Local Activists Make Their Voices Heard at US Mayors Conference

Local Activists Make Their Voices Heard at US Mayors Conference

Young activists call to bring the war dollars home ©Bill Hughes

On Saturday, June 18 some 60 local activists (including myself) gathered at St. Vincent's church in downtown Baltimore and marched to the Hilton Hotel in the Inner Harbor, the site of this year's U.S. Mayors Conference (June 17 – 21). We took to the street in support of two resolutions, one calling for nuclear disarmament, which would free billions of dollars to be used to address unemployment in U.S. cities, and the other calling for an accelerated end to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and for the estimated $126 billion spent annually on these wars to be redirected towards domestic need.[1]

(See below for both resolutions.)

 

The mayors passed both resolutions, thereby making them the official policies of the mayors' organization. The nuclear disarmament resolution was sponsored by Mayors for Peace, an international organization with more than 4,700 members in 150 countries. The mayors unanimously passed the resolution, which calls on President Obama to join other leaders of nuclear weapon states to implement the United Nations Secretary-General’s Five Point Proposal for Nuclear Disarmament and negotiate the elimination of nuclear weapons by 2020.[2] 

 

The resolution also calls on Congress to terminate the “modernization” of the nuclear weapons program to redirect those funds to address urgent needs of cities. Furthermore, the resolution instructs “governments to enter into negotiations for the establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free world,” a demand that is particularly relevant for the U.S. which has been the world’s biggest obstacle to the establishment of nuclear weapons-free-zones.

 

The “Bring the War Dollars Home” resolution calls on President Obama and Congress to: "end the wars as soon as strategically possible and bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy and reduce the federal debt."

 

Consistent with standard imperial practice, before passing the resolution the mayors had to ensure that it pass through the filter of jingoism. After debating whether or not the original version―drafted C.J. Minster from the national activist organization, Code Pink―sufficiently supported U.S. troops, the mayors, predictably, determined that it did not and added a statement about how they all “support our brave men and women in uniform and their families.”[3]

 

More harmfully, the mayors added wording which in the world of U.S. foreign policy amounts practically to a contradiction in terms: a call for a withdrawal “as soon as strategically possible.” The mayors' resolution further qualified the withdrawal by stating that it should be done in a “measured way that does not destablize the region.”[4]

 

Mayor Paul Soglin (D-Madison, Wis.) referred to the resolution as "rather temperate" because it did not call for an immediate withdrawal.[2] Maria Allwine, a local activist and former gubernatorial candidate from the Green Party, said that the softening of the withdrawal demand was “disappointing.”

 

Despite the disappointment, the passage of the resolution is considered historic. It has been 40 years since US mayors passed an “anti-war” resolution; the last time being in 1971 when US mayors supported a federal amendment calling for President Nixon to withdraw all U.S. forces from Vietnam in a matter of months.[5] For this reason, Allwine considers the mayors' action on Monday “a big deal,” a sentiment shared by myself and many other activists.

 

Commenting on the significance of the resolution, Minster stated that it “framed mainstream media coverage of the conference and helped make concrete connections between the economic problems domestically and the choice made by the administration and congress to waste money on needless wars abroad.” Indeed, headlines like “Mayors See End to Wars as Fix for Struggling Cities” and “U.S. Mayors Pass Resolution To Bring War Dollars' Home” could be found throughout the mainstream press.

 

Echoing Allwine’s sentiment, Minster went on to describe the passage as a “HUGE victory for the peace movement,” particularly Baltimore’s local peace activists, who helped organize Saturday’s march as well as a teach-in on Friday evening.

 

Local Activists Go To Work

 

Saturday's march was organized by the Fund Our Communities, Bring the War Dollars Home Campaign―a Maryland coalition composed of 45 organizations, including civil rights, environmental, peace and justice, union and other groups―and Full Employment Baltimore―a local coalition comprised of a students, workers, and community organizers calling for policy changes that will create more and better jobs for Baltimore residents.

 

While marching through Baltimore's tax-payer subsidized Inner Harbor, young activists from the Baltimore chapter of the ANSWER Coalition led chants on the instrument of choice for protestors, the bullhorn: “They say cut-back, we say fight back!”, “We got money for war, but can't feed the poor!” and other chants pierced the routine sound of commerce, catching the attention of Baltimoreans and tourists alike who offered their support in the form of peace signs, thumbs-up, and honking of car horns.

 

The day before the march, Fund Our Communities hosted a teach-in at McKeldin Square in the Inner Harbor. Representatives from over 10 local organizations explained how they would use money diverted from fighting wars to addressing the urgent needs in Baltimore.

 

Adam Schneider from Health Care for the Homeless offered fiery words, spliced with statistics that together painted a vivid picture of the cruel fate of America's homeless population--the domestic demographic which more than any other has been sacrificed at the alter of foreign wars and the tax-payer plunder it entails. Scheider topped-off his speech with a critical message: That the hellfire unleashed on Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere demands more than simply pulling the plug on the criminal enterprises; it demands holding the masterminds of the criminal policies accountable as well as providing massive reparations to all victims.

 

In addition to Schneider, the local participants included: Jim Kraft (Baltimore city Council), Monica Cooper (Out 4 Justice), Ralph Moore (Full Employment Baltimore), Art Cohen (B-More Mobile), Josh Steiber (Iraq Veterans Against the War), Michael Coleman (United Workers), Hathaway Ferebee (Safe and Sound), Charlie Cooper (Baltimore Education Coalition), Terry Ellen (Chesapeake Climate Action Network), and Rashad Hawkins (Stop the Youth Jail Alliance).

 

A common refrain among the speakers was the need for local activists to work together. According to Allwine, organizing for the mayors' conference actions enhanced cooperation: “New alliances were definitely forged, especially with the [local] African-American activist community and the traditional peace . . . community,” which is known for being majority white and above the age of 40. She went on to say, “The powers that now control our government and our lives do not want us to join forces, which is exactly what we need to do if we’re ever going to change what is being done to us by the forces of greed.”

 

During the teach-in, participants and passers-by were given an opportunity to identify their funding priorities through a participatory budget exercise. Unsurprisingly, the results poorly reflected official government priorities, a local anecdote for the national phenomenon―dysfunctional democracy. According to the U.S. mayors resolution, the cost of the war annually amounts to $126 billion; the participants believe less than $15 million should be allocated to that budget line. Instead, they would rather see education, human services, infrastructure, environment, and programs in other socially useful areas dwarf war spending.

 

This sentiment is shared by Baltimore's local politicians. Prior to the march and teach-in, Fund Our Communities worked with Code Pink and contacted the offices of Baltimore City Councilmember James Kraft and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blacke and provided them with a copy of the Code Pink resolution. The City Council passed the resolution on Monday, May 16 and was subsequently signed by the mayor, who later summed up well a feeling held nation-wide after almost a decade of war: “There are so many better uses for the money.”[6]

 

NOTES:

 

[1] Gar Smith, “US Mayors to Obama: Bring War Money Home! Ban the Bomb!,” The Berkeley Daily Planet, June 22, 2011, http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2011-06-22/article/38029?headline=US-Mayors-to-Obama-Bring-War-Money-Home-Ban-the-Bomb-.

[2] Matt Sledge, “U.S. Mayors Pass Resolution To Bring War Dollars' Home,” Huffington Post, June 20, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/20/us-mayors-afghanistan_n_880370.html.

[3] See link to Code Pink version: http://codepinkalert.org/article.php?id=5774.

[4] Matt Sledge, “U.S. Mayors Pass Resolution To Bring War Dollars' Home,” Huffington Post, June 20, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/20/us-mayors-afghanistan_n_880370.html.

[5] Sam Stein, “U.S. Mayors To Push For First Anti-War Resolution Since Vietnam,” Huffington Post, June 15, 2011, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/15/us-mayors-to-push-for-ani-war-resolution_n_877817.html.

[6] Michael Cooper, “Mayors See End to Wars as Fix for Struggling Cities,” New York Times, June 17, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/18/us/18cities.html.

 

RESOLUTIONS:

 

CALLING ON CONGRESS TO REDIRECT MILITARY SPENDING TO DOMESTIC PRIORITIES

 

WHEREAS, every member of the US Conference of Mayors and the Americans they represent, support our brave men and women in uniform and their families;

 

WHEREAS, the drawdown of troops should be done in a measured way that does not

destabilize the region and that can accelerate the transfer of responsibility to regional authorities;

 

WHEREAS, the severity of the ongoing economic crisis has created budget shortfalls at all levels of government and requires us to re-examine our national spending priorities; and

 

WHEREAS, the people of the United States are collectively paying approximately $126 billion dollars per year to wage war in Iraq and Afghanistan; and

 

WHEREAS, 6,024 members of the US armed forces have died in these wars; and at least

120,000 civilians have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since the coalition attacks began.

 

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the United States Conference of Mayors supports efforts to speed up the ending of these wars; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the United States Conference of Mayors calls on the President and U.S. Congress to end the wars as soon as strategically possible and bring these war dollars home to meet vital human needs, promote job creation, rebuild our infrastructure, aid municipal and state governments, and develop a new economy based upon renewable, sustainable energy and reduce the federal debt.

 

 

CALLING ON THE PRESIDENT TO WORK WITH LEADERS OF OTHER NUCLEAR WEAPON STATES FOR ELIMINATION OF NUCLEAR WEAPONS BY 2020 AND CALLING ON CONGRESS TO CUT FUNDING FOR NUCLEAR WEAPONS AND TO REDIRECT THOSE FUNDS TO MEET THE NEEDS OF CITIES

 

WHEREAS, more than two decades after the end of the Cold War, nearly 23,000 nuclear weapons, over 95% of them in the arsenals of the United States and Russia, continue to pose an intolerable threat to cities and people everywhere;

 

WHEREAS, recent studies have shown that a nuclear war involving no more than 100 Hiroshima-sized bombs―about 0.3% of the global nuclear arsenal―could have catastrophic, long-lasting effects on the global climate leading to a drop in average surface temperatures, reduction of the ozone layer, a shortened agricultural growing season resulting in a global famine of unprecedented proportions;

 

WHEREAS, the 2010 U.S. Nuclear Posture Review did not lead to substantial changes in the U.S. nuclear force structure, only marginally reduced the role of nuclear weapons in national security policy, explicitly rejected reducing the high-alert status of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles and Submarine Launch Ballistic Missiles, and retained the capability to deploy U.S. nuclear weapons on tactical fighter-bombers and heavy bombers, including at NATO bases in Europe, while proceeding with a modification of the bombs carried on those planes;

 

WHEREAS, a plan submitted to Congress by President Barack Obama projects investments of well over $185 billion by 2020 to maintain and modernize U.S. nuclear weapons systems, including construction of three new nuclear warhead production facilities and an array of new delivery systems;

 

WHEREAS, although the U.S. stockpile contains one-fifth as many warheads as it used to, the Administration’s Fiscal Year 2012 budget request is the largest ever for maintenance and modernization of nuclear warheads, and after accounting for inflation, the $7.63 billion request is 21 percent more than President Ronald Reagan’s largest nuclear weapons budget;

 

WHEREAS, reflecting President Obama’s commitment to modernize all three legs of the strategic triad of nuclear weapons delivery systems, the FY 2012 budget request also includes $197 million for research and development on a new Air Force long-range nuclear bomber, $2.6 million to study a future Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, and $1.07 billion to develop a new replacement ballistic missile submarine slated to be in operation through 2080, all of which will lead to far greater expenditures if production follows;

 

WHEREAS, with the economic downturn forcing mayors and cities to make deep cuts in critical public services, and with more than 100 metropolitan areas projected to have double-digit unemployment by the end of this year, the budget deal worked out between the Administration and Congress contains a 16.2 percent reduction in Community Development Block Grant formula funding – a $647 million cut for the current year, eliminates Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grants, and includes huge reductions to other domestic programs of importance to mayors and cities, the size of which have not been seen in recent times;

 

WHEREAS, Mayors for Peace membership has grown to over 4,700 cities in 150 countries and regions, including half of the world’s capital cities, with more than 170 U.S. members;

 

WHEREAS, the United States Conference of Mayors unanimously adopted resolutions in 2004, 2006 and each year since, expressing its strong support for Mayors for Peace, its demand for negotiations for the global elimination of nuclear weapons by 2020, and its Cities Are Not Targets campaign;

 

WHEREAS, Mayors for Peace has been endorsed by national mayoral associations in Europe, Latin America, Asia and Africa;

 

WHEREAS, the final document of the 3rd Congress of United Cities and Local Governments, adopted in Mexico City November 20, 2010 expresses “our support for the call of the Mayors for Peace Campaign for a world free of nuclear weapons by 2020 through a new international Convention”;

 

WHEREAS, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, in Hiroshima for the 65th anniversary of the U.S. atomic bombing on August 6, 2010 expressed his strong support for the Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign for the global abolition of nuclear weapons by 2020, declaring, “The 2020 vision is a perfect vision”; and the United Nations, on March 24, 2011 recognized the importance of Mayors for Peace by inaugurating a permanent installation at its New York headquarters exhibiting more than 1 million signatures on the Mayors for Peace Cities Are Not Targets petition;

 

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors reaffirms its call on President Obama to work with the leaders of the other nuclear weapon states to implement the United Nations Secretary-General’s Five Point Proposal for Nuclear Disarmament forthwith, so that a Nuclear Weapons Convention or a related framework of mutually reinforcing legal instruments can be agreed upon and implemented by the year 2020, as urged by Mayors for Peace; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors calls on the U.S. Congress to terminate funding for modernization of the nuclear weapons complex and nuclear weapons systems, to slash spending on nuclear weapons programs well below Cold War levels, and to redirect those funds to meet the urgent needs of cities; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors, in its contacts with national associations of local authorities of the other nuclear weapon states, calls upon them to also press their governments to enter into negotiations for the establishment of a nuclear- weapon-free world and to sharply curtail expenditures on nuclear arms; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors expresses its continuing support for Mayors for Peace, pledges to assist in recruiting new U.S. members in order to help reach the goal of 5,000 member cities by the August 6, 2011 Hiroshima anniversary, at which time Mayors for Peace will represent one billion people; and, as since 2005, supports USCM representation at the international Mayors for Peace 2020 Vision Campaign Executive Committee and General Meetings later this year; and

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the U.S. Conference of Mayors agrees to take up this matter at its 80th Annual Meeting in June 2012, and that mayors shall remain engaged in this matter until our cities and citizens, and cities and citizens throughout the world, are no longer under the threat of nuclear annihilation and catastrophic climate change.

Stephen Roblin is a Baltimore-based activist and writer. He is a member of the Indypendent Reader collective and the International Organization for a Participation Society (IOPS). He also teaches a bi-weekly writing workshop for Baltimore's new street paper, Word on the Street. Roblin's writing focuses on US foreign policy towards the Horn of Africa. He has written for ZNet, ZMagazine, Truthout, and other publications.