Building a Peace Economy! And never giving up!
Remember how at the end of the Cold War hopes were high for a peace dividend and conversion to a peace economy? I was living in Lesotho at the time, but I also felt the excitement and hopefulness as peace seemed to be breaking out all over -- even in the U.S. economy.
Early in the Clinton administration there was even government funding for conversion projects. In those days WILPFers were developing the Women's Budget, and in St. Louis WILPF member Mary Ann McGivern headed the Peace Economy Project. PEP sought to bring the benefits of peace to that community, and conversion to the local Boeing plant.
But, as we soon learned, too many of our national leaders could not recover from their addiction to war and war profiteering. Those hopeful days are gone and we are caught up in a virulent militarism, aggressive wars, war profiteering on a prodigious scale and far reaching plans for world domination.
But in St. Louis, praise be, they don't give up! In October St. Louis WILPF Branch and the local American Friends Service Committee joined the Peace Economy Project in an ambitious effort to revive the conversion movement. That movement has been dying since the Gingrich Revolution in the mid nineties, and became good as dead after 9/11.
Our intrepid St. Louis women (most of them WILPF members), along with some very good men, planned a national seminar to revive the vision of a peace economy. They decided to bring together former and potential leaders in efforts to build an economy of peace in this increasingly militarized land of ours. It was an intentionally small seminar, with only ten of us from elsewhere in the country, but I found it an impressive group indeed. And also disparate, ranging from those who embrace civil disobedience to those with a more incremental approach seeking with sound logic to rescue more members of Congress from addiction to war.
Anita Dancs was there from the National Priorities Project. I've admired her work from afar ever since returning to the U.S., but this was only the second time I've met her. The first was at the US Social Forum where she participated in our WILPF DISARM workshop on the Mil-Corp ConneXion.
Mark Johnson, the new Executive Director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation joined us and as did Joanne Sheehan and Marv Davidov from War Resisters League. WRL engages in civil disobedience on the road to rid the world of war, as does Jeff Leys of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (formerly Voices in the Wilderness). Kathy Kelly was also in St Louis that weekend (though not at our seminar) and Voices is now organizing sit ins at offices of Presidential candidates to demand that they commit to removing U.S. forces from Iraq within 100 days of assuming office. They call it SODaPOP (Seasons of Discontent: A Presidential Occupation Project).
Ellen Thomas, who camped in front of the White House for eighteen years in support of nuclear weapons abolition before she got involved in promoting Proposition One-- and conversion to a peace economy -- among members of Congress and the peace community.
I was also grateful for the contributions of Miriam Pemberton of the Institute for Policy Studies, although hers was the more incremental approach seeking to draw Congressional militarists away from their addiction. Miriam did some of the most solid rsearch and advocacy back in the days when there was still hope for transition to a peace economy. She has now shifted gears but still is doing excellent research as she seeks to keep hope alive in a nation led by men who plan for a century of wars of domination. She brought us copies of the Unified Security Budget, of which she is the chief author along with Lawrence Korb of the Center for Defense Information. They were assisted by a capable group of NGO experts including William Hartung as well as staff from FCNL, Citizens for Global Solutions, and the Center for Arms Control and Nonproliferation and several others.
This document points out that 90% of our current foreign policy and security budget goes into the military for weapons development, military forces and aggressive wars. Only 10% goes into diplomatic and peace building efforts or what could truly be called defense of our own population.
This study is not the equivalent of our Women's budget, It is not even the equivalent of Lynn Woolsey's Common Sense Budget, H R 1702 for which Ellen Thomas and I were lobbying in Washington D.C. this past week. That budget shifts monies saved from cutting weapons programs into health, education and a truer peace economy. But the 60 page paper is worth looking at as a series of practical proposals to stop funding a host of boondoggle projects and to shift more of the money to diplomacy, non-proliferation measures, and actual protection of our own population.
Miriam Pemberton also brought a study which shows how many more jobs can be generated by domestic spending prioirties than by the military. It was researched at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst, and co- sponsored by WAND and IPS. We did take the short version of this one to progressive Congressional offices we visited last week, pointing out that the statistics could be useful as they seek cuts in the overblown military budget.
But Frida Berrigan and Mary Beth Sullivan spoke most clearly to my own condition and in true WILPF spirit. Both shared their thoughts at a large public meeting. Many had come after hearing Mary Beth speak on a radio broadcast the previous day. Frida and Mary Beth spoke of the dangers inherent in war profiteering and our militarized economy. They pointed to the urgent need for an economy of peace. Mary Beth, who recently joined WILPF, was especially powerful in her presentation of the disastrous space militarization program which our aerospace corporations promise will be the "largest industrial project in earth's history!" She called clearly for transformation to a peace economy. Her talk was enthusiastically received. She has found her voice, and I would recommend her as a speaker for other groups.
And what came out of it all at the end? We formed a list serve and agreed we would work to develop a broad network of organizations and individuals ready to work for conversion to a peace economy. We encouraged the members of PEP in St. Louis to serve as the core for what we hope will be a growing national movement. Joanne Sheehan and I pointed out that developing an economy of peace is a stated goal of the new Bite the Bullet War Profiteering Education and Action Network which WILPF and WRL helped form during this past year. Once the Bite the Bullet web site is up and running (we hope very soon) we will have a good place to share resources and post events relevant to developing an economy of peace.
In the meantime you can Google the web sites of any of these organizations, or contact PEP (firstname.lastname@example.org) to get on the new list serve. We have a long way to go, but it is good to know we have so many good friends -- approaching the goal of a peace economy from so many angles -- with whom to work along the way.
Thanks to all in St Louis WILPF and the Peace Economy Project for never giving up. Ours is a vision in urgent need of realization.