mike_quiglley

Rep. Mike Quigley, D-Ill., walks down the House steps at the Capitol during the last votes of the week on Friday, April 1, 2022. (Photo: Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

When My Congressman Told Me Weapons Companies Are 'Good'

These companies receive over 50% of our annual defense budget and any member of Congress taking money from them, then voting to give them billions of dollars should be held under a microscope by their constituents who care about peace.

For a year, my neighborhood group Divest Mike has been trying to get in contact with our representative Mike Quigley to talk to him about campaign contributions coming from weapons companies like Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, and General Dynamics. We see it as our responsibility to take on the military industrial complex locally, where we have some power to make noise about it. These companies receive over 50% of our annual defense budget and any member of Congress taking money from them, then voting to give them billions of dollars should be held under a microscope by their constituents who care about peace.

I tried to tell him something he already knew, that Lockheed Martin had manufactured the bomb that was dropped on a school bus full of children in Yemen.

In the grand scheme of things, the donation amounts from those companies seems really small, so we see it as a reasonable ask for Quigley to stop taking money from them. We figured we could make the argument to him that there is more to gain from not taking a few thousand dollars from Lockheed Martin than [the alternative], especially when he's already safe in his congressional seat without a real threat posed by challengers. After all, it isn't a left or right issue: people don't like money in politics.

Sunday, October 23, after a year of being avoided, I was finally able to directly speak to Representative Quigley. It didn't go as I thought it would. He made a few things clear in our interaction; he definitely knows who we are and what we were asking him to do, and his behavior in Congress is bought by companies like Lockheed Martin.

The interaction went something like this: I was on my way to the Roscoe Village Halloween Block Party in Chicago when I saw him biking the opposite way. I said calmly,

"Congressman Quigley?"

He pulled over, got off his bike and shook my hand. He was nice, and seemed interested in talking to a young constituent. I introduced myself kindly, giving him the benefit of the doubt. Maybe he truly hadn't heard of us. Maybe he didn't know what we were asking him to do yet.

I kindly, and without accusing him of anything, informed him I was part of a neighborhood group trying to get in contact with his campaign about contributions from Lockheed Martin and other weapons manufacturers. I saw him tense up instantly, and without letting me finish my sentence, he raised his voice at me and said:

"Listen, there are people out there who are trying to kill us."

He went on about Ukraine, and the horrible acts of violence being carried out on civilians. He talked about his votes to "support Ukraine"--meaning sending weapons to the conflict. Weapons made by and bought from the companies that send him money.

So, I played dumb. I asked him what Lockheed Martin writing a check to his campaign has to do with the way he votes in Congress. He could still vote that way, right? He got even more frustrated. He asked me why "you people hate defense companies?" He said Lockheed Martin is a "good company" because they "make things we need." I tried to tell him something he already knew, that Lockheed Martin had manufactured the bomb that was dropped on a school bus full of children in Yemen. How could a company who made the killing machines be "good?" But he didn't let me get a word in.

Maybe it was poor phrasing, or maybe he was too angry at me to think clearly about what he was saying to me. In a two sentence jumble he said "They give me money because I care about national defense. Because I am on the Intelligence Committee." Because he's on the Intelligence Committee, the committee that oversees parts of the Department of Defense. The whole conversation felt like he was divulging secrets to me, loudly, in the middle of a block party in our district. People were rolling down the windows of their cars as they drove past slowly or waited for the light to turn green.

He rode off on his bike and an older lady who was walking past me a minute later asked me who that man was that yelled at me. I told her that was our Congressman.

The general idea about democracy in the U.S. is that it shouldn't be able to be bought, but most people understand that the vast amount of money and secrecy in politics has made that pretty untrue. However, Quigley was very honest with me. He didn't try and hide how Lockheed Martin's money influenced the way he acted in Congress. There were a million reasons he could have given me for why he wanted to continue to take money from weapons companies, even if they were lies. He could have said that the amount of money they give him compared to how much money he has in his campaign purse is almost not noticeable. He could have said he doesn't give a damn about what young constituents like me think. Even that would have been more acceptable than what he did say.

Our conversation was jarring for me. Not because I previously thought Mike Quigley wasn't corrupt or had good opinions--I had a feeling Quigley wasn't going to stop taking money from these companies like we had been asking him to do, but I wasn't expecting the vitriol I received or the brutal honesty. He didn't have a fake excuse for telling me "No," because he didn't need one. The military industrial complex pervades even simple, interpersonal interactions. A congressman looked a young constituent in the eyes and may as well have said, "Yes, I'm bought. What are you going to do about it?" knowing full well that I alone will never have the sway over him that Lockheed Martin does. It is certainly scarier now that the powerful are not only not trying to hide it, but shouting it in the public square.

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