“A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., 1967
Early on in the campaign I was invited to give a talk about peace and war at an event on the downtown mall. I had planned on giving the speech before I had even decided to enter the city council race. The speech itself wound up being delivered a few days after Osama bin Laden had been reported killed by US forces.
I opened the speech by saying “My name is Brandon Collins, I am running for Charlottesville City Council, but I consider myself first and foremost an anti-war activist, and that is why I am here today.”
One of the reasons I decided to run for City Council was due to my strong belief that our wars and occupations, along with the massive military budget, 151 foreign military bases, and our country’s penchant for torture and human rights violations are all matters that can, and should, be addressed on the local level.
Admittedly I have not brought this issue into the campaign enough. There are things listed on my platform related to war and peace, and I often bring the matter up with City Council when addressing them in my allotted 3 minutes twice a month. I bring it up now due to two great events happening this month:
National Conference on the Military Industrial Complex at Age 50 Sept 16-18 info
International Day of Peace Sept. 21 info
…and because, despite what I have heard from many in local government, peace is a local issue.
Not necessarily because it is the moral thing to do (even though it is), not necessarily because a majority of people in Charlottesville think it is time to bring the troops home form Afghanistan and Iraq (even though they do), but because the insane amount of money being spent by the federal government using an insane amount of tax dollars from Charlottesville residents, is keeping our town from getting the funding for critical services, and keeping us from building a better city for all of our residents.
-About half of the federal budget is dedicated to funding the military (pie chart pdf)
-That number for 2012 is set at- $1.4 Trillion (thats trillions folks, for one year)
-The cost of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars since 2001 total $1.248 Trillion (and counting!)
-Charlottesville taxpayers have footed $105 Million since 2001 for Iraq and Afghanistan alone.
-Charlottesville’s current budget for 2011-2012 is about $140 Million
-Charlottesville taxpayers have contributed the equivalent of 75% of our town’s annual budget to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Imagine if the money that Charlottesville taxpayers contribute to the military were instead diverted back into education, valuable social programs, and ecologically sane infrastructure needs we could-
-get more funding for the Community Development Block Grant and HOME
-hire more teachers and aides, give them raises
-employ many of our residents through public works and parks and rec at a living wage
-expand our transit system
-build a sustainable city
Great ideas to say the least, but perhaps even more important is that existing programs that receive federal funds wouldn’t be facing deep cuts if the military budget was reduced. Our entire community is suffering, will suffer more in the coming years, and any relief of that suffering or (god forbid) an attention to human needs that we greatly need will never be achieved as long as these wars and occupations, 151 military bases overseas, and gigantic nuclear weapons arsenal continue to be bought and paid for by the residents of Charlottesville.
Getting there may require a more ambitious approach than simply passing a resolution opposing war.
Here are some things going on in Charlottesville that not everyone knows about-
-Charlottesville hosted 161 military contracts within city limits last year.
-Those contractors have made $919 Million, paid for with tax dollars.
-Private weapons makers are included in Charlottesville jobs fairs.
-Military Recruiters are in Charlottesville High School everyday lying and seeking to lure poorer students into a life of warfare and suffering
Our City Council has, in the past, designated our town as a “City for Peace”. Recently our mayor was the first to sign on to the “Mayors for Peace” resolution passed this past summer by the US Conference of Mayors.
A recommitting to the “City of Peace” concept will be petitioned for by many area residents in the coming weeks, I hope that council will unanimously support this. If not, I pledge to bring such a resolution to the attention of City Council once elected.
Unfortunately, some statements by city councilors have led me to believe that this may be harder than it sounds. Despite claiming to be “for peace” not all on city council currently oppose war as well. I have gotten comments regarding the existence of military contractors at jobs fair that go something like this- “I am all for peace but these contractors are related to intelligence gathering which keeps us out of war” (paraphrasing a statement by Ms. Szakos).
Disregarding the fact that military intelligence has gotten us into more wars than avoided any, the truth is that most of the contractors at the jobs fair make military hardware, and some even produce biological and chemical weapons. I hope that Ms. Szakos can see that Charlottesville should not be in the business of allowing these war profiteers to recruit from the ranks of the good people of Charlottesville. We need jobs yes, but not those kinds of jobs.
Another typical thought from some on council currently is that peace is some far away issue that we have no effect on, or any jurisdiction to do anything about.
I have laid out above how this affects us financially, and some of the great things we could do if we had more funding from the federal government. Consider as well that much of the local violence we experience is directly related to poverty and lack of critical services. How much domestic violence, street crime and drug abuse might we avoid if we had more funding for education, jobs, women’s services, addiction services, and affordable housing? Do we not have jurisdiction on poverty in our city? What about representing our residents and taxpayers? Do we not have a duty to represent them in all matters? I would say we do.
…and then there are the two elephants in the room (and I don’t mean republicans either), our transportation needs and our energy needs. Building costly new roads and avoiding our responsibility to reverse global warming contribute to the desire of war profiteers to keep us in engaging in costly wars to expand access to oil markets. The expansion of US empire is contingent upon our desire to continue a culture of consumption and the automobile. Upgrading our city to be 100% energy sustainable and building our communities around public transit are two ways we can directly engage in resisting future wars.
Here is what I think a Charlottesville Peace Candidate stands for, and what I stand for-
-immediate resolution directing our congressional delegation to vote against any more war funding, to reduce the military budget, and to bring our war dollars home.
-install a “cost of war” counter at City Hall and on the City website
-disallow the existence of military contractors in Charlottesville (this may require some creative thinking due to legal requirements, but well worth it)
-do not invite war contractors and weapons manufacturers to our jobs fairs
-begin “alternatives to military service” program in our schools
-promote opt-out and send materials to parents requiring a yes or no on information sharing of student records with the military
-do not build the Meadowcreek Parkway
-annual Day of Peace Parade Sept. 21st
-New sister city with Fallujah, Kabul or Gaza City
-Arrest any war criminal inside city limits
I am proud to be first and foremost an activist and organizer for peace, when seated on city council I will do my best to bring a comprehensive and aggressive approach to opposing war and militarism, and while on the campaign trail you can join me in the hard work of building peace in the next few weeks by-
-registering for a national conference on the Military Industrial Complex at Age 50 in Charlottesville Sept. 16-18
-attending the weekly Witness for Peace every Thursday at the Federal Building 5:00-6:00 pm
-attending the International Day of Peace Celebrations on and around September 21st
-Going to Washington DC for October 6th occupation of DC
See you there!