Jul 02, 2010
June 26 may have been the last day of the U.S. Social Forum (USSF)
in Detroit, but it might very well be the emergence of a more powerful
antiwar movement in this country.
The U.S. Social Forum is a meeting place for progressive social
justice organizations to discuss issues, strategies, and ideas for
building a social movement in this country. The sessions on the antiwar
and anti-militarism track made several linkages: between the domestic
economic crisis and the bloated military budget, the expansion of U.S.
bases and the displacement of farmers and indigenous peoples from their
land and livelihoods, and the rise of militarism and violence against
We can't address the economic crisis blighting neighborhoods
throughout the United States without moving money away from war. That's
the only part of the national budget not being cut. Organizers at the
USSF united two disparate sectors. One is comprised of grassroots
base-building organizations with multicultural constituencies working
to secure jobs, education, and services. The other includes national
peace organizations with mostly white, middle-class membership.
These two groups largely organize separately. But they came together
at the USSF because working poor people clearly can't get the jobs and
services they need without challenging military spending. Likewise,
peace groups can't end wars without a broad movement challenging the
25 Percent Cut
Mike Prokosch is among the organizers of the 25% Solution
campaign in Massachusetts, which aims to cut a quarter, or about $250
billion, from the Pentagon and other military agencies and
institutions. The campaign wants to redirect this money to social
services, education, and job creation, all of which have been slashed
in this era of joblessness and foreclosures.
"The military industrial complex is shaping peoples' choices and
lives," Prokosch says, referring to the cycle of dependency that
military bases and institutions generate in towns in which it dominates
the local economy. He points to how Dorchester's high unemployment
(which doubled in the last year), cuts in job training for youth job
training programs, and surging dropout rates have fueled the military
enlistment rates for the city's youth. And the only sector of the
economy that hasn't been slashed is the military.
"The more the military base grows the more the cycle of dependency
grows," says Prokosch, who has spent his entire life in the cause of
peace. He remains clear-eyed about the odds. After all, he reminds us,
the U.S. Empire has been growing for over a century and the defense
budget for over 60 years. But he remains hopeful of the potential of a
broad base of diverse communities across the country working together
to take on the military-industrial complex: "If we want to do this, we
we're going to have to build something larger and more powerful than
the military industrial complex that can scare Congress more."
Barbara Lott-Holland, an organizer with the Bus Riders Union of the
Labor Community Strategy Center, describes the tremendous
militarization of low-income neighborhoods in Los Angeles. "Our
neighborhoods are militarized zones in this country," Lott-Holland
says, "terrorized in the name of the war on drugs, the war on gangs,
the war on poverty." She describes how the United States has the
largest prison population in the world, with over 2.2 million in
prison, of which one million are black men. "There are more black men
in prison than there were during slavery." Many inner cities today
require students to go through metal detectors as they enter the school
and have police patrolling the hallways and grounds. "More high schools
now look like prisons," says Lott-Holland, and many classrooms in
elementary schools in Los Angeles don't even have windows. Lott-Holland
believes that "this country systematically treats youth as criminals,"
monitoring every move of brown and black youth from their schools to
U.S. Military Abroad
Just as money for jobs, health care, education, and housing is going
from taxpayer pockets to feed the military-industrial complex, so is
the money for foreign military operations being used to displace
farmers and indigenous people in every region of the world. Members of
the No U.S. Bases movement
described how the over 700 U.S. bases around the world have become
sites of conflict between American soldiers and the local population.
Meanwhile, the United States continues to expropriate land from farmers
and indigenous people to expand or build new bases.
One site of resistance is Guam, also known by its indigenous name,
Guahan. An incorporated U.S. territory, Guam is the intended relocation
site of 8,000 Marines from Okinawa. Unsurprisingly, the U.S. government
didn't consult the people of the island, a disturbing parallel with the
eras of Spanish and Japanese colonialism.
Lisa Natividad of the Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice
explains that the island is very small, only 212 square miles. From top
to bottom, the island is 32 miles, and the widest point is eight miles
wide. Despite Guam's small land mass, the United States is still
planning to transfer the troops, which will include their families,
other military personnel, and the construction of massive
infrastructure to accommodate nearly 80,000 people that will occupy
nearly 40 percent of the land. According to Natividad, the Department
of Defense drafted an environmental impact statement that outlined
plans to dredge 72 acres of the reef surrounding the island and
reclaiming 2,200 acres of land. "Looking at the legacy of militarism,"
Natividad said, "the build-up of the bases will mean worsening health
outcomes and shorter lives." Natividad says there are over 100
Superfund sites on Guam.
Since 2006, Natividad and other women have been informing their
community about the impact of this expanded base and drafting comments
to be included in the environmental impact assessments. They are also
looking to strengthen ties with neighboring islands in Micronesia and
in the north, which are also being assessed for occupation and
U.S. military aid has also been having an impact on the
militarization of Colombia and fueling of guerrilla and paramilitary
wars. "The history of the Colombian conflict is not separate from U.S
complicity," says Claudia Castellenos, a human rights lawyer from
Colombia. Last year, the Colombian government signed an accord with the
United States that will permit seven additional U.S. military bases.
"The presence of U.S. cooperation signifies the increase
militarization," says Castellenos, "which supports the paramilitaries
against the population." Plan Colombia, the U.S. bilateral aid package
that includes military assistance, has coincided with the death and
disappearance of thousands of people. Castellanos is working with
women's organizations to establish leadership development schools for
their children "because they will decide if they will participate in
these wars or not."
Transnational Feminists Unite
Another potentially strong linkage that emerged was the connection
between feminists here in the United States and those working to
confront patriarchy and militarism abroad. At a workshop entitled
"Transnational Feminist Organizing to Resist Militarism and Empire,"
women discussed how militarism is used to rape women, inflict violence
on people, contaminate the environment, and strip farmers and peasants
of their land and sovereignty. Brazilian feminist Alessandra Ceregetti
from the World March of Women, an international feminist grassroots
movement, talked about how they promote peace and demilitarization.
Graciela Sanchez of the Esperanza Peace and Justice Center in San
Antonio, Texas - home to five U.S. military bases - offers some wisdom
on how women might be at the center of organizing against militarism.
"We have to learn to do the work as mujeres (women) to change the culture of violence, of war, of hate, of greed toward that of our abuelitas (grandmothers) of love, sharing, compassion, respect, honesty, and truth."
She also gives a stinging critique of how organizing in this country
has been centered and defined by men and by identity politics. "I can't
separate my queer self, my woman self, my working-class-background
self, my immigrant-family-from-Mexico self, or my curly-headed self,"
says Sanchez. "We can't separate our identities; we must look at issues
holistically and make the connections."
Toward Ending Empire
On the last day of the USSF, several dozens of major antiwar and
social justice groups gathered to discuss how to build a powerful
movement to counter the military industrial complex. Organized by Peace
Action, War Times, and the Beyond Empire Working Group of Grassroots
Global Justice, the morning caucus attracted a multicultural,
multi-generational, and multi-issue audience representing a broad swath
of the U.S. population to continue conversation on how to move the
money from war.
"There's one imperial strategy," says Gwyn Kirk of Women for Genuine
Security, "And people here and around the world are brought in to
support empire." Veterans from Iraq Veterans Against the War also
pointed to the need to bring in veterans, soldiers, and their families
as they are the ones also directly impacted by unending wars. A resolution
submitted to the National Movement Assembly of the USSF to oppose U.S.
wars and militarism urged a focus on October 2010 as a month of
As we took a group photo, we started with the chant, "End the War,"
and then realized that our motto was off. We adjusted it to, "End the
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