(image by courtesy of Jeff Cohen) DMCA
My guest today is Jeff Cohen, co-founder of RootsAction.org and director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College.
JB: Welcome to OpEdNews, Jeff. RootsAction.org recently organized a petition directed at Sen. Bernie Sanders, who is running for President in the upcoming election. What can you tell us about it?
JC: It's a petition offering critical support for Bernie's campaign and urging him to speak out against one of the major effects of corporate supremacy -- and that's militarism/perpetual war. His campaign has sparked so much wonderful enthusiasm and activism, especially among young people, for his critique of corporate power, wealth and income inequality, the high cost of college education, the lack of a serious climate change policy, the lack of a serious infrastructure/jobs policy, etc. And increasingly -- after some prodding from Black Lives Matter activists -- Bernie has been more centrally addressing racial injustice and criminal injustice.
But he has generally avoided the problems of U.S. foreign policy. So anyone can go to RootsAction.org and sign the petition urging Bernie to speak out -- as Martin Luther King Jr. did so eloquently in the last year of his life -- against what King called "the madness of U.S. militarism." Bernie is running on a thought-out and popular-with-voters program of providing healthcare to all, college education to all, a jobs program to help our society transform to a renewable economy. But it's hard to see how these programs are affordable when most of our country's discretionary spending goes to the military (as the National Priorities Project has shown). Billions of dollars in military spending need to be redirected to these pressing domestic needs that Bernie has so eloquently delineated. Signers of the petition want Bernie to make this argument about transformation central to his campaign.
JB: What a great idea! How's the petition drive going so far? Do you have a number you're shooting for before sending it off to Bernie?
JC: After a few weeks, the petition had been signed by more than 26,000 people -- surpassing the goal of 25,000 signers. And people are still signing it, and adding their own comments to the petition. As they should feel free to. On Aug 27, after the goal of 25,000 was reached, RootsAction formally submitted the petition (with the names and comments accumulated up to that point) to the Sanders campaign. The campaign was told that any response from Bernie or the campaign would be forwarded to all petition signers. So far, no response has been received.
JB: That's a lot of concerned citizens. Is it unusual that a candidate wouldn't include his/her position on US militarism in the platform? Can we read anything into that oversight, if that's what it is?
JC: As RootsAction.org co-founder Norman Solomon wrote in an important column, "Bernie Sanders should stop ducking foreign policy" 8/5/15, there is almost no mention of foreign policy on Bernie's campaign website. Many domestic issues are fully dealt with, but foreign policy is ignored. Bernie is more comfortable addressing domestic policy. Though he once had a critique of U.S. foreign policy (from Vietnam to Central America), he seems to have let it slip away. And that's a shame.
A critique of U.S. foreign policy today would raise questions about whether the "war on terrorism" has made our country more or less safe. The same goes for drone strikes that have killed so many innocent civilians and the policy of repeatedly sending massive arms flows to factions and governments in the Middle East and the policy of 100% support for whatever Israel does in Gaza and the West Bank.
Most U.S. progressives know that along with widening social inequality and increasing corporate control of our society, another major problem that has worsened in recent decades is militarism and endless war -- diverting billions of dollars from social needs to "national security"/mass surveillance/military intervention.
That's why our petition to Bernie pairs his photo with a photo of Martin Luther King Jr. King went to his grave decrying that the billions spent on bombs aimed at Vietnam could be better spent on rebuilding America's inner cities and other social needs. King denounced Congress in 1967 and 1968 for its "hostility to the poor" -- appropriating "military funds with alacrity and generosity" but providing "poverty funds with miserliness." Bernie has made a similar critique in the past and in the margins today.
What's exciting about Bernie's campaign is that it has electrified voters with a platform of domestic uplift and rebuilding. Domestic uplift requires billions of tax dollars. Bernie talks about taxing Wall Street transactions, which is great. And adding revenue by fairer taxation aimed at the wealthy. Also great. But cutting military spending and reducing the interventionist power of "the military industrial complex" (as Republican President Dwight Eisenhower labeled it) are essential to being able to afford Bernie's domestic agenda. It would also be good for world peace if U.S. foreign policy stressed material aid and diplomacy and human rights rather than military adventurism.
JB: Does RootsAction.org have plans for Bernie beyond the petition and are you targeting other candidates as well? If not, why not?