with the government's actions in Vietnam. Kehler was found guilty and served twenty-two months of a two year sentence for his act of resistance.
By 1973, Kehler was participating in local community organizing and economic development work in Western Massachusetts. He co-founded the Traprock Peace Center in 1979, served as National Coordinator for the National Nuclear Weapons Freeze Campaign from 1981 to 1984. From 1986-1988, he worked on staff of the Peace Development Fund's Exchange Program, offering strategic advice for grassroots justice and peace groups across the country. In 1989, Kehler was also one of the founders of the Working Group on Electoral Democracy to encourage political reform and create a pro-democracy movement in the United States. Kehler married Betsy Corner in 1976, and they had their first child, a daughter, in the following year.
In 1977, the first year that they had a taxable income, Kehler and Corner decided to withhold their federal income tax as a protest against United States military expenditures and involvement in global human rights violations. The couple continued to pay state and local taxes and donated their federal tax money to various charities. Although the IRS response was slow, in 1989 they moved to foreclose on Kehler and Corner's Colrain home to recover back taxes. After finding no bidders when the house was put up for auction, the IRS bought the house themselves and began eviction proceedings. They arrested Kehler and Corner for trespassing on federal property in 1990, and when they returned to the house following their release in 1991, they were arrested yet again. After agreeing not to return to the house, Corner was released, but Kehler's refusal to cooperate earned him an additional six months in jail in Northampton for contempt of court. After another IRS auction resulted in a buyer for his Colrain home in February 1992, a group of friends and supporters of Kehler occupied the house for several weeks until they were forced out by the new owners, Danny and Terry Franklin, on April 15, 1992.
Despite being removed the house, the Kehlers continued to fight. A vigil was set up on the property that was sustained for over eighteen months by various affinity groups and supporters. Although the Franklins owned the house, the property surrounding it was owned by the Valley Community Land Trust (VCLT) and the water system was shared by the surrounding neighbors. As soon as the Franklins moved in, the VCLT took legal actions to have them removed based on several stipulations in the Kehlers' lease, including one that made the lease on the land non-transferable. During the eighteen months of sustained vigil outside the Colrain home, the protestors brought the Franklins water in hopes of reaching of amicable settlement. Ultimately, in 1994, after an undisclosed negotiated settlement, the Franklins vacated the house. However, the Kehlers declined to move back into the Colrain house, insisting that their actions were intended to protest the government's use of their tax dollars, not to regain their property. The Kehlers currently live in a house owned by Betsy's mother on another lot in the Valley Community Land Trust. They continue to withhold their federal income taxes and have said they will never own anything again.