Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Military-Industrial Complex at 50, Charlottesville

Lisa Savage  9/17/11
Donald Rumsfeld said in an interview last week: "The Department of Defense is not what's causing the debt and the deficit. It's the entitlement programs. If we make that mistake, we're doomed to suffer another attack of some kind, and our intelligence will be less strong and less effective."

And when I met with Congresswoman Chellie Pingree, an ostensibly very progressive Democrat early in her freshman term of office, I told her that her constituents wanted her to cut military spending and bring the war dollars home. But she said it wasn't that easy. Once she got to Washington “they” asked her, “What do you want to do, put 3,000 people out of work your first term in office?” This made reference to the largest employer in the state, Bath Iron Works, which has contracts to build the Aegis destroyers that the Navy hopes will be docked on little Jeju Island off the coast of China that Ann Wright spoke of last night.

And of course I told the Congresswoman that studies showed more jobs would be generated by investment in nearly any sector of the economy than “defense” contracting. And she said that is why it's so important to pass an energy bill, which would have to happen before we could start on conversion of BIW. And as a member of the House Armed Services Committee, has voted “ought to pass” on every Defense Authorization bill since our conversation.

So this is what we're up against.

But the tide is turning as the economic standing of the average family in the U.S. Continues its steady downward slide. This week also saw the announcement of census data showing 1 in 6 people in the empire of the militaryindustrial-congressional-media complex live in poverty. 1 in 5 children do. And this metric sets the bar very low when defining what poverty: a family of four living on less than $22k per year. The actual levels of people barely scraping to get by are even higher.

A mobile VA clinic closing in our neck of the woods afforded a good opportunity for my husband, Mark Roman, to talk to people about the misplaced priorities of our federal budget. The VA announced they would close the remote rural clinic, causing hundreds of elderly vets to travel another 5 hours or so to receive routine health care in Augusta, in order to save between $100 and $200,000. In other words, four minutes of the war in Afghanistan would fund the clinic for a year.

Good news, we won that round: the VA reversed its decision after a heated public meeting widely covered by even the mainstream press.

And there have been other wins: the US Conference of Mayors, as Clare Hanrahan mentioned yesterday at the podium, passed the first anti-war resolution since 1971 last summer, largely through the efforts of CODEPINK and allies.

Various surveys bolster our claim that the people – not the war profiteers, but the people, the ones who are supposed to be represented in Washington DC -- don't agree with the current priorities of the Congress. The People's Budget was one such effort. In Maine we conducted a Penny Poll among 1500+ people in all sixteen counties. We set up outside supermarkets and post offices and asked people passing by to put ten pennies in various containers representing how they would spend the federal discretionary budget i.e. income taxes. These surveys produced similar results: the people desired primarily spending on education, health care, and veterans benefits (which includes a lot of education and health care, too), with military spending at or near last place.

And each new federal budget proposal out of the White House and spending bill out of Congress moves the U.S. further from these priorities. We are now at 57% of the discretionary federal budget going toward the military, and that does not count the Veterans' Administration.

Thank goodness for our friends who crunch the numbers and offer us the tools to make a compelling case accurately. Many groups have good resources on this including the WILPF and the AFSC which makes a handy bar chart brochure that folds out and that we used at the Penny Poll after people had spent their ten cents. The National Priorities Project has a website with Trade Offs for many areas of the federal budget, including Pentagon spending, and their linked page with the ever up ticking counters of the cost of war in Iraq and Afghanistan now offers new tools developed in time for the tenth anniversary of the endless war on terror. 
Another good resource for data is the The U.S. Employment Effects of Military and Domestic Spending Priorities by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier at the Department of Economics and Political Economy Research Institute University of Massachusetts, Amherst first published in 2007 and revised in 2009. It uses an economic model to project the number of jobs generated by investment in various sectors of the economy. The model showed that $1 billion invested in any other sector produced more jobs than the same investment in defense. Simply giving tax cuts that people would then spend on good and services produced 26% more jobs, while building in the mass transit sector – specifically, construction of light rail components – produced 131% more jobs. And these are real, full time jobs with benefits.

I used those figures to develop the War $$ Home Conversion Charlottesville activity we're going to do today. A template for the game will be available online for you to modify it and use it in your community as a way to get people to really take a look at our misplaced national priorities so that they, too, can join in the demand to bring our war dollars home.

Link to Bring Our War $$ Home GAME proposal where you can give feedback http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MYNV9RY

National Priorities Project on federal budget categories http://nationalpriorities.org/en/tools/tradeoffs
wars in Iraq amp; Afghanistan costofwar.com

Robert Naiman “Why the Jobs Argument Against Military Cuts is Bogus” (published at Truthout.com) http://www.truth-out.org/why-jobs-argument-against-military-cuts-bogus/1313598273

Bombs & Budgets Curriculum Teaching Guide (by War Resisters' League et al.):

Phyllis Bennis, IPS “End Wars Fact Sheet” for Rebuild the Dream 3.moveon.org/pdfs/fact_sheet_end_wars.pdf 
Ann Wright, Ray McGovern & me in Charlottesville.
MIC at 50, Charlottesville - ACTIVISM PANEL REMARKS
Lisa Savage   9/18/11
Following on Ray McGovern's call to action for October 6 in Washington DC, the website for info is October2011.org.

Thank you conference organizers, and to everyone for taking time to be here today.

When I reflect on activism and the military-industrial complex (MIC) I think of a video made by a friend, Pete Sirois, of Bruce Gagnon in front of Bath Iron Works speaking about conversion. Bath Iron Works is where they build the Aegis destroyers that are to be docked on South Korea's Jeju Island that Ann Wright spoke about last night. Bruce's speech mentions the Pollin & Garrett-Peltier study about relative number of jobs generated by investment in various sectors of the economy, which sounded interesting. So I contacted Bruce and got a link to the study, done at UMass Amherst in 2007. This led to my husband Mark and I starting to organize with Bruce and Mary Beth Sullivan in Bath. Which led eventually to joining others in a statewide, and now a national campaign, to Bring Our War $$ Home.

Pete at the time was an amateur videographer, with a local access tv cable show. He grasped early what potential this communication channel offers at a very low cost. His willingness to challenge himself and take risks to do the work has really helped get the word out, and been a catalyst for all kinds of activism.

My Maine grandmother told me things that have stuck with me, and two of them are: “Fools' names and fools' faces are often seen in public places,” and “Pretty is as pretty does.” I had to overcome that first admonition in order to do the activism that I do. And I have come to a deeper understand of the second one.

Bruce has told how as a young “true believer” serving in the Air Force and stationed in California, he and the others would see protesters at the gate of the air base. This led the people inside the base to have long debates over whether the signs were right or wrong. These conversations changed Bruce's understanding and brought him over to the side of demanding military cuts to fund domestic needs.
So don't ever think, just because you don't get to see their effects, that your messages don't matter. They matter a lot. People today lack good information and you are helping to address that problem with well thought out messaging.

Using the power of branding is also effective and this is one thing that I love about Codepink. Also choosing a short phrase that conveys the essence of the message in a way that most people are likely to understand. Bring Our War $$ Home is all short, simple words that even a young kid can understand. I wish I could take credit for penning the phrase, and its author remains anonymous.

Then repeating the phrase in many ways as you can think of while also thinking carefully about the explanation that backs up the slogan. Knowing it's possible your understanding of the phrase will evolve. When this “headline” has clear meaning to your audience, it becomes the work horse of the campaign.

The most important aspect of communication is listening. We have to listen to the audience if we are to know whether our message was received. And we communicate effectively when we understand the needs of the listener. Then, as we devise ways to address some of those needs, and build relationships, we can keep using listening to get feedback in order to try new things.

We've used many communication strategies in our current campaign: radio ads by a well-known comic personality are running now on right wing talk radio stations; we've had signature ads and community event listings in newspapers; and with the Union of Maine Visual Artists we've conducted Draw-a-thons and Draw-ins at various places, including our state capital building, where artists interact with the general public. These resulted in a group of strong poster designs for war $$ home available on our website, designs that are now on t-shirts. We have shirts here at the conference, and gave two of them as participation prizes yesterday during the federal budget activity at the conference. And so the message goes forward.

Currently I'm seeking support for the development of a digital game that offers the chance to convert war spending in a community to other needs, because I think that could be a powerful communication device. Imagining conversion as utopia could be addicting if visually appealing and properly designed. Young people with all that college debt and no real jobs are the audience I want to reach.

I don't play such games but I do tweet, facebook, and skype in the course of my activism. Most of you here have stretched and learned new technology tools. I have been helped immensely in learning these by younger members of Codepink who are very patient with us oldsters. Blogging is something I've added lately and I've had some good mentors who encouraged me as I was getting started. I often learn and get ideas from other blogs. Getting real information is almost a full time job in this day and age. Thankful for the Internet while we still have it.

What else are we up against? I think Americans – that is, people in the U.S., because America is a continent, not a country – are scared. Maybe more scared than we give them credit for a lot of the time. I'll tell two stories to illustrate

The last time Social Security was on the chopping block, back when George W. wanted to “privatize” it, a woman who worked at my school as an ed tech told me in the hall that she appreciated my letter to the editor about how families who have a parent die depend on S.S. The woman told me that her mother had used her father's S.S. to help feed them family after he died, and had a hard enough time even with that income. I told my co-worker that people needed to hear her story, and to please consider a letter of her own. She reacted with alarm and said, “Oh I don't think Dr. ____ would appreciate that” referring to our superintendent. He had never said anything negative to me about my letters, and I told her so. “Oh but that's you,” she said as if perhaps her status as an ed tech without a continuing contract was much different than mine as a teacher.

Just this summer I was at a conference and I needed a ride to Rockland at the end, in order to meet my husband to stand with local organizers opposing an Islamophobic group that was going to be protesting a speech by the Al Jazeera Bureau Chief in Washington. When I briefly stated my reason for needing a ride, the other teachers and librarians in the room froze like deer in headlights. No one said a single word in response. I think I had violated the unspoken dictum of life in our nation, that as long as we don't rock the boat that nothing bad will happen around us. Bad things are happening elsewhere, but not right where we are. And hoping to keep it that way.

So people are frightened, and they are bewildered by misinformation, and we offer them our message. The Bring Our War $$ Home coalition in Maine has benefited from a good faith approach of supporting one another tobring an accurate explanation for budget cuts and funding shortfalls in our communities, cooperating across what is a large if not very populous state. The Care-a-Van began on Sep 10 at Unity College with WERU Community Radio's Grassroots Media Conference as we silkscreened the t-shirts we have here today. It continues to many venues including five other college campuses in our state, with a teach-in at Bowdoin, and a stop in support of on campus peace group P.A.inT for a concert at the University of Maine, Farmington.

Because I am also deeply involved with Codepink as a Local Coordinator two of the co-founders, Medea Benjamin and Jodie Evans, picked up on the campaign and asked if they could adopt it nationally. Adopt away, we said, with the result that the campaign is now being waged in California, New York, and Texas among other places, and that the US Conference of Mayors passed a resolution to bring the war dollars home this summer.

If people stopped cooperating with and supporting the MIC, it would grind to a halt tomorrow. People just don't know it yet. Some do -- right now there are youth occupying Wall St. in a show of nonviolent methods that remind me of the great untapped power of human stubbornness. I was lucky enough to meet Gene Sharp and Jamila Raqib of the Albert Einstein Institution a couple of years ago and Sharp said in response to my question that the antiwar movement lacked an overall strategy. I can see several heads nodding in the audience.

Now is the time in the program where we will have some time for planning and I'm going to read you a list of questions developed by the organizers of the confernce, questions that can inform this part of our work today: Where is the MIC vulnerable? What are the hidden strengths of the progressive movement? How will moral energy be generated and harnessed? How do you prepare the ground for change? What strategies for change are inefficient or unproductive? What strategies will capture the imagination of others and empower them? Are progressives willing to pay the price?

Now we are going into self-selected groups. Thank you.

No comments: