By David Swanson
John Cavanagh of the Institute for Policy Studies opened an event at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Cavanagh announced that with the recent addition of Santa Fe, N.M., a total of exactly 300 towns, cities, and states have passed resolutions against the occupation of Iraq. These governments, he said, represent about 50% of the people in the United States.
Karen Dolan, the director of Cities for Peace, explained the project. Arrayed behind her were dozens of men and women holding signs with the names of their cities and states.
Next to speak was an Alderman from Chicago, Joe Moore, who has led the passage of anti-war resolutions in Chicago. He recalled being in this same room 4.5 years ago with representatives of 160 cities and towns opposing the invasion of Iraq. Then, as is planned today, they marched from here to the White House to present their resolutions and make their case to the president. Needless to say, he didn’t listen.
Moore listed the familiar costs of the invasion and occupation of Iraq, costs in lives and money. Moore said that the people of Chicago have spent over 2/3 of Chicago’s annual city budget on occupying Iraq. His numbers came from the National Priorities Project: www.costofwar.com
“We are the elected officials closest to the American people,” Moore said of himself and the others legislators who have passed 300 resolutions. “This demand represents the will of the American people… Let’s bring our brave men and women home.”
Mayor Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, Fla., said that Americans have a history of sacrificing for war, but that this is The War for Nothing – there is no reason to sacrifice. She mentioned an elderly couple in West Palm Beach who wait for a federal program called Meals on Wheels. She described a single working mother who is on a waiting list for public housing along with 900 others in West Palm Beach, which has spent $122 million on occupying Iraq. Frankel said she plans to ask Congress members today: If a Katrina hits West Palm Beach, will the National Guard be in Florida, or will it be in Baghdad?
In 17 states one or both chambers have passed resolutions against the occupation of Iraq. Four have passed public referenda as well (MA, WI, IL, VT). Michael Fisher, a state representative in Vermont said he is proud that Vermont has passed resolutions in both houses and a public referendum, as well as passing resolutions in 57 towns. This occupation is placing a very heavy burden on rural America. The Vermont Senate has also passed a resolution calling for the impeachment of Bush and Cheney, a step taken by over 80 towns and cities. Fisher said he has met with constituents whose son or daughter died in Iraq who ask why the United States is still in Iraq. “I don’t have an answer for them,” he said.
Steve Burns of Wisconsin said 42 towns and villages have passed anti-war resolutions, in addition to the public state-wide initiative. Burns said that six towns in Wisconsin that voted to elect Bush have voted in public referenda for immediate withdrawal. “The people of Wisconsin are far ahead of the people in Washington who claim to represent them. People in Wisconsin want a withdrawal that begins immediately, is quick, and is complete. And what we hear from Washington is a withdrawal that is eventual, slow, and partial. When will they catch up with the people they claim to represent?” Burns also spoke about the family of one Wisconsin soldier who died in Iraq, a young man who turned against the war and planned to speak out against it when he returned. He never did.
City Council Member Vic DeLuca of Maplewood, N.J., a representative small city, described the human and financial costs they’ve faced. The Mayor of Maplewood was also in the room, along with numerous other local officials from around the country. He said they are cutting fire and school services while paying for a war. If the federal government provided the money for educating the disabled that it is legally required to provide, DeLuca said, it would mean millions of badly needed dollars.
The local officials and activists took questions. The first question was why Congress doesn’t just refuse to bring up any more bills to fund the war rather then trying to pass a bill and override a veto. Michael Lees of Vermont fielded the question and said that was exactly what Congress should be urged to do. At 2 p.m. on Tuesday a number of these local officials planned to testify before Congress.
David Crowley of Cincinnati fielded a question about other cutbacks cities are facing. He blamed severe cuts in emergency personnel on the cost of occupying Iraq.
Marjorie Decker from Cambridge, Mass., said her city government has had quite a few employees deployed to Iraq. She expects many of them to need a great deal of health care when they return.
Several other local officials from various states spoke to this question, each describing a different area of loss: schools, libraries, environmental protection, etc. George Martin, an activist from Milwaukee, Wisc., stressed that the organizing to pass local resolutions has drawn on these losses and dramatically helped to build the national movement for peace.
Representatives of the National Priorities Project (NPP) and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) described methods of calculating the financial costs to cities and states of the occupation of Iraq. While NPP has used the numbers in congressional funding bills, AFSC adds in further financial costs, following the analysis of Joseph Stiglitz, costs that include debt expenses and income lost as a result of the occupation. AFSC is launching a campaign to publicize these greater costs.
Cavanagh recommended, as do I, reading IPS’s recent study “Just Security,” which lays out a proposed shift in spending from military to other priorities. There is also a bill in Congress sponsored by Rep. Lynn Woolsey aimed at the same general shift.
Ellen Barfield of Veterans for Peace in Baltimore, Md., said that there is no legal way for taxpayers to withhold the tax money that goes to war or military, but that there is an effort to pass a bill every year to allow it. Sue Udry of United for Peace and Justice said that Rep. Nydia Velasquez has passed a bill to allow people to require that the portion of their taxes that would go to occupying Iraq instead go to certain useful programs.
One sharp questioner asked why Congress should listen to this assembled group now, when it hasn’t for 5 years. Frankel said that the people did stop the Vietnam War and can stop this one. Moore said that the local officials gathered here are listening to the people, and that Congress needs to get out of the bubble it lives in, for its own good. Chuck Turner from Boston, Mass., said the people’s voices are getting louder. In Boston, he said, they are witnessing the planned destruction of public housing. Federal programs for youth in those housing projects have been eliminated. Washington has pushed for the privatization of public housing. The housing authority no longer has the funds to provide people with electricity for a full day. (
Some of this would sound familiar to residents of Baghdad.
We’re off to march to the White House!