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Anti-war protest

Anti-war protesters gather in front of the White House to demonstrate against escalating tensions between the United States and Russia over a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine on January 27, 2022 in Washington, D.C. The protest was organized by the activist group CodePink. (Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

Anti-War Coalition Demands Biden Prioritize BBB Over Ukraine Conflict

"Why does the president have a 'swift and severe' response only when it comes to war and the military industrial complex?"

Julia Conley

Anti-war group CodePink will lead a coalition in a public action in Washington, D.C. Monday morning to demand the Biden administration prioritize delivering much-needed support to working families and communities across the U.S. instead of threatening military action and punishing sanctions against Russia amid the Ukraine conflict.

The groups, which also include SPACEs In Action and Arm in Arm for Climate, will gather in Black Lives Matter Plaza to demand President Joe Biden "use the power of his office to pass the healthcare, child care, climate, and anti-poverty programs that our communities need" within the Build Back Better Act.

"Why does the president have a 'swift and severe' response only when it comes to war and the military industrial complex?" asked CodePink, referring to a statement by U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken last week in which he warned Russia against escalating tensions with Ukraine.

The demonstration will come days after Biden said he plans to send U.S. troops to Eastern European NATO countries to support Ukraine against what his administration claims could be an imminent attack by the Russians.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has asked Biden to stop creating "panic" and has questioned whether Russia is on the verge of attacking.

Russia has reportedly assembled 100,000 troops near the border of eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists have been fighting the Western-backed Ukrainian government since 2014. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said Friday that the country has no plans to escalate the crisis and President Vladimir Putin spoke with French President Emanuel Macron about diplomatic measures that could be taken.

Despite talk of diplomacy and de-escalation by other leaders, though, the U.S. Congress could vote as early as this week on a $500 million military aid package for Ukraine while Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) said Sunday that senators are closing in on a package including "the mother of all sanctions."

"There is an incredibly strong bipartisan resolve to have severe consequences for Russia if it invades Ukraine and in some cases for what it has already done," Menendez told CNN Sunday, adding that the sanctions would be "crippling to their economy, meaningful in terms of consequences to the average Russian and their accounts and pensions."

As the New York Times reported Saturday, far-reaching sanctions on banks in an economy the size of Russia's "could cause severe inflation, a stock market crash, and other forms of financial panic that would inflict pain on its people."

Such sanctions "could roil major economies, particularly those in Europe, and even threaten the stability of the global financial system," according to the Times.

"Collective punishment of civilians is never the solution to a dictator's actions," Responsible Statecraft columnist Kate Kizer said last week regarding the potential "humanitarian costs" of the sanctions.

While the Senate moves quickly and decisively on actions regarding Russia and Ukraine, CodePink noted, negotiations have been stalled for weeks regarding Biden's domestic economic and climate action agenda, the Build Back Better Act.

Progressives are pushing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to ensure the bill is passed by March 1, but Pelosi said Friday that she does not "subscribe to any particular date."

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki also said last week that the administration has "not set a deadline" for passing the package, which was drastically reduced over the past several months due to demands by right-wing Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) before Manchin announced in December that he would not vote for it.

"Congress passed a $768 billion military spending bill this year, yet when it comes to REAL relief for the people and planet, it's, 'How do we pay for it?'" said CodePink.

"Real people need real relief, not empty promises and unmet needs," the group continued in its call for people to join the public action on Monday. "While it's still [a] compromise, there are elements of Build Back Better that ensure health for our families and our environment."

At the demonstration, the groups will "be holding accountable the powerful actors who are blocking progress on the people’s agenda" as they call on lawmakers to reject the push toward military action in Ukraine. Organizers with Shut Down D.C. on Sunday were building "giant vertebrae" that they planned to display as they called for a "spine for Biden."

"He needs it to help him start fighting for Build Back Better the way he fought for highways and airports," said the group, referring to the infrastructure package that passed in November without the social spending and climate bill attached.

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