Working towards peace and sustainability

Memorial Day, War and Peace.

Strike up the marching band. It’s time to celebrate the sacrifice made by those who’ve gone off to war and especially to honor the memory of those who did not return alive.

But wait. Are an air show and a parade the best way to honor the memory of those who died in war? Does the glorification of deadly weapons and a recruitment-fest, featuring booths from every branch of the military and the various Missouri National Guard divisions, really do anything to memorialize the tragic loss that so many have experienced? Or, are we not setting up a new cohort of young people to face similar nightmares?

The U.S. economy has been on a permanent wartime footing for more than 75 years now, since the buildup for World War II. And our nation’s military has been engaged in hot wars continuously since October 2001, nearly 15 years. Isn’t it time to question the logic of war without end? With no disrespect intended, isn’t it time to ask if the wars our young men and women are being sent off to fight in are actually in our national interest? And could the trillions of dollars being spent on the wars not be better spent by investing in people and sustainable infrastructure.

Wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and other countries in the region have nothing to do with defending the United States. In fact, we are making more enemies than we’re eliminating and destabilizing countries, fueling death, destruction and dislocation, with millions of people being displaced from their homes.

Why, pray tell, should we be honoring people, as well intentioned as they might be, for joining in this destructive war-making? While we know that those who volunteer to serve believe they are doing so to keep our country safe, we need to question the logic that fuels perpetual war, at great cost to all concerned. Of course, we can honor their good intentions, but we should not conflate support for them as people with support for the wars they are ordered to participate in.

We do need to make it clear that our beef is not with the foot-soldiers, who are really just pawns in the process, but rather with those who plan the wars and give the orders to go overseas to fight, kill, maim, or be injured or killed.

As our friends in Veterans for Peace are known to say, “War is obsolete and it is time to abolish it.” Moreover, as they also point out, “Peace honors veterans.” Put another way, war has no winners, only losers. Until we come to understand this, we will, as a nation, continue to make the tragic mistake of thinking that violence can solve problems. It doesn’t.

All are invited to join Vets for Peace and the broader peace community at the Gordon Shelter, Stephens Lake Park on Memorial Day, Monday, May 30. There will be a potluck picnic at 12:30 p.m. and a program with speakers, music and a peacemaker award beginning at 1:30.

All the Oxygen?

It seems to us somewhat ironic, but presidential election years are simultaneously times of greater citizen engagement in political matters, and also times when it is more difficult to mobilize active participation in issue advocacy and non-electoral activism in general.

It really seems that elections, and especially the presidential race, suck almost all the oxygen out of the room. 

People are paying attention to whatever outrageous thing Donald Trump has said today, or the state of the contest between Hillary and Bernie; who has endorsed whom; what attack ads are airing; what the polls are saying; what voting irregularities have been noticed; whether third party candidates will make any inroads and similar questions, rather than focusing on issues including climate change, war and peace, economic justice, etc.

Of course a primary reason people support certain candidates and oppose others is their issue stands. So issue and electoral activism are not antithetical. This said, when citizens back off from engaged involvement in the issues and instead focus all their time and attention on the candidates, less serious issue work gets done.

And, of course, depending on the race, there often is no candidate running who progressives really agree with on critical issues. Peaceworks, as an educational non-profit, does not endorse, campaign for or oppose any candidate. We do pay close attention to where they stand on the issues. And we can’t help but note that, despite the very real differences between the candidates, often our views on critical issues including war and peace or climate change are not embraced by either of the major party candidates running for a particular office.

In practical terms, if one is hoping to see change on an issue—say ending U.S. war-making in the Middle East, achieving significant cuts in the Pentagon budget and redefining the role of the U.S. military to being a defensive force—we quite likely will find that the candidate with the best positions, from our perspective, on these issues has a platform that falls far short of what we’d embrace.

This means that if we—as individuals, of course—decide to work for candidate A, who we see as somewhat preferable to candidate B, the most we can do on war and peace concerns, while working for him or her, is to articulate their positions, despite the deficiencies we see therein. As it is often noted, politics is the art of the possible.

Climate change is perhaps the defining issue of our day, as it presents a uniquely existential threat. But you wouldn’t know that if you just listened to what the candidates are campaigning on. And, come election day, we are often forced to choose between a climate change denier and a candidate who acknowledges the reality of climate change, but rejects taking the sorts of actions needed to effectively address the threat.

So, each of us, as an individual, needs to decide what level of involvement we might have in the electoral process. Some choose to eschew electoral politics altogether. Others vote, but otherwise are not engaged. Still others choose to volunteer time and/or donate money to support the candidate(s) of their choice.

Whatever level of electoral involvement we choose, however, we should not forget that issue work—education and advocacy—is also critically needed. In fact, it is issue activism that moves these concerns front and center in the electoral arena.  Were it not for 350.org, and the climate movement more broadly, shining a bright spotlight on Keystone XL, it is highly unlikely that this awful project would have been stopped by President Obama, or that Sec. Clinton, who was initially a strong proponent, would have come out against it.

We, here at Peaceworks, know that whoever prevails at the polls in November—whoever is inaugurated in January—our presence in the public dialogue on the issues of the day will still be sorely needed, throughout the election year and beyond.

And for Peaceworks to be here to raise our shared concerns requires active participation and financial support. We thank everyone already involved and everyone contributing. And we trust that, as much as you might involve yourself in the electoral process, you won’t leave us gasping for a breath of air. Our work is needed now, and it certainly will be still once the 2016 electoral dust settles.

Peaceworks’ Message on Tax Day 2016

A slightly shorter version of this message has been printed as a leaflet for Tax Day distribution at the Columbia Post Office. A PDF suitable for printing is available if you CLICK HERE.  

Fair Taxes?  Hmm . . .

Do you like paying taxes? Probably not. Most of us don’t. But responsible citizens generally recognize that we all should be paying our share. The two keys to legitimate taxation: 1) Taxes should be fair, based upon ability to pay, and 2) Taxes should be spent on things that benefit society, enhance our well-being, provide Real Security and create a brighter future for all.

Several decades back, working people shared in a growing prosperity and could look forward to their children doing better than they had. Taxes were progressive, with those who could afford to pay being taxed at significantly higher rates than those with modest incomes.

The combination of massive tax cuts for the wealthy, arcane loopholes, use of tax havens and special treatment for capital gains income have made the system much less fair. And wealth continues to concentrate. From 1979 to 2007  (the eve of the Great Recession) half of all income gains went to the top one percent. And during the recent recovery, more than 90 percent of new income went to the one percent.

The wealthy are making lots more money—and keeping more of it—due to the tax code. This is not only unfair to the 99%, but it is bad for the economy, as working people lack purchasing power, and the wealthy have more money than they can possibly spend. The middle class is being wiped out, and the economy is on the road to stagnation.

A key to reversing this trend is real tax reform that requires those who can afford it to pay their fair share. Peaceworks supports the kinds of tax reform that are promoted in the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ People’s Budget. You can learn more about the People’s Budget 2016 if you CLICK HERE for a summary, or CLICK HERE for a more detailed version.

In addition to reforms that make the tax code more progressive, the People’s budget includes a major revamping of expenditures. If passed, it would significantly benefit working people and those living at the margins, generally make the economy more robust and begin to seriously address the climate crisis.

Tax Dollars Well Spent?

The greatest challenges to our way of life are not coming from ragtag terrorist cells, nor from foreign adversaries who aim to challenge us militarily. Yet we continue to fund the Pentagon at a record clip, spending more than the next seven largest military powers combined. And most of these are U.S. allies. It’s time to cut the bloated military budget.

It’s time to end the endless war and save the tens of billions of dollars wasted on unnecessary and counter-productive foreign interventions. We must also eliminate boondoggle weapons programs whose procurement benefits only the contractors. At the top of this list is the proposal to spend $1 trillion to revamp U.S. nuclear weapons systems.

The real threats we face include massive dislocation from climate change, as well as enormous problems that come from failing schools, unaffordable colleges, aging infrastructure, health problems from  polluted air and water and social dislocation due to growing gaps between rich and poor.

The People’s Budget, which Peaceworks supports, calls for prudent investments in infrastructure and people. Nearly everyone agrees that our water and sewage systems, our energy grid, our highways and other transportation systems all are in serious need of upgrade. Making these investments not only creates needed jobs, but makes our economy more productive. Likewise, providing quality education, from pre-school through university, provides the human capital needed for a truly productive 21st Century economy.

Addressing the reality of climate change is a top-tier priority. We must invest in efficiency improvements and in the rapid transition to a renewables-based energy economy. Some of these investments must come from the private sector, but public funding to make this transition is also needed. Spending to address the existential threat of climate change certainly is necessary and prudent.

We urge you to join us in calling for new priorities such as these. Contact info for elected officials can be accessed if you CLICK HERE.

Voting and Participation in Making Change

Unless you’ve been hibernating deep in a cave for many months, you’re surely aware that we are in an electoral season. You also certainly recognize that there are sharp differences between the candidates and thus the stakes are very high.

We remind you at the get-go that Peaceworks is an educational non-profit and we never endorse, support or oppose candidates for office. We do, however, encourage active citizenship, which includes voting. We hope that all reading this whom are eligible are registered to vote. If you aren’t, or if you’ve moved to another county and need to update your registration, February 17 is the deadline to register so you can vote in Missouri’s March 15 Presidential Primary.

To learn more about the candidates, click on: POSITIONS

Peaceworks was founded on the principles of participatory democracy and grassroots engagement. We see voting as an important part of citizenship, but only one part of many. If you, like us, see critical issues impacting our lives — including climate change, war and peace, economic justice and human rights, just for starters — we hope you agree that we should take every opportunity available to move things forward: increase the peace, correct injustices and heal the Earth. Voting is fast and easy and there’s really no good argument that we’ve heard not to devote the few minutes it takes to go cast your ballot.

This said, voting is to citizenship as recycling is to sustainable living. It’s necessary, but it’s certainly not sufficient. It’s basically the least we can do, and much more is needed. Happily, we can vote for a few minutes, two or three days a year and still have more than 360 days left when we don’t need to go vote and can engage in other forms of citizenship.

Of course, the electoral process involves more than voting. If you feel drawn to a candidate, you can support their campaign by volunteering and/or contributing financially. You can engage friends, neighbors, family, co-workers and others to encourage them to support the candidate. You can also use social media to boost awareness of their candidacy and issue stands.

This sort of grassroots participation is more important now than ever, as it’s a partial antidote to the pernicious role of big money in politics. But, again, it’s just one piece of the puzzle.
Also critical is helping to build and support civil society groups that educate and advocate. What is possible in electoral politics, or in the legislative process, is, at least in part, a function of what the people know, or think they know. Issue-oriented groups, including Peaceworks, have key roles to play in creating a political climate that enables meaningful change. This includes countering the self-serving myths promoted by climate change deniers, war mongers, etc. It also involves opening people’s eyes to the potential for a brighter, more sustainable and just future.

There are dozens of roles one might embrace in the social change process. Making issue concerns visible through demonstrations is important, but so is reaching out to fellow citizens through phonebanks, petition drives, door-to-door canvasses, and more. Activist groups can raise issue concerns via public meetings, speakers, films, classes and more. It takes activist volunteers to put such events together. Then, our elected officials need to hear from us, and letters to officials can also serve as letters to the editor.

Our sincere hope is that 2016 will be a year of positive new beginnings. Hope, however, is not enough. We need to vote, but this, too, is not sufficient. What is really needed—indeed sorely needed—is sustained, activist engagement. We invite and encourage your participation in our work, as well as in the broader movement. Join us, please.