Feeds:
Posts
Comments

With Black Lives Matter in the midst of an unprecedented moment, now is the perfect time to read “The Movement Action Plan” — a model for understanding the long arc of movements.

[This article was originally published at Waging Violence on June 22, 2020] 

When Claudette Colvin, a Black teenager from Montgomery, Alabama, was arrested for refusing to give up her seat on a city bus, few people paid attention. A few months later, when Rosa Parks was arrested for the same act, it touched off a yearlong bus boycott and ignited a movement.

When Seymour Hersh revealed the details of the My Lai Massacre in 1969, it touched off Congressional investigations but not mass action. When President Nixon announced that U.S. troops had invaded Cambodia the following spring, college campuses, including Kent State, erupted in protest.

The partial meltdown of the Enrico Fermi nuclear reactor in Michigan in 1966 captured little public concern or attention. A decade later, the partial meltdown at Three Mile Island in 1979 sparked demonstrations, songs, legislation and a reversal of Wall Street’s bullish attitude toward nuclear power. (The coincidental release of a major Hollywood film, “The China Syndrome,” was an unexpected factor.)

When news came out that Ahmaud Arbery had been killed by vigilantes in Georgia, it touched off waves of outrage — like, sadly, many other incidents of police violence before it. But just two months later, when videos of George Floyd being murdered by Minneapolis police went viral, that outrage grew into something completely unprecedented for the Black Lives Matter movement.

According to a recent New York Times story, demonstrations have taken place in 2,000 cities and towns, with hundreds of thousands of participants. That’s probably an understatement, and it doesn’t even count demonstrations in Mexico, Britain, Australia and elsewhere. Meanwhile, legislation to restrain police violence is advancing across the country, as are calls to divest from policing and reinvest in communities.

While it can’t be predicted exactly which outrages spark major uprisings and fuel social movements, the mere fact that some do reflects a pattern described 40 years ago by activist and author Bill Moyer in a newsprint pamphlet called “The Movement Action Plan.” It’s especially worth reading, or re-reading, now.

Moyer was a community organizer active in the 1960s and 70s, working for fair housing with the American Friends Service Committee in Chicago. He helped organize the Poor People’s Campaign in 1968, and later joined the Movement for a New Society in Philadelphia, which developed skills to help movements for peace, equality and environmentalist goals.

After years of deeply analyzing social movements, Moyer identified a particular set of stages that successful ones go through. The first stage, which Moyer called “Normal Times,” is characterized by the public being unaware of the issues and supporting power holders. Then comes Stage Two, as opposition groups form and begin to “Prove the Failure of Official Institutions.” In Stage Three, “Ripening Conditions” lead to significant public opposition to power holder policies — but not yet a majority. Stage Four is when movements “Take Off” — and that’s what we’re currently seeing with Black Lives Matter.

During the earlier phases, issues like police violence and militarism might get the attention of researchers, politicians and what Moyer calls “professional opposition organizations,” but he says those groups are too wedded to the stability of their own institutions to instigate and lead massive social uprisings.

Then comes a “trigger event,” like the videotaped murder of George Floyd. “During these times,” write Mark and Paul Engler in their invaluable book, “This Is an Uprising,” “new participants are inspired to join in their first demonstrations, and groups that had previously been building slowly find themselves amid a tempest, surrounded by a rush of urgent activity.”

Trigger events make an issue impossible to deny and, as Moyer explained, set off “a profound sense of moral outrage within a majority of the general citizenry.” Sufficiently triggered, the public responds, for example, by joining demonstrations for the first time. These trigger events also act like “a trumpet’s call to action for the new wave of local movement opposition groups that built up around the country during the previous stage.”

Together with JoAnn McAllister, Marylou Finley, and Steven Soifer, Moyer expanded on his previous work with a book titled “Doing Democracy: the MAP Model for Organizing Social Movements,” published nearly 20 years ago. The George Floyd murder, of course, was hardly the first time that police brutality against African Americans was revealed, but otherwise Moyer’s words aptly describe the current “Take Off” moment.

In what could be a description of Donald Trump’s reaction to recent protests, Moyer says that during the “Take Off” phase, “Powerholders take a hard line in defending their policies and criticize the new movement, describing it as radical, dangerous, communist-inspired, violent, led by outsiders and irresponsible.”

Moyer has warnings for movement organizers, though. There’s a danger that activists, especially those who have been drawn into dramatic demonstrations for the first time, will confuse public attention with victory. Failure to win changes quickly can lead to burnout, frustration, and resignation, or lead activists to take paths which might feel more “radical,” but can be counter-productive.

It’s worth noting that Moyer developed the “Movement Action Plan” after he gave a presentation to members of the Clamshell Alliance in 1978. The “Clams” had just pulled off a historic occupation at the construction site for a nuclear power plant in the small seaside town of Seabrook, New Hampshire. More than 1,400 people (me among them) were arrested and packed off to National Guard armories scattered across the state and held there for nearly two weeks. The size of themovement action plan 1987 demonstration, its nonviolent discipline and the standoff with the state’s rabidly pro-nuclear governor earned considerable attention — as did the movement’s claims that nuclear power was too risky, too expensive, and unnecessary as long as the sun was shining and the wind was blowing.

As the Englers noted in their book, the No Nukes movement “had created a model whirlwind: In the wake of the Clamshell actions, hundreds of new grassroots groups formed around the country. The Seabrook protest inspired further occupations of places such as the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in California. Moreover, the organization’s methods — its affinity groups, spokescouncils, consensus projects and focus on militant nonviolent blockades — would ultimately become an influential template for direct action in the United States.”

Yet, instead of finding an upbeat band of organizers ready for the next step in the campaign to shut down nuclear power for good, Moyer saw something else entirely. As he later wrote, he was “shocked when the Clamshell activists arrived with heads bowed” and were “dispirited and depressed, saying their efforts had been in vain” because their short-term goal had not yet been achieved.

It is fitting, then, that the phase following “Take-Off” in Moyer’s MAP is called “Perception of Failure.” It is a time in the movement when activists who have deepened their understanding of the problem at hand, including “the agonizing suffering of the victims” and the complicity of those in power, sink into despair when change is not immediate. Moyer wants them to know they’re probably winning and that they need to keep up the pressure for change.

It’s at this point where another element of Moyer’s analysis bears examination. Activists fit into four roles, he says, all of which are needed for success: citizen, rebel, change agent and reformer. Those who fill the four roles can be effective or ineffective. For example, ineffective change agents might advance agendas that are too tepid or too moyer - 4 roles (2)moyer - 4 roles (3)

bold. Reformers from the world of “professional opposition organizations” can find the rebels just as problematic as the powerholders do and try to maintain control over movement dynamics. Citizens can be naïve about the forces resisting change or subservient to the powers that be. And rebels can be so programmed to rebel that they disrupt the very processes they helped to instigate. Those he calls “negative rebels” may even see the growth of popular support for activist goals as an indicator that the movement has grown too comfortable with the status quo rather than as proof of progress.

As movements pass through the phases from “Normalcy” to “Success” (and “Continued Struggle”), the relationships between people in the different roles shift. For example, no one pays much attention to the change agents before the take-off phase, but after the rebels have gotten attention from powerholders and the general public, their function rises in significance. Of course, some people may be adept at playing multiple roles, while others stay put in just one.

I have some quibbles with Moyer’s plan, though they are relatively minor. He terms Stage Six as gaining “majority public opinion,” as if we live in a society in which the majority actually rules. While change may be driven in part by public opinion, there is no magic to topping 50 percent in a poll. When the numerical minority still has its hands on the levers of power, for example via the dynamics of our money-drenched election system, movements can’t rely just on majority support.

Despite that, Moyer’s advice for Stage Six is still worth heeding. While powerholders may come calling, movement activists should still be more attentive to reaching and activating more people through strategic campaigns that weaken the forces propping up an unjust status quo. Nonviolent protest can still be effective but can’t be relied upon as the major driver of change.

Interestingly, Moyer refers to the occurrence of “re-trigger events,” which “touch off a replay of the take-off stage.” That’s a pretty good description of the resurgence of Black Lives Matter protests, nearly six years after Ferguson police killed Michael Brown. The fact that Black communities and allies have been through this before and have developed agendas for change is one reason why the movement is progressing so quickly this time from Stage Four to Six.

Ultimately, the protest is not the movement. To succeed, movements need research, training, organization, communications strategies, resources like money and staff, and a spirit to press on even in the face of setbacks, repression and backlash. However, without the pressure and attention generated by protest, movements may get stuck in slow motion when the crises we face demand something more dramatic.

This was first published in the Concord Monitor.

Reflecting on the life of her mother, Barbara Berwick says, “It seemed she would consider first what she thought was right. Then she would think about how reality might arrange itself around what was right.”

It was that spirit that made Barbara’s mom, Lois Booth, at once the most idealistic and the most practical person I’ve ever known.

Her study of the horrors of the first world war turned Lois into a pacifist by her high school days. With her husband Don, Lois joined a sprawling community of conscientious objectors and social reformers who tried to organize their lives around creation of a world free from war and violence. It was a vision they took seriously and applied to daily life as well as political causes from the 1940s to the twenty-first century.

For Lois, much of her idealism was applied to the matter of raising a family. As she put it in a letter, written around 1960, “We continue to be fully occupied with the basic problems of making a living and caring for our children.” (She had six) That meant attention to food, cooking, education, and complementing Don’s home construction business by becoming a realtor.

Years before the Woodstock generation was “going back to the land,” Lois was studying the methods of organic food production. “She read everything she could about it, and she had legendary success. At the height she had at least a couple acres of amazing gardens, and all sorts of natural tricks to grow beautiful vegetables and fruits,” says Barbara.

It wasn’t just food production that put Lois ahead of her times, Barbara recalls. “I always felt she sort of ‘invented’ things that now are commonplace,” things like health foods, natural childbirth, and recycling.” Don later became the Concord area’s premiere builder of passive solar houses, pioneering designs to minimize the use of fossil fuels and nuclear-derived electricity.

But Lois always felt the tension between attention to family and attention to the world. “I often question whether it is right to spend so much time and energy on our personal problems with the world almost on fire around us,” she wrote in the early 1960s.

Although she was part of a Women for Peace group in Concord that protested atmospheric testing of nuclear weapons, led a study group on Vietnam in 1965, and leafletted high school students about the draft in 1968, Lois’ career as a peace activist didn’t take off until her kids were grown and gone from her Canterbury home. But even there, her focus was as practical as it was visionary.

In 1975, Lois was one of several New Hampshire Quakers who turned their attention to establishment of a local branch of the American Friends Service Committee, which at the time had staffed offices in the other five New England states but no such presence in New Hampshire. When Marge Swann, the AFSC’s regional director, suggested that local fundraising would help make it possible, Lois turned her attention to that most practical and under-appreciated of volunteer activities.

Devoted to public education, it was Lois who started up a local AFSC newsletter, Quaker Witness. If people only knew the dangers posed by nuclear weapons, she believed, surely they would want to take action to control and eliminate them. When others, including her husband Don after he retired from building solar houses, spent hours on the street holding signs and banners, Lois was more likely to be found at a desk producing leaflets, writing newsletters, and organizing conferences, without neglecting the importance of those fundraising appeals.

Not only was Lois central to the birth of the New Hampshire AFSC office, she played an equally important role in the birth of the organization now known as NH Peace Action, which grew out of the “Nuclear Freeze” movement of the early 1980s. As the anchor of the Peace Action board and a nearly full-time volunteer in its Concord office, Lois helped keep the peace movement on course through several presidential administrations, a number of military misadventures, and a succession of young staff members.

While she also served on Peace Action’s national board and regional AFSC committees, Lois never lost her focus on educating and organizing Canterbury neighbors. Neither did she fail to give attention to individuals who needed a warm place to stay, needed a good meal, and needed her love.

Lois Booth, who died on September 13 at the age of 97, opened her home and her heart to those who yearned for peace. She believed that if something was right, it must be possible. In a world that’s still on fire, her spirit lives on.

For more about Lois Booth, go to http://www.loisbooth.wordpress.com.

P7150229

Steve Thornton started his talk at World Fellowship by describing what nonviolence isn’t. It’s not rarified. It’s not just symbolic. It’s not just for white, church folks. It’s not a strategy. Most important, it’s not ineffective.

In other words, people and movements use nonviolence because it works to get results. And it’s most powerful when used in local struggles.

That’s the point of Good Trouble: A Shoeleather History of Nonviolent Direct Action, a 101-page book Thornton wrote with 45 short essays on applications of nonviolent direct action by groupsP7150210 (2) in Hartford, Connecticut over several decades. The stories include residents stopping heavy trucks carrying sand and gravel through their working class neighborhood. Housing activists tearing plywood boards off an abandoned building, moving in, and marching to the nearby home of their Congresswoman, whom they convince to support housing legislation. Fifteen block club members confronting the owner of a rat-infested building by leafletting the diners at a restaurant he owns in another part of town. Lesbians picketing a club that ejects customers who refuse to dress “properly” until the owner gives in. The stories include actions related to labor, civil rights, anti-war, student issues, and more. Most of the protagonists are poor and working class. Many of them are people of color. Most of the stories describe actions that resulted in victories.

P7150232

“Mass civil resistance actions are often illegal, but not always,” Thornton writes in the brief introduction. “In many cases the activists were well versed in nonviolence principles; other times they were completely spontaneous. They came together to act, despite repercussions, because they found the ‘official channels’ to be impotent, or worse, a trap.”

Nonviolent direct action is based on the principles that the means we use in movements contribute to the ends, that our targets should be systems, not individuals, and that withdrawal of consent from unjust systems is the best way to topple them, Thornton said.

When Thornton says nonviolent direct action is also a great antidote to despair, he’s speaking from his experience as a union organizer, nonviolent action trainer, and as a participant in many of the stories he chronicles in Good Trouble.

“When you and your cohorts engage in nonviolent direct action, you are more likely to feel stronger and more self-confident, more autonomous, and less afraid,” Thornton writes.

Try the book, and try nonviolence.

Click here for more on Steve Thornton’s “Shoeleather History Project.”

Order Good Trouble from Hard Ball Press.

P7150212

Like Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez 52 years later, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King faced strong criticism for comparing U.S. policy to Nazi atrocities.

The occasion was his “Beyond Vietnam” speech, also known as “A Time to Break the Silence,” delivered at Riverside Church in New York on April 4, 1967, one year before his assassination. It wasn’t Dr. King’s first statement against the US war in Vietnam, but it was his most detailedVietnam_War_Protest_in_DC,_1967.

Based on a draft prepared by his friend, the historian and educator Vincent Harding, King elaborated his reasons for opposing the war, including the impact on anti-poverty efforts, the war’s disproportionate impact on the black community, his commitment to nonviolence, and the obligations he felt as a Christian minister and a Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Considering the riots of the previous three summers, King said, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettoes without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence it the world today—my own government.” He continued with a short history of French and American intervention in Vietnam, leading up to the 1960s, in which the US was supporting corrupt governments, dropping tons of bombs, setting villages on fire with napalm, and deploying thousands of troops.

“So far, we may have killed a million of them, mostly children,” he said, using a statistic he had recently come across in an article published in Ramparts.

Dr. King continued, “What do they think as we test our latest weapons on them, just as the Germans tested out new medicine and new tortures in the concentrations camps of Europe?”

Today, King’s Riverside speech is often cited as one of his most prophetic, where he tied together the most pressing issues of the day. That was anything but the reaction he met at the time, when other civil rights leaders distanced themselves from him and major media commentaries insisted he had gone astray. Life called it “demagogic slander that sounded like a script for Radio Hanoi.” The Washington Post claimed King’s allegations contained “sheer inventions of unsupported fantasy.”

And the New York Times chided King for “recklessly comparing American military methods to those of the Nazis.”

Stung by the criticism, King issued a slight apology, at least to the comment in the Times. “The press and critics quoted this statement out of context. I had no intention of equating the U.S. and Nazi Germany,” he wrote. “Indeed, recognition of American democratic traditions, and the absence of them in Nazi Germany, makes it all the more disturbing if even some elements of similarity of conduct appear.”

But King’s Riverside statement was, in fact, accurate. The Pentagon Papers, released in 1971 by Daniel Ellsberg, revealed a passage dated April 19, 1961, recommending that the United States “concentrate U.S. military research and development to develop better military equipment for use in resolving insurgency problems in Vietnam. The area should be treated as a laboratory and providing ground, as far as this is politically feasible.”

In the present moment, perhaps it is less important to agree on whether the prisons in which immigrant children and adults are being held can be called “concentration camps” than it is to agree that they are cruel, unnecessary, and must be closed as soon as possible. In the meantime, I join those who say, “never again means now.”

Or, as Dr. King said at Riverside Church, “Our only hope today lies in our ability to recapture the revolutionary spirit and go out into a sometimes hostile world declaring eternal hostility to poverty, racism, and militarism.”

(This is based in part on an article I wrote in 1991, when Dr. King’s opposition to the U.S. war in Vietnam was a major factor in resistance to enacting a New Hampshire state holiday in his honor.)

[This was first published in the Concord Monitor on May 31, 2019, the day after New Hampshire’s state Senate overturned the governor’s veto of a death penalty repeal bill.]

Oddly enough, it was a series of murders in 1997 that launched the campaign to abolish New Hampshire’s death penalty.

The killings of three police officers, the rape and murder of a 6-year-old girl, and the murder of a judge and a journalist, all within a two-month period, created political conditions that made death penalty expansion politically popular, regardless of the fact that the recent murders were largely covered already by the state’s capital murder statute.

When the 1998 legislative session opened, Republican leaders of the state House and Senate teamed up with Democratic Gov. Jeanne Shaheen to introduce a bill greatly expanding the list of crimes punishable by execution. Passage appeared likely.

But two young legislators had another idea.

Reps. Renny Cushing of Hampton and Clifton Below of Lebanon already knew each other through the anti-nuclear Clamshell Alliance when they won election to the Legislature. Instead of simply arguing against the expansion bill, they introduced a floor amendment that would abolish it altogether.

Below, then 42 years old but already a veteran legislator, was the son of a Protestant minister and brought a preacher’s touch to his speech on the House floor. “When possible,” he said, “we should choose life over death, good over evil, the possibility of redemption over destruction, of healing over revenge, love over hate.”

Speaking about the potential of every human being, even those who have committed brutal violence, to repent and gain redemption, Below lifted up the example of John Newton, a slave ship captain who was responsible for the death of scores of men, women and children. Seeking redemption from such evil, Newton became an activist in the movement to abolish the slave trade and wrote the great hymn, “Amazing Grace.”

“Who are we to deny the possibility of redemption, true change and healing?” Below asked.

“Our desire for justice, retribution, and even revenge comes to us naturally,” he continued. “But why let murderers debase our values and diminish our love for life? Why allow murderers to make us participants in perpetuating cycles of violence and revenge? Why drag all of us down by placing the blood of unnecessary killing on all of our hands?”

Renny Cushing followed, addressing the 350 Houserenny hampton vigil 2014 members from his perspective as the son of a homicide victim. Ten years earlier, he recalled, his father was watching the Celtics on TV when he answered a knock at the front door. “Two shotgun blasts were fired through the screen, lifting him up and hurling him backwards, the shrapnel lifting the life out of him before my mother’s eyes.”

“The most difficult thing I have ever had to ask anyone was for help in getting my father’s blood cleaned off the floor and walls,” he explained.

With his infant daughter, Grace, in her mother’s lap in the House Gallery, Cushing told a rapt audience of lawmakers: “If we let those who murder turn us to murder, it gives over more power to those who do evil. We become what we say we abhor. I do not want the state of New Hampshire to do to the man who murdered my father what that man did to my family.”

What survivors want, said Cushing, is to know the truth about what happened, to have some form of justice, and to have the opportunity to heal. Killing the killer does none of those things, he said.

When the votes were counted, the Below-Cushing amendment failed, 155-195. But the impact was powerful, and the death penalty expansion measure was voted down, too, by an even larger margin, 137-215.

The ad hoc group of death penalty opponents who worked with Reps. Cushing and Below to defeat the expansion bill soon became the N.H. Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. The coalition continued to make the case that killing those who have killed violates the moral principles of most religious traditions, that it does not deter murder or protect public safety, and that the resources spent on prosecutions in cases where execution is possible could be better spent on any number of socially useful purposes, such as giving actual aid to crime victims.

Over time, the coalition devoted additional attention to the documented cases of prosecutorial and judicial errors which placed innocent people on death row, and to the death penalty system’s demonstrated racial bias.

Speaking on the House floor this past March 8, Rep. Cushing, now the gray-haired chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety Committee, once more told his fellow lawmakers about his father’s murder, stating, “If we let people who kill turn us into killers, then evil triumphs and we all lose.”

The 2019 repeal measure passed the House by a vote of 279 to 88, and later cleared the Senate 17 to 6. The bill was later vetoed by Gov. Chris Sununu.

Rep. Cushing took to the House floor again last week to call for members to override the governor’s veto. “The death penalty doesn’t work,” he said. “It doesn’t work for victims. It doesn’t work for society.”

Like his colleague 21 years earlier, Cushing invoked the memory of John Newton and the words of “Amazing Grace.” “I once was lost, but now am found, was blind but now I see,” a lyric that speaks to the potential we all have to atone, to change and to act in accord with deeply held values.

“New Hampshire can live without the death penalty,” he concluded. The House and Senate agreed.

[This article was published in the Concord Monitor on March 24, 2019 and also appears on the AFSC website.]

With the March 20 passage in the NH House of Representatives of a resolution calling for a policy of no-first-use of nuclear weapons and opposing development of so-called “low yield” nuclear weapons, New Hampshire legislators added their voices to a growing movement aimed at reducing the risk of nuclear conflict and moving the world toward abolition of nuclear weapons.

Other measures, based on a resolution known as “Back from the Brink,” also cleared the City Council in Portsmouth last Monday and Town Meetings last week in Warner, Alstead, Lee, and Exeter. The Durham Town Council passed one in December. New London’s Town Meeting kicked off the latest round two years ago.

It’s not a coincidence.

The resolutions flow from an organized effort by groups including NH Peace Action, the American Friends Service Committee, Seacoast Peace Response, Rights and Democracy, and the Union of Concerned Scientists to spotlight concerns about nuclear weapons at a time when presidential candidates are flocking to New Hampshire. The candidates are also starting to get questions on the campaign trail.

The reason should be obvious: 75 years into the atomic age and 3 decades after the Cold War ended, the world is still threatened by the possibility that through escalation of international conflict, accident, or technological malfunction, nuclear weapons could be exploded. Consider, for example, the festering tensions along the border between India and Pakistan, two of the world’s nine nuclear-armed powers, that could spin out of control.

As the Portsmouth resolution put it, “the detonation of even a small number of these weapons anywhere in the world could have catastrophic human, environmental, and economic consequences that could affect everyone on the planet.”

“A large‐scale nuclear war could kill hundreds of millions of people directly and cause unimaginable environmental damage, producing conditions wherein billions of people could die from starvation or disease,” the resolution added.

Yet, the United States and other nuclear powers are pursuing new nuclear weapons, even ones designed for battlefield use, rather than diplomatic courses to de-escalate tensions and reduce the chance that nuclear weapons would ever be used. The decisions by US and Russian leaders to pull out of the Intermediate Nuclear Forces agreement and possibility that the New START treaty might go unrenewed in 2020 stand as stark examples.

For our country, this is a dangerous change of course from the approaches of previous presidential administrations, Republican and Democratic, which even at the height of the Cold War knew that restraint was preferable to an uncontrolled nuclear arms race.

According to a recent poll conducted by the Union of Concerned Scientists, 84 percent of New Hampshire residents think it is very (54 percent) or somewhat (30 percent) important for candidates in the upcoming 2020 presidential election to lay out their views regarding nuclear weapons.

Presidential candidates take notice. When you visit New Hampshire, you may be asked questions like,

“Will you oppose current plans to spend upwards of one-and-a-half trillion dollars on a plan to rebuild the entire American nuclear arsenal?”

“Will you agree that no president, even yourself should you be elected, should have unilateral authority to launch a nuclear attack?”

“Will you live up to long-standing US treaty obligations and support multilateral negotiations leading to the worldwide elimination of nuclear weapons?”

Voters will welcome the responses.

When I began a review of notes from my early years with AFSC, I already remembered many of the details of the New Hampshire peace movement in the early 1980s. Following the lead of AFSC in Vermont, we coordinated the introduction of resolutions into dozens of Town Meetings in March of 1982 calling on the United States and Soviet Union to halt—or “freeze”–all further production, testing and deployment of nuclear warheads and the missiles and planes designed to deliver them to targets across the globe. The surprising success of the Town Meeting campaign, in communities which by and large voted Republican, caught the attention of national political leaders and changed the discourse over nuclear weapons at a time in which a popular president was leading a massive military build-up against a foe he termed “the evil empire.” Within three years, Ronald Reagan had shifted from a strategy based on waging and winning a nuclear war with the Soviet Union to one built around negotiations for nuclear limits. In 1985, Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev came close to agreeing to the abolition of nuclear weapons. The basic story is clear in my memory.

But there were a lot of details of the peace movement’s vibrancy which had slipped from my memory. For example, the month after Freeze resolutions were adopted in 48 of the 61 New Hampshire towns which considered them, my staff report mentioned plans for a “New Englanders for Peace” march in Portsmouth, with 1000 people expected. The following month, rather casually, my report said 2500 people marched from Pierce Island, across the Piscataqua River from the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to Pease Air Force Base in Newington. Fourteen busloads went from New Hampshire to New York for the massive peace rally in Central Park in May 1982, timed to coincide with a Special Session on Disarmament at the United Nations.

Meanwhile, seventeen organizations, including the NH People’s Alliance and the NH chapter of the National Association of Social Workers, were participating in a NH Fair Budget Coalition, which sought to get the attention of elected officials to skewed federal budget priorities. My notes report that among the 40 or 50 people attending an April 1983 “fair budget” forum were Congressman Norm D’Amours and Will Abbott, then state director for Congressman Judd Gregg. “I set up a ‘penny poll,’” my notes say, “where people got the opportunity to ‘vote’ on how they wanted their tax dollars spent; military spending proved very unpopular compared to health care, education, transportation, and housing.”

And as I contemplate our current situation, in which a president averse to diplomacy and enamored of nuclear weapons drives a mostly horrendous foreign policy with little public resistance and shifts the public treasury more and more to military programs, I have to wonder why we were able to mount an effective peace movement in the Reagan period and seem to be unable to do so now.

I offer some thoughts on this and invite yours.

“We are surrounded by wars and rumors of war.”

First, let’s look at the current situation. Paul Shannon summed it up recently in a talk at the conference on “The Next Two Years and Beyond,” held in Boston shortly after the 2018 election. After describing the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in Yemen, with weapons sold to U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, Paul observed, “That’s just one war, Yemen.’ He went on:

But we are surrounded today by wars and rumors of war:

A new base in Syria

War in Afghanistan

Troops back in Iraq.

Drone attacks all over.

Our president withdraws from the Iran nuclear deal even though Iran lived up to all its requirements. Instead he imposes deadly sanctions on Iran that will kill many as they did in Iraq under Bill Clinton. And he builds a dangerous alliance with Saudi Arabia and Israel specifically to confront Iran. A massive new war is not out of the question.

Our president has announced he will withdraw from the INF nuclear treaty with Russia, the very treaty that ended the cold war in the late 1980s.

Meanwhile Washington continues Obama’s trillion-dollar modernization of our nuclear arsenal.

The Pentagon’s new nuclear posture review makes using nuclear weapons thinkable.

NATO conducts military exercises near the Russian border after Russia has conducted its own massive military maneuvers. And the demonization of Russia by liberals and the Democrats rolls on.

And tragically we see the growing glorification of the military as the only institution in the country that Americans feel proud of.

Paul says, “The peace movement is building itself up again to counter these dangers and offer alternatives.” I hope this is not just wishful thinking.

It’s not that there is no activism. Consider the 2017 “Women’s March,” considered “the largest single-day protest in U.S. history” (although the largest assembly, in Washington, was still smaller than the 1982 disarmament rally in New York). Or consider the Families Belong Together rallies of 2018, when mobilizations took place in some 700 cities and towns to protest the cruelties of the Trump administration’s immigration enforcement practices.

The Peace Movement is Hard to Find in “The Resistance”

And yet, the anti-war movement is hard to detect amidst the “resistance” to Trumpist assaults on democracy and human rights. Opposition to militarism and ranks low on the progressive agenda. Presented with a resolution my own town passed earlier this year calling for a shift of public resources away from the military, my liberal Congresswoman said the issue ranks too low among her constituents’ concerns for it to matter.

Imagine you are a high school junior, born in 2001. Your country has been at war in Afghanistan for your entire life, but you will rarely hear about it in what passes for the news. And while working class people continue to enlist in the military – perhaps out of a sense of patriotism, perhaps out of a need for gainful employment with benefits, perhaps for lack of other attractive options – you may not know there are people in your own community who oppose the war and want it to end. If you think about it at all, you might conclude that perpetual war is a normal state of being.

It might be said that the urgency of other issues – racist police practices, institutionalized xenophobia, climate disruption, toxic masculinity come to mind – distracts attention from international events and U.S. foreign policy. But when I think back to the 1980s, I recall a period disturbingly similar to the present period, yet with a powerful peace movement.

Donald Trump’s Political Ancestry

In a sense, Reagan can be seen as Trump’s closest political ancestor. Coming out of the world of entertainment, with little interest in policy details and an understanding of the world based on the plots of movies in which he starred, he was known as “the great communicator” for his ability to sway people with platitudes and a promise to return America to a (white) paradise that never was. Reagan’s domestic policy priorities were tax cuts, deregulation, and increased military spending at the expense of human welfare programs. Sound familiar?

Reagan brought with him into his administration a troop of ideologues who would be right at home in the Trump White House. There was Attorney General Ed Meese, a Reagan confidante who was forced to resign in the midst of a corporate bribery scandal. As top law enforcer, Meese believed there was no need for police to inform suspects of their right to remain silent. “The thing is,” he told US News and World Report, “you don’t have many suspects who are innocent of a crime. That’s contradictory. If a person is innocent of a crime, then he is not a suspect.” (Meese later served on Trump’s transition team.)

There was James Watt, the Interior Secretary who believed environmental destruction was a sign that the second coming of Jesus was at hand. There was Oliver North, who ran arms to Nicaraguan counter-revolutionaries out of the National Security Council after Congress barred the CIA from doing it themselves. There was Chester Crocker, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, who engineered the “constructive engagement” approach to South African apartheid as a friendlier alternative to the Carter administration’s human rights focus. And there was General T.K. Jones, head of civil defense planning in the Pentagon, who famously said of nuclear war, “If there are enough shovels to go around, everybody’s going to make it.”

Resistance in the Reagan Era

The people rose up. When the AIDS crisis emerged, gay activists protested the administration’s callous disregard for their lives and forced the pharmaceutical industry to produce affordable drugs. The anti-apartheid movement spread from city to city, state to state, and campus to campus, forcing governments to withdraw economic cooperation with the South African regime, aiding in its eventual collapse. Nearly half a million people joined the AFL-CIO sponsored Solidarity March in Washington after Reagan fired more than 11,000 striking air traffic controllers.

A massive solidarity and anti-intervention movement grew up in response to the administration’s aggression against Nicaragua and its support for brutal right-wing regimes in El Salvador and Guatemala. People of faith flocked to the border between Nicaragua and Honduras to “witness for peace.” Churches offered sanctuary to immigrants who had fled violence only to be denied a lawful right to remain in the U.S. Activists developed a “pledge of resistance,” a plan for nationwide sit-ins at local Congressional offices in the event of a Nicaragua invasion. When the administration declared an economic embargo instead, “Pledge groups across the country planned and executed acts of civil disobedience across 80 cities in 16 states, with over 10,000 demonstrators and 2,000 arrestees,” according to the Global Nonviolence Data Base. Pledge of Resistance actions expanded to 42 states by 1985.

The nuclear disarmament movement, which had been quiet since atmospheric testing was banned in the early 1960s, sprang back into life. With the 1979 “Call to Halt the Nuclear Arms Race,” the short paper by Randall Forsberg that outlined a demand for a US-USSR nuclear freeze, as a rallying point, the movement spread rapidly in response to the Reagan administration’s nuclear build-up, its doctrine calling for the USA to “prevail” in an all-out nuclear war, and the president’s inclination to see the US-Soviet conflict as a battle between good and evil. It wasn’t just the Freeze Campaign itself. There was Women’s Action for Nuclear Disarmament, inspired by Dr. Helen Caldicott’s apocalyptic warnings. Beyond War, a California-based group including ex-CIA officials, reached professional class audiences with the message that war was “obsolete” in the nuclear age. Physicians for Social Responsibility provided clinical warnings about the actual health implications of nuclear war. Bridges for Peace, Promoting Enduring Peace, and others promoted people-to-people exchanges with communities on the other side of “the iron curtain.” Ground Zero, founded by a former National Security Council staff member who didn’t even support the Freeze, ran educational programs on nuclear dangers alongside the rest of the movement.

Within a rather short time, the movement grew large enough to affect pop culture. I remember the “Bloom County” comic strip making friendly fun of the New England town meetings with a character introducing a resolution to fill missile silos with pudding. “99 Luftballons,” a German pop song, became “99 Red Balloons,” a warning about the danger of accidental nuclear war in a hit English language version. The movement reached its biggest cultural impact with the 1983 release of a TV film, “The Day After,” depicting the aftermath of a nuclear war. According to my staff reports, I joined the publisher of the right-wing Union Leader newspaper and a few others for a live, post-film panel discussion afterward at the local ABC affiliate.

By 1985, Reagan’s attitude had been adjusted. A new Soviet leader, determined to find a way out of endless conflict, made it possible for the US and USSR to get back on track for nuclear arms control if not on a path toward abolition. By the end of the decade, the Cold War was over, leaving too many people with the impression that the danger of nuclear war was in the past. But we had made a mark on history.

Why were we able to build such a powerful movement?

For one thing, Reagan was elected barely five years after the United States was booted out of Vietnam. By 1975, the war there was not only massively unpopular, but the resistance movement had developed a powerful critique of the U.S. policies which got us there in the first place. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had put it at Riverside Church in 1967, “the war in Vietnam is but a symptom of a far deeper malady within the American spirit.”

“These are revolutionary times,” Dr. King said. “All over the globe men are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression, and out of the wounds of a frail world, new systems of justice and equality are being born.” For growing numbers of participants in the anti-war movement, the United States wasn’t just wrong, it was on the wrong side. In other words, the war was not just built on lies, it was built on a deeply rooted and largely bi-partisan policy of aggressive imperialism. And with the ideology of the war system based in extreme anti-communism, the ideology of the peace movement was generally anti-anti-communist if not decidedly leftist.

By the mid-70s, the peace movement was looking at the U.S. role in the Caribbean, in Central and South America, in South Africa and the “frontline states,” and in the oil-rich Middle East. That Reagan’s election came before such lessons had been forgotten made it easier to mobilize the public to oppose a reprise of Cold War militarism.

Another development was the rise of the movement against nuclear power, especially in New England where the Freeze movement would find its first active expressions. After years of largely ineffective anti-nuclear intervention by mainstream environmental groups, the shift to nonviolent direct action at nuclear construction sites in Montague, Massachusetts and Seabrook, New Hampshire gave mostly young “No Nukes” activists a chance to apply lessons learned from anti-war, civil rights, and feminist struggles of the previous period. The Clamshell Alliance, the network of locally based New England groups which led the Seabrook protests, was unhesitant about linking opposition to nuclear power and weapons. It was internationalist in orientation, actively seeking ties to the anti-apartheid movement and to groups challenging the pro-nuclear, anti-communist Marcos dictatorship in the Philippines.

Although the Clamshell peaked in 1978, New England was still peppered with local No Nukes groups when Reagan was elected two years later. Not only did those groups provide fertile ground for a revived nuclear disarmament movement, they provided leaders with community and political organizing experience. Here we might single out for special attention Randy Kehler, the Vietnam era war resister credited with inspiring Daniel Ellsberg to release the Pentagon Papers. Kehler later settled in Franklin County, Massachusetts, where he was active in the local Alternative Energy Coalition opposing the Seabrook and Montague nukes. In 1980, he was the lead organizer of the referendum campaign that first put the nuclear freeze to a popular vote.

Why Not Now?

What I’m trying to understand is why a similar form of resistance, focused on U.S. foreign and military policy and especially the danger of nuclear war, has not arisen since Trump’s election. It’s not like we weren’t warned when candidate Trump revealed he had no idea what the “nuclear triad” is, or when he reportedly asked about the nuclear weapons in the U.S. arsenal, “if we have them, why can’t we use them?”

Could it be that the intense anti-war sentiment aroused by George W. Bush’s war in Iraq has thoroughly dissipated? At the time, it seemed like anti-war sentiment was not based just on reaction to American body bags but to a fuller critique of U.S. policy in southwest Asia. Didn’t significant parts of the anti-war movement develop an analysis that probed deeper than W’s personal animus against Saddam Hussein and the orchestrated campaign of lies about weapons of mass destruction?

Could it be that the trauma induced by the 9/11 terrorist attacks was so deep that the American public has been cowed into accepting anything done in the name of national security? That’s a tempting theory, but what, then, do we make of the massive movement that opposed the Iraq war? Recall the demonstrations in 150 U.S. cities and hundreds more across the globe on February 15, 2003, termed “the largest protest event in human history.” The NY Times equated the anti-war movement to a “superpower” rival of the U.S. and its military allies.

Yes, the “baby boomers” who grew up under the shadow of The Bomb and who hid under their desks in civil defense drills were more sensitive to nuclear dangers than the millennials who grew up after the Cold War had ended. But where is the foreign policy agenda of the baby boomer progressives who make up such a large component of the anti-Trump resistance?

Did the election of Barack Obama, who ran for president as an anti-war candidate and left office as droner-in-chief, cast a magic spell over the public? Can the fact that the massive nuclear build-up began with Obama’s approval account for the fact that Trump’s policy – largely an extension of his predecessor’s – make it immune from serious scrutiny? Were progressives that reluctant to criticize Obama that their critical capacities were wiped out?

Which brings me to the relationship between progressives and the Democratic Party. Could it be that progressive activists find it harder to distance themselves from the Democrats than they did in earlier generations? The 1960s anti-war movement arose in resistance to a Democratic president with liberal tendencies on the domestic front. While the movement later found champions among Democratic Senators like McCarthy and McGovern, and some of its leaders (e.g. Tom Hayden) found their way into Democratic politics, it did not lose its ability to critique a bi-partisan foreign policy consensus rooted in Cold War ideology and the dictates of capitalism.

That Hilary Clinton was a hawk offers little explanation, for foreign policy played little role in the 2016 campaign and her support was largely based on anti-Trump sentiments.

What of Bernie Sanders, who led a serious (he called it a “political revolution,” after all) alternative approach that almost captured the Democratic Party? I recall one of his earliest campaign stops in Concord, New Hampshire, months before the first-in-the-nation presidential primary, when he was asked about the power of the military-industrial-complex. Acknowledging its unwarranted influence, Bernie was quick to shift to more comfortable territory. “The military-industrial-complex is enormously powerful, no question about it,” he said, adding “You have on Wall Street six financial institutions that have assets that are equivalent to sixty percent of the GDP of the United States. You have big energy companies who are unbelievably powerful. So, I think what you have is a ruling class in America.” Then he was back to the power of insurance and drug companies to block progress toward single-payer health care.

Bernie’s campaign, consistent with his Congressional career, was built on economic issues: jobs, wages, health care, education. For Sanders (and much of the progressive wing of the Democratic Party), even international trade is considered primarily as a domestic issue. Despite Hilary’s reputation as a hawk, Bernie never tried to make an alternative to the bi-partisan national security consensus a significant component of his campaign. Could that be why his legions of followers have failed to do so as well?

Two months before the 2018 election, Katrina Vanden Heuvel of The Nation wrote “the progressive left’s national security policy has been mostly missing in action.“ That opinion is hard to argue with, and there are plenty of good outlines for what such a policy would be. But without some clamor from below, we can’t expect an agenda to have much clout.

Earlier this week, the town council in Durham, New Hampshire, approved a resolution calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons. Seacoast Peace Response, a local group formed after the 9-11 attacks, is working with activists in other communities to bring similar resolutions before City Councils and Town Meetings in the coming months. With the 2020 New Hampshire Presidential Primary about 14 months away and the tide of possible presidential candidates visiting the Granite State starting to rise, the timing is excellent.

Another ray of hope comes from the Poor People’s Campaign: a national call for moral revival. Following Dr. King’s lead, the campaign sees militarism, along with racism, poverty, and ecological devastation as inter-related pillars of an unjust system that needs radical change. As a new Congress takes office, this is a good time for a new peace movement to make its voice heard.

What do you think it will take?

December 7, 2018

PB250053

It was a typical Sunday in the Oaxaca zócalo, the busy plaza at the city’s center. Balloon vendors and peddlers of handicrafts and plastic toys plied their wares while tourists and local families strolled by or stopped for meals at the restaurants which line the outside of the square. At PB250079one end, the radical teachers union was holding a rally—complete with a brass band and traditional folk dancers–marking marking the International Day Against Violence and Exploitation of Women and calling for an end to impunity.

At the other side of the zócalo, close to the walls of the Cathedral, a student brass band was setting up for a concert. Huge trees kept everyone mostly sheltered from the hot sun.

PB250022

One element was new: over where seats had been set up for the brass band’s audience, a line of about 100 people snaked around the plaza headed for a shaded spot where a table held two big, white boxes, labeled “Consulta Nacional.” It was voting day for thPB250048e second plebiscite organized by Andrés Manuel López Obrador, Mexico’s president-elect. His inauguration still a week off, AMLO, as he is known, appears to be already running the government. The “consulta nacional,” or national consultation, is one example of how the popular leader is keeping attention on his assertive agenda.

 

At the top of his agenda, or at least at the top of today’s ballot, is a proposal to run high speed trains over a 1500 kilometer track to be built from Cancun south through the busy tourist corridor of the Mayan Riviera, across the Yucatán peninsula alongside the borders of the Calakmul Biosphere ballot and programas from website (2)Reserve to Campeche, south through Tabasco (AMLO’s home state), ending in Palenque, home to a major archaeological site in the Chiapas jungle. The project is known as the Maya Train.

According to the background information posted on the “Mexico Decides” website, the train would promote tourism at a cost of about 150 billion pesos, or $7.5 billion US dollars at current exchange rates. It would follow existing rights of way. Moreover, “it will not affect the environment.”

Questions on the “ballot” include others aimed at spurring development in the generally poor south and southeast of the country, including a proposal for another transportation corridor across the Isthmus of Tehuantepec and modernization of industrial facilities on both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts. AMLO also proposes major investments in fruit orchards, which he says would restore the environment and create 400,000 jobs.

AMLO’s plans for big projects in the south and southeast are reminiscent of older plans from recent neoliberal administrations, as well as the US-backed “Plan Puebla Panama” development corridor.  His campaign, however, was largely based on a pledge to end corruption and respond to the needs of ordinary Mexicans.  

The people waiting in line with their cedulas, or voter ID cards, ranged in age from those barely old enough to vote to old timers. Their spirits appeared to be high. “They are taking us into account,” several people told us. Unlike his predecessors, who were mostly thieves, they said AMLO “isn’t going to rob us.”

We did not ask them how they intended to vote, but from their pro-AMLO enthusiasm, we expect the votes to be positive.

Others aren’t so sure.

At the other end of the zócalo, close to where the teachers were rallying, three young women were peddling notebooks to raise money for their collective. The notebooks carried pictures of iconic rebels, including Emiliano Zapata, Frida Kahlo, Charlie Chaplin, and Mafalda, an Argentine cartoon character whose image is popular with Oaxacan radicals. When we asked if they planned to vote in the consulta, they all shook their heads. The first people who should vote on the megaprojects, they agreed, are the indigenous people in the areas where the projects will be built. Even to vote “no,” they said, is to legitimize a development path that is already underway.

That does seem to be the case. In fact, AMLO outlined the details in a July 12 letter to President Donald Trump, in which he stated “this project will be carried out without detriment to our sovereignty and will be promoted with the participation of the public, private and social sectors. In this case, as in any other project, environmental impacts will be taken into account and the rights of the villagers and land owners will not be overlooked, on the contrary, they will be taken into account, consulted and incorporated as substantive part of the project.” As the incoming president put it, the development projects will create opportunities for young workers, thereby reducing pressure to migrate.

tren maya map excelsior

map courtesy of Excelsior.

But opposition appears to be building among indigenous community leaders and human rights defenders. In a recent column in the Mexico City daily La Jornada, Carlos Beas Torres, director of the Union of Indigenous Communities of the Northern Isthmus, said the Isthmus has been the object of development schemes going back to Herman Cortes and has received three billion dollars in outside investment in the past decade. “So why do 70 percent of the Isthmians live in poverty?” he asked. “The explanation lies in the fact that investment projects have been designed from the outside to serve interests foreign to those of the inhabitants of the region. In the Mexican Isthmus, a model of extractive development has been imposed for centuries, based on the plundering of resources and the excessive exploitation of the work of the regional population.”

AMLO’s consulta is not the first, Beas Torres observed. All the others, sponsored by neoliberal governments, have been intended to “legitimize plunder and looting.”

As for the Mayan communities in the Yucatán, they seem less than impressed with the train which would carry their name. In a recent letter rejecting the megaprojects and rejecting the consulta, a dozen indigenous groups from several states told the incoming president they have been following the proposed Maya Train for some time and hoped AMLO would come in with more respect for their perspectives . “With respect to the so-called consultation, from this moment we reject any result whether it is for or against. It is not permissible for anyone, any person outside the Yucatán Peninsula, to decide what to do or not to do in our territories,” they said. “No to megaprojects that strip us of our territories,” the letter concluded. Similar statements have come from indigenous communities in Oaxaca.

And yet another letter went to the president-elect from a group of influential artists and intellectuals, reminding him that the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169, on the rights of indigenous and tribal peoples, to which Mexico is a party, requires the government to consult directly with affected indigenous communities before going ahead with projects like the Maya Train or the trans-Isthmus transportation/industrial corridor. No “national consultation” can substitute for that process, they pointed out.

Regardless of the outcome of this weekend’s vote, debate over the Maya Train and other massive development projects is far from over.

POST SCRIPT – About a million people, or 1% of the electorate, cast ballots nationwide, with all the proposals gaining approval from about 90% of voters.   See the official results here.

PB250033

This was first published as an AFSC Blog on May 23 2018 in conjunction with the third “week of action” of the Poor People’s Campaign.

Fifty-one years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King warned that “a nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.”

Dr. King’s moral equation, spoken at the time the U.S. was raining bombs and napalm on the people of Vietnam, still applies today.

“Since Vietnam,” according to a detailed report on poverty from the national Poor People’s Campaign, a new movement inspired by King’s vision, “the United States has waged an ongoing war against diffuse enemies, siphoning massive resources away from social needs. The current annual military budget, at $668 billion, dwarfs the $190 billion allocated for education, jobs, housing, and other basic services and infrastructure. Out of every dollar in federal discretionary spending, 53 cents goes towards the military, with just 15 cents on anti-poverty programs.”

That’s one reason why poverty has actually gotten worse in the five decades since Dr. King died while standing alongside striking garbage collectors in Memphis. In other words, excessive military spending equals worse schools, deteriorating housing, decaying infrastructure, and a frayed social safety net. President Eisenhower described the equation this way in 1953, “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed.”

We also know that aerial bombardment equals civilian deaths, mostly for women and children. Consumption of fossil fuel by naval vessels and military aircraft equals tons of carbon injected into the atmosphere. War equals ecological devastation. And extreme violence equals lasting trauma for both the perpetrators and the surviving victims.

But there’s another equation, impossible to avoid in hundreds of communities spread across the country, which says military spending equals jobs.

For a case in point, I need look no farther than Nashua, New Hampshire, home of BAE Systems, which with 5400 employees is by far the largest industrial employer in the state. Not only does BAE employ more than three times as many workers as the number two, but it matches charitable donations from employees and provides grants in the areas of education, including sponsoring the First Lego League and a Women in Technology program. It states that it is “committed to working to high ethical, safety and environmental standards, retaining and attracting a diverse and talented workforce and making a positive contribution to the countries and communities in which we operate.” A BAE representative sits on the board of the United Way of Greater Nashua. In other words, BAE presents itself as a good corporate citizen with a $982 million annual impact on the New Hampshire economy.

BAE’s largesse, like the wages it pays to its workers, is a product of the war economy, more specifically the sale of electronic components for missiles, bombs, aircraft, and other military technology to the Pentagon and other weapons makers.

BAE, a subsidiary of the firm formerly known as British Aerospace, is currently the third largest military contractor in the U.S., with more than $23.6 billion in Pentagon sales, an amount which makes up 91% of its total revenue, according to Defense News. It spent nearly $4 million on lobbying last year, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, and $1.2 million on political candidates in the 2016 campaign cycle.

Its former president was the Republican candidate for governor of New Hampshire20160601_074659_resized in 2014. Its former director of public affairs served until recently as the head of New Hampshire’s Department of Resources and Economic Development, the state agency charged with promoting local business. The agency (now renamed NH Economic Development) provides support to the NH Aerospace and Defense Export Consortium, a trade group that encourages foreign sales of NH-produced military hardware.  [See my 2016 article on the NH arms export promotion conference.]

With the community dependent on it for employment and charity, with millions invested in politics, and with its leaders embedded in its community’s social and political infrastructure, BAE is as good an example as we might find of what Eisenhower called the “military industrial complex.”

While the jobs it creates are real, the military spending equals jobs equation doesn’t hold up when we ask what would happen if the funds were spent elsewhere. According to Heidi Garrett-Peltier, a UMASS economist, “over the past 16 years, by spending money on war rather than in these other areas of the domestic economy, the US lost the opportunity to create between one million and three million additional jobs.” The reason: Government spending in any other area is a better job creator.

We might say that the equations which joins military spending to jobs can be disproved. But that is not just a mathematical process, it’s a moral and political one. That’s the point of the Poor People’s Campaign, to recast our nation’s politics in a moral framework.

Fifty years after the first Poor People’s Campaign it is well past time to tend to our spiritual health by changing our nation’s priorities. We don’t have as much to lose as we might fear, and we have a lot of ground – moral and economic – to gain.

doris hampton 2018 town meeting

More than Half the Budget is “Way, Way Too Much”

Voters at the annual town meeting in Canterbury, New Hampshire, meeting in the town’s elementary school gym on March 16, approved a resolution calling for a shift in federal spending away from the Pentagon and toward other purposes.

The resolution was the final item on the agenda of the annual exercise of direct democracy still practiced by small town in New England. It calls on the United States Congress to “cut the Pentagon budget and to use that money to fund education, public and private sector family-sustaining job creation, environmental and infrastructure restoration, care for veterans and their families, and human services that our communities and state desperately need, and create tax cuts for working families.“ The resolution also directs the town’s Board of Selectmen to forward it to the state’s two US Senators and the district’s US Representative as a statement of the town’s views.

After the Ted LeClair, the Town Moderator, read the full resolution aloud, Bill Taylor, a retired worker in the state’s transportation department, explained the idea came from a subcommittee of the Canterbury Citizens for Democracy (CC4D), a grassroots group formed after the 2016 election. “We all looked at what the federal government is spending on our military,” he told the crowd of nearly 200 people. “It’s over 50% of the federal discretionary budget. I think that’s way, way too much. We can get what we need for less. We’re asking our representatives to start talking about it.”

Five “whereas” clauses gave the facts:

· the U.S. spends in excess of $600 billion a year on its military programs, which is well over half of federal discretionary spending, and which in 2016 cost the average New Hampshire taxpayer $3,069; and

· the U.S. spends more on its military forces than the next eight countries combined, and five of them are close U.S.  allies; and

· research shows that tax dollars spent on health care, education, clean energy, and infrastructure create more jobs per dollar than does spending on military programs; and

· the United States has a stockpile of 6,250 nuclear warheads and is in the process of spending $1.2 trillion on a whole new generation of nuclear weapons that would have the ability to annihilate life on earth; and

· the U.S. is the wealthiest nation on earth but trails many other nations in life expectancy, infant mortality, education-level, housing, and clean air and water.

The resolution was printed in the town’s Annual Report, which voters consulted during the course of the meeting. The CC4D members also produced a 4-page fact sheet, with colored charts illustrating the points in the resolution, and placed them on chairs throughout the gym before the meeting started.

“There’s very little debate in Congress over military spending, and there should be a lot more. That’s the purpose behind this resolution,” Taylor told the roomful of Canterbury residents.

The practice at town meeting is for any resident to take the microphone and offer an opinion or a question on each item. By the time Taylor introduced the federal spending resolution, the meeting had already approved the leasing of police cruisers, the purchase of a new truck for the highway department, creation of a committee to advise the town on how to reduce use of fossil fuels, and the town budget for the coming year, including a raise for the Town Administrator. Voters rejected a proposal from the Board of Selectmen to make the town treasurer position an appointed one rather than an elected office.

With the hour late, only three people took the microphone to speak to the budget resolution.

Fred Portnoy, a radio engineer and retired tech worker from Plymouth State University, said, concisely, “This is an issue the federal government is not going to solve on its own without leadership from us.”

Doris Hampton, a retired social worker and the coordinator of the Canterbury Citizens for Democracy, told townspeople that when she saw a chart showing how much more the United States spends on its military than any other country, “I thought, what is it going to take for us to feel safe in this country?”

“What we need to feel safe is for our citizens to feel like they have a Iivelihood that will support them, that they have health care, that their children can have a future. The only way I can see that we can start doing that and start feeling safe in our lives is to start this discussion about tipping the balance of our spending,” she added.

There was one dissenter, who began his speech by saying, “I love the internet, I can pretty much find anything to support any view I take.” He then cited an alternate set of statistics he said showed that Russia and China actually spend more on their military programs when issues like the differing costs of weapons production are taken into account.

ted leclair 3-16-18

Ted LeClair, Canterbury’s Town Moderator, read the resolution

Following a motion to “move the question” and end debate, the moderator read out the resolution’s conclusion one more time. “You’ll forgive me if I don’t read the whereases,” he said, drawing chuckles from the crowd. Then he asked voters to raise green “yes” cards to support the resolution or red “no” cards if they opposed it. The green cards were clearly in the majority. “The motion passes,” the moderator declared.

After some more discussion on the re-building of the Sam Lake House, where the town offices are located, and a report on the results of a survey about the town’s recycling center, the 2018 Canterbury Town Meeting was declared over. Canterbury voters will meet again on the first Friday after the second Tuesday of March, 2019. By then, their two US Senators and their US Representative will have heard that voters in this small, New Hampshire town want them to make a dramatic change in how their federal tax dollars are spent.