Budget for All Referendum to Reach 1 Million Massachusetts Voters

July 31, 2012

Audley Green, Paul Shannon, Shelagh Foreman and Cole Harrison at Massachusetts State House turning in the nearly 20,000 signatures to place the Budget for All referendum on the ballot.

By Cole Harrison, Massachusetts Peace Action

A successful campaign generates its own energy.  The drive to get the Budget for All referendum on the ballot caught fire because scores of activists throughout the state want to do something.  I’ve heard over and over again from progressive activists who are tired of the Right rolling over us, and equally tired of endless meetings and preaching to the choir.  They want to get out there, talk to their neighbors, and bring a progressive agenda into the political process. And that is what we are doing in Massachusetts in the 2012 elections.

Under the slogan “Stop the Cuts – Invest in Jobs – Tax the 1% – End the Wars”, Massachusetts Peace Action helped lead a peace-community-labor coalition of 42 organizations to organize a petition drive to place the Budget for All referendum on the ballot.

District by district, town-by-town, activists gathered almost 20,000 signatures in May and June and successfully qualified for the ballot in 7 State Senate districts and 24 State Representative districts (an eighth Senate district remains to be tabulated).  As a result, approximately a million Massachusetts voters – about 1/3 of the state’s expected 3 million voters in a presidential election year – will have the opportunity to endorse the anti-austerity public policy question on November 6.

Low income community based groups did most of the work in Boston and some smaller cities, while local peace groups showed that they have a base in suburban towns across the state.

Led by grassroots community groups, the referendum qualified in the entire city of Boston.  The Massachusetts Alliance of HUD Tenants led the way in two Boston Senate districts, knocking on doors in housing projects and standing in front of supermarkets.

The Right to the City Civic Action Alliance, which includes the Chinatown Progressive Association, Neighbors United for a Better East Boston, New England United for Justice, Boston Workers Alliance, and Project Hip-Hop, canvassed in low-income people of color neighborhoods. Dorchester People for Peace and the Boston 25% Coalition powered the Dorchester Senate district.

In all these areas the great majority strongly supports our agenda – the need for jobs programs, care about services such as Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, and housing, and support cutting the military. Canvassers registered many new voters and emphasized the importance of political participation.

Peace groups, sometimes supported by suburban Occupy groups, successfully tackled Boston’s near suburbs as well as towns west of Boston and on the North Shore, talking to voters at libraries, farmers’ markets, supermarkets, and town fairs.  Peace groups and the Green-Rainbow Party led the organizing in the Western Massachusetts towns of Amherst, Northampton, and in the Berkshires.  In these relatively liberal, majority white areas, most people who hear the pitch are willing to sign, some saying, “Who wouldn’t sign this?” Among those who don’t, the most common objection is to raising taxes on incomes above $250,000 – especially from those who earn more or who think they may in the future.  Also, some voiced a generalized distrust of government therefore too cynical to sign any petition or engage in any political process.

In the blue-collar, economically depressed cities of Lawrence, Fall River, Holyoke, and Chelsea, with large Latino populations, ad hoc groups of activists made the difference, led by a school committeewoman in Lawrence, an Occupy group in Fall River, a Green-Rainbow activist in Holyoke, and a peace group in Chelsea.  In these areas there is a hunger for participation and a search for effective means of political action.

The Budget for All (B4A) faced its most challenging territory in towns in the southwest, southeast and northern suburbs of Boston.  In these areas, there has been less peace and progressive activism and more right-wing influence and anti-tax ideas. The B4A petitioning was done by clusters of individual activists, and in the case of Melrose by an AFGE local. Here, a call to cut the military budget raises eyebrows– the Budget for All’s call to end the Afghanistan war and cut the military budget generated significant opposition, and many complained that the referendum addresses too many issues, with people supporting some issues but not others. In these districts, public education will be critical to convince undecided voters to back the referendum now that it is on the ballot.

The B4A did not qualify for the ballot everywhere we tried.  Some areas volunteers gathered signatures but fell short. But volunteers with a statewide perspective did cross-district lines and helped make the difference in other areas.

Now, the coalition is regrouping to focus on passing the B4A referendum this fall. On July 25 20 volunteers lobbied legislators at the State House introducing the referendum to the legislators who will, if it passes, be instructed by the voters to call on Congress and the President to implement the B4A agenda.

In August regional and district organizing planning meetings will be held for the fall campaign. We’ll leaflet voters at the polls on Primary Election day, September 6.   We’ll get the word out through op-eds, letters to the editor, social media, and yard signs.   We will also hold campaign events in each region of the state, and hopefully in most districts where the referendum is on the ballot, featuring elected officials who support the measure as well as organizers and entertainers, to build support and energy.

The scores of volunteers are proud of the successful drive to get the  B4A referendum on the ballot, and they want to keep it going. A ballot referendum is one tool to help build the grassroots movement necessary to win a change in national spending priorities, from wars and new weapons to fund our communities. Massachusetts Peace Action looks forward to a successful fall campaign as we stand shoulder to shoulder with our friends and allies.

For more info on how you can get involved: Call 617-354-2169.

Cole Harrison is Communications Director of Massachusetts Peace Action. He was born in Delhi, India, has a B.A. from Harvard in applied mathematics, a M.S. from Northeastern in computer science, and lives in Roslindale, Massachusetts.


Thank and spank!

July 26, 2012

By Judith Le Blanc Peace Action Field Director

This week, Peace Action joined others in sending a thank you letter to Reps. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC) and Barney Frank (D-MA).  They submitted an amendment to cut $1.1 billion from the 2013 Pentagon budget, effectively freezing the military budget at this year’s levels.

It passed with bipartisan support. Read Paul Kawika Martin’s Peace Blog on what happen in Congress last week.

Unfortunately the other amendments for more Pentagon budget cuts and ending the Afghanistan war did not pass. See how your representative voted.

Thank you for calling your representatives. Call them this week to thank or spank them for their votes. The Capitol: 202-224-3121.

People across the political spectrum want cuts in the Pentagon budget.] In the next weeks your representatives will be home and out on the campaign trial. Let’s keep the issue on the front burner.

Our communities are depending on moving the money from new weapons and wars to fund our communities!

Representatives will be at state and county fairs. There will be town hall meetings and fund raisers.  Go to the MOve the Money Toolkit and download a tip sheet on how to be effective in asking questions and being visible at their public events. We call it “bird dogging.”

Letters to the editor are yet another way to get your representative’s attention. Here’s some handy facts and figures on what the trade offs are when money continues to pour into the Pentagon budget instead of domestic needs.

Keep the pressure on. No matter where the representatives go, or what newspaper or website they read.


Pigs Flew

July 25, 2012

When I started talking to colleagues and congressional staff several years ago about the prospects of cutting the Pentagon budget I heard, “when pigs fly.” Since then, Pentagon coffers have steadily swelled.

Last week, the House of Representatives voted on the Defense Appropriations bill. The bill brought to the floor included $519.2 billion for the Pentagon’s base budget (excluding military construction and mandatory spending) with an additional $88.5 billion in war funding. The measure was $3.1 billion above the President’s budget request.

A few hundred amendments were offered. Some of which were aimed a cutting Pentagon fat, others wanted to add more money and others were meant to provide an opportunity to talk on the floor about a particular issue.

Because appropriations bills only allow adding and cutting of funds to authorized programs, it’s difficult to change policy. Hence, some lawmakers use their debate time to talk about policy changes. For example, more than a dozen representatives spoke for 90 minutes to end the war in Afghanistan.

After the first day of hearing the debate and seeing votes, I felt depressed. Small, obvious cuts were being defeated. Rep. McCollum’s (D-MN) amendment cutting military bands a paltry $188 million lost 166-250. Then, a bipartisan amendment offered by Rep. Kingston (R-GA) to cut NASCAR sponsorship by a minuscule (in Pentagon terms) $72.3 failed by a much narrower 202-216.

The next day was looking equally grim. Despite the public being decidedly behind bringing our troops now from Afghanistan, Representatives defeated (107-312) Barbara Lee’s (D-CA) amendment to reduce spending on the Afghanistan war by $19.2 billion leaving enough to safely bring all the troops home. Even a more conservative approach by Rep. Garamendi (D-CA) to cut $12.6 billion for the war accounts went down in flames (137-278).

There was a spark of hope when the House voted for a few amendments that cut several hundred million dollars to various parts of the Afghanistan war.

Not surprisingly, the House defeated two amendments by Rep. Markey (D-MA) that were based from his SANE act, legislation name after one of Peace Action’s predecessors, that would cut $100 billion from nuclear weapons programs over ten years. One amendment would have reduced funding for the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system by $75 million (150-268). The other would have limited the fleet of land-based Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) to 300, a cut of 150 (136-283).

Then, the Republicans lead by Reps. Turner (R-OH) and Berg (R-ND) passed amendments to prohibit funds from being used to reduce nuclear forces (235-178) and to prohibit use of funds to reduce the number of nuclear weapons delivery vehicles (232-183).

At the closing hours of the bill, I finally saw pigs fly. Reps. Mulvaney (R-SC) and Frank (D-MA) offered a bi-partisan amendment to cut the overall level of the bill by $1.1 billion, back to last year’s level. The amendment was solidly adopted (247-167).

At the end of last week, the final bill passed by the House was more than $40 billion less than last year. The economic crisis, debt, the ending wars and pressure from you on Congress to cut the bloated Pentagon budget helped make this small but important victory. This bill is only part of the battle and the Senate will need to take up it’s Defense Appropriations likely to happen in the lame duck session after the election.

Take a moment and look at some of the roll call votes and see how your Representative voted.  Then, call them this week to thank or spank them for their votes. The Capitol: 202-224-3121.

You can also help win more votes by electing more Representatives with your values by clicking here.


Unlike Mitt Romney, Most Americans Want to Cut U.S. Military Spending

July 23, 2012

From the History News Network: http://bit.ly/MEnFlU

By Dr. Lawrence Wittner (http://lawrenceswittner.com) is professor of history emeritus at SUNY/Albany. His latest book is “Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual” (University of Tennessee Press). He is also a member of Peace Action’s national board.

On some issues, there is a serious disconnect between candidates for public office and the public they are hoping to represent.

Take the case of Mitt Romney and military spending.

For some time now, the Republican presidential candidate has been an avid proponent of a vast U.S. military buildup. Last October, in a speech at the Citadel, he promised that he would never “wave the white flag of surrender” but, rather, devote himself to creating “an American Century.” This would be secured, he explained, by a hefty increase in U.S. armaments. In terms of U.S. warships alone, he promised to raise annual production by 67 percent. Attacking President Barack Obama for what he claimed was military weakness, Romney called for increasing the U.S. military budget, in fiscal 2013, by 17 percent. Indeed, he has proposed raising U.S. military spending by as much as $2 trillion over the next decade.

This military obsession comes at a curious time. After all, the U.S. military budget — currently standing at $648.6 billion — has risen dramatically over the last thirteen years and is the largest in U.S. history. Currently, U.S. military spending constitutes nearly as much money as the military spending of all other countries combined. Furthermore, in the context of severe budget cutting by Congress, popular domestic social programs are being sacrificed to support the U.S. military budget — so much so that it currently consumes more than half of the U.S. government’s discretionary spending.

Even the Republican-dominated House of Representatives seems to recognize that the time has come for cuts — and not increases — in military spending. On July 19, 2012, it voted 326 to 90 for a budget that reduced U.S. military spending (earmarked for the Defense Department and for current wars) to $606 billion in fiscal year 2013. If liberals and critics of the Afghan War had had their way, the military budget would have been cut still further. And, if the threatened budget sequestration takes place, it will be cut more substantially.

Indeed, the idea of cutting the huge U.S. military budget seems to enjoy considerable popularity among Americans. In May 2012, a survey of U.S. public opinion by the Stimson Center, the Program for Public Consultation, and the Center for Public Integrity found that 76 percent of respondents favored slashing U.S. military expenditures. This included 80 percent of respondents in districts that elected Democrats and 74 percent in districts that elected Republicans.

Even in districts with the heaviest military spending — and, thus, presumably benefiting from its economic impact — three quarters of the public favored reducing the military budget. “The idea that Americans … want to keep total defense spending up so as to preserve local jobs is not supported by the data,” reported Dr. Steven Kull, director of the Program for Public Consultation, a survey group associated with the University of Maryland.

By contrast, support for increasing military spending — so fervently backed by Romney — stood at only 4 percent in Democratic districts and 15 percent in Republican districts.

Even more striking, the average cut in such spending favored by the American public was very substantial: $103.5 billion.

Part of the explanation for this widespread approval of deep cuts in the military budget probably reflects the fact that the participants were well informed. Before taking the survey, the respondents received detailed information about that budget and had the chance to read numerous arguments for and against it.

But other recent polls, done without the provision of such information, also indicate substantial restlessness at the level of U.S. military spending. Earlier this year, asked to choose which of three programs — Medicare, Social Security, or the military — should receive lower funding “in order to cut government spending,” 52 percent of Americans chose the military, 15 percent chose Medicare, and 13 percent chose Social Security.

Surveys in 2011 had similar findings. Several CBS/New York Times polls revealed that, when it came to budget cuts, 45-55 percent of respondents preferred targeting the military, 16-21 percent preferred targeting Medicare, and 13-17 percent preferred targeting Social Security.

Other polls taken in 2011 also indicated Americans’ willingness to cut U.S. military spending. That September, a National Journal poll asked Americans whether they favored a plan for “reducing the growth of defense spending by about $350 billion over 10 years.” In response, 55 percent said they did. Another poll that September, by the Kaiser Foundation, found 67 percent approval for some reduction in the defense budget, with 28 percent supporting a major reduction and 39 percent a minor reduction. In October, a Washington Post/Bloomberg poll of Americans asked whether they supported or opposed “reducing military spending” to help cope with the U.S. budget deficit. Fifty-one percent expressed their support and 41 percent their opposition.

Overall, as Dr. Kull and other opinion analysts have concluded, there is substantial support among Americans for cutting the U.S. military budget, especially when the public is provided with relevant information and a choice of alternatives.

Of course, there are hawkish elements within the American public, as well as powerful defense contractors, that champion a U.S. military buildup. But Romney’s militarism seems unlikely to fire up many Americans outside their ranks.


Tell Congress Now: Stop Wasting Our Tax Dollars on Weapons and War!

July 17, 2012

This week the House takes up the Defense Appropriations bill with votes on amendments coming as early as today or tomorrow.  Call your Representative today!

202-224-3121

Tell her or him to support all amendments to reduce the Defense Appropriations bill and in particular Barbara Lee’s Amendment to cut all funding for the war in Afghanistan, except for what is needed for a safe and responsible drawdown.

House Republicans are trying to increase spending above levels approved in last year’s budget deal taking the balance out of the already decimated social safety net.  What is at stake is funding for programs for the hungry, education and first responders.  Please make your call today.

202-224-3121

Republicans House leaders continue to act as if every dime sent the Pentagon is needed to keep us safe.  It’s time to stop wasting money on war and gold-plated weapons.  Help me move the money from the Pentagon to meeting the needs of our people.

Humbly for Peace,

 

Kevin Martin
Executive Director
Peace Action

P.S. There is a big gap between what Congressional representatives believe and what the public wants.When people know what is at stake in the federal budget and the histroy of dramatic increases in the Pentagon budget they say cut the Pentagon budget by 18%. There is public support for this common sense idea.


2012 Candidates Briefings: Time to Move the Money!

July 13, 2012

From the left: David & Sally Jones, Judith LeBlanc and members of Peace Action NYS protesting on Wall Street May 2011.

Editor’s note: The candidates briefing described below is a great example of a well organized, content rich initiative. We hope you will take the opportunity to do the same with Congressional candidates in your area. It gives candidates the opportunity to learn about the issues, and allows the organization to begin a dialogue that continues once candidates take office. Peace Action Staten Island has been organizing in Staten Island for 10 years and has a broad base of support with community, faith and civil rights groups.

By Sally Jones Peace Action of Staten Island (Chapter of Peace Action NYS)

A delegation of 5 Peace Action of Staten Island members met with Congressional candidate Mark Murphy at his offices in Staten Island on June 7.  This follows up on our visit last month with Rep. Michael Grimm on cutting wasteful nuclear weapons from the federal budget.

The visit lasted 90 minutes and turned into a much broader discussion than we initially had intended.  Mark Murphy listened to each of our presentations carefully and engaged in a back and forth discussion on health care, women’s rights, NYPD policing, funding for our communities, and military service. He clearly wanted to differentiate himself from Rep. Grimm, particularly on women’s issues, social security, and civil rights protections.  He seemed open to moving money from wasteful military programs to health care, in particular.  He pointed out that his district (all of Staten Island and southwest Brooklyn), however, is less reliant on military spending than other districts.

We sent the candidate the following material a few days before the meeting:

- A summary of Peace Action’s primary goals from the national Peace Action 5 year strategic plan.

- A summary of 4 specific nuclear weapons programs that are being proposed in the Department of Defense and Department of Energy 2013 budgets.  Cutting all or part of these programs translates to a savings of 100 billion  dollars a year.  This was the material we shared with Rep. Michael Grimm. We met with his staff in May.

- A copy of House Resolution 780 *Responsible End to the War in Afghanistan Act sponsor: Representative Barbara Lee,  [CA-9] (introduced 2/17/2011) with 71 cosponsors.  

Each member of the delegation addressed a specific area: Eileen Bardel, Chair – Introductions & background about Peace Action SI Rich Florentino – Cutting unnecessary nuclear weapons programs Sally Jones – Cutting military budget, supporting diplomacy & ending the war in Afghanistan Eileen – Funding health care for all David Jones – A veteran’s perspective Dennis Dell’Angelo – Funding our communities – 3 min Eileen – Close and thank you


Kev’s Summer Reading List

July 9, 2012

Here are four books on Peace Action related issues I’ve read recently, all written by colleagues (okay maybe I need to balance these now with some non-political books!). What are you reading this summer? Please share your favorites, whether political or peace-related or not.

–Kevin Martin, Executive Director

Drone Warfare: Killing by Remote Control by Medea Benjamin, co-founder of Code Pink: Women for Peace and Global Exchange

Medea Benjamin, an indefatigable drum major for peace and justice, provides a real eye opener to how U.S. Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV’s) or “drones” are not only killing innocent civilians in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia and other countries (most of whom the U.S. is not at war against), but how drones are lowering the bar for warmaking and spying on Americans. Clear, concise, well-argued and passionate, featuring interviews with drone victims and activists working to limit the proliferation of drones and other robotic warfare technology, this book is a must-read for peace activists wanting to learn more about this pernicious threat to peace and our civil liberties and how to stop it.

Working for Peace and Justice: Memoirs of an Activist Intellectual by Lawrence Wittner, Professor Emeritus at the State University of New York at Albany and a member of the Peace Action national board of directors

Perhaps because I admire and like Larry Wittner so much,  I really enjoyed this coming of age story of a shy, intellectual boy from Brooklyn who went on to become a civil rights, labor and peace activist, and the authoritative scholar of the global nuclear disarmament movement. While I enjoyed that “political” part of the book, Larry’s personal journey is very compelling too, as he overcame numerous serious personal and professional obstacles to become a much-respected and well-liked stalwart in the fields of academia and activism.

Here is the blurb I wrote for the book:

Larry Wittner’s life and work are inspiring on their own, but he recounts them in such a frank, open manner that he has crafted a real page-turner. Working for Peace and Justice takes you along on a joyful ride of discovery through the life of a model citizen/scholar/activist.”

The Peacekeeping Economy:  Using Economic Relationships to Build a More Peaceful, Prosperous, and Secure World by Lloyd “Jeff” Dumas, Professor at the University of Texas at Dallas

If you are looking for a Marxist screed about war and capitalism, Jeff Dumas’s latest work is not the one for you. But if you like practical ideas on how a more just U.S. and global economy could work better for everyone, and how a more peaceful world is possible with more equitable economic policies, then you will dig into this book, part of “an unintended trilogy” by Dumas. For good measure, he throws in a fascinating chapter on nonviolence. It’s a bit of a serious, somewhat academic read, but very rewarding, even to someone who was not very strong on Economics in my academic career! Dumas’s aim is true, and he aims to make a difference, not wow you with economics wizardry.

 Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military Industrial Complex by William Hartung

Okay I only got to read part of this book, but it was great, as everything Bill Hartung writes always is. It’s a fascinating history of how Lockheed began as a small airplane company and then metastasized into the largest merchant of death on the planet. As anti-corporate organizing grows, we need to sharpen the focus on some of the worst corporations, those who profit from and lobby for endless wars, bottomless weapons contracts and gargantuan military budgets. This book is an invaluable resource for doing just that!


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