The new poor people's campaign should get every ounce of support we can find and generate. I say that without the qualifications and caveats I would usually include, because the Poor People's Campaign is doing something that may not be strictly unprecedented in U.S. history but is certainly extremely rare in recent decades. It's pursuing a worthy noble goal, that of ending poverty, while making ending war a central part of its vision, and doing so voluntarily.
Of course this makes sense given the heritage of Martin Luther King Jr.'s vision for the world.
Of course it makes sense given the major economic drain that military spending is, the preying of recruiters on the poor, the environmental injustice of military base pollution in poor neighborhoods, the militarization of police by the military in poor neighborhoods, the culture of violence that the military promotes, the culture of racism that war propaganda fuels and feeds off, and the incredible wonders that could be done if military money was diverted toward good ends.
Yet, typically, when there's a multi-issue or other-issue coalition or mass effort put together in the United States, it takes a full-court-press of private and public lobbying, badgering, and shaming to get the organizers to slip the word peace in somewhere on page 38, or to allow a peace contingent to march at the back of the parade. It's easy to miss, but I think we ought to recognize, the significance of the Poor People's Campaign taking on war front-and-center and unasked.
I might overlook it more than others because of the religious focus of this campaign. I'm not religious and am convinced we'd be better off without religion. But we're very obviously better off with these religious activists.
These are the new poor people's campaign's principles (I've added bolding):
- We are rooted in a moral analysis based on our deepest religious and constitutional values that demand justice for all. Moral revival is necessary to save the heart and soul of our democracy.
- We are committed to lifting up and deepening the leadership of those most affected by systemic racism, poverty, the war economy, and ecological devastation and to building unity across lines of division.
- We believe in the dismantling of unjust criminalization systems that exploit poor communities and communities of color and the transformation of the "War Economy" into a "Peace Economy" that values all humanity.
- We believe that equal protection under the law is non-negotiable.
- We believe that people should not live in or die from poverty in the richest nation ever to exist. Blaming the poor and claiming that the United States does not have an abundance of resources to overcome poverty are false narratives used to perpetuate economic exploitation, exclusion, and deep inequality.
- We recognize the centrality of systemic racism in maintaining economic oppression must be named, detailed and exposed empirically, morally and spiritually. Poverty and economic equality cannot be understood apart from a society built on white supremacy.
- We aim to shift the distorted moral narrative often promoted by religious extremists in the nation from personal issues like prayer in school, abortion, sexuality, gun rights, property rights to systemic injustices like how our society treats the poor, those on the margins, the least of these, women, children, workers, immigrants and the sick; equality and representation under the law; and the desire for peace, love and harmony within and among nations.
- We will build up the power of people and state-based movements to serve as a vehicle for a powerful moral movement in the country and to transform the political, economic and moral structures of our society.
- We recognize the need to organize at the state and local level--many of the most regressive policies are being passed at the state level, and these policies will have long and lasting effect, past even executive orders. The movement is not from above but below.
- We will do our work in a non-partisan way--no elected officials or candidates get the stage or serve on the State Organizing Committee of the Campaign. This is not about left and right, Democrat or Republican but about right and wrong.
- We uphold the need to do a season of sustained nonviolent civil disobedience as a way to break through the tweets and shift the moral narrative. We are demonstrating the power of people coming together across issues and geography and putting our bodies on the line to the issues that are affecting us all.
- The Campaign and all its Participants and Endorsers embrace nonviolence. Violent tactics or actions will not be tolerated.
I've bolded that last sentence because of its importance and rarity, even if it seems separable from the agenda of ending war. I think it's intimately connected.
This excellent set of principles debunks the notion that the poor are too busy struggling for food and shelter to care about something as abstract as foreign policy. These principles recognize that the war economy requires those impacted by it to care. Yet, it's not just selfish caring. What is to be valued, it says above, is all humanity. Peace activists sometimes ask to "bring our war dollars home." Not only is that a selfish idea. It's also an idea that depends on one's not really grasping how much money war dollars is. Over $1 trillion in the U.S. alone every year for militarism is enough to transform this country AND all the other countries. We do not have to choose.
At World Beyond War we maintain that one of the key reasons to end war is that war impoverishes us:
War has a huge direct financial cost, the vast majority of which is in funds spent on the preparation for war -- or what's thought of as ordinary, non-war military spending. Very roughly, the world spends $2 trillion every year on militarism, of which the United States spends about half, or $1 trillion. This U.S. spending also accounts for roughly half of the U.S. government's discretionary budget each year and is distributed through several departments and agencies. Much of the rest of world spending is by members of NATO and other allies of the United States, although China ranks second in the world.
Not every well-known measure of military spending accurately conveys the reality. For example, the Global Peace Index (GPI) ranks the United States near the peaceful end of the scale on the factor of military spending. It accomplishes this feat through two tricks. First, the GPI lumps the majority of the world's nations all the way at the extreme peaceful end of the spectrum rather than distributing them evenly.
Second, the GPI treats military spending as a percentage of gross domestic product (GDP) or the size of an economy. This suggests that a rich country with a huge military can be more peaceful than a poor country with a small military. This is not just an academic question, as think tanks in Washington urge spending a higher percentage of GDP on the military, exactly as if one should invest more in warfare whenever possible, without waiting for a supposed defensive need.
In contrast to the GPI, the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) lists the United States as the top military spender in the world, measured in dollars spent. In fact, according to SIPRI, the United States spends as much on war and war preparation as most of the rest of the world combined. The truth may be more dramatic still. SIPRI says U.S. military spending in 2011 was $711 billion. Chris Hellman of the National Priorities Project says it was $1,200 billion, or $1.2 trillion. The difference comes from including military spending found in every department of the government, not just "Defense," but also Homeland Security, State, Energy, the U.S. Agency for International Development, the Central Intelligence Agency, the National Security Agency, the Veterans Administration, interest on war debts, etc. There's no way to do an apples-to-apples comparison to other nations without accurate credible information on each nation's total military spending, but it is extremely safe to assume that no other nation on earth is spending $500 billion more than is listed for it in the SIPRI rankings.
While North Korea almost certainly spends a much higher percentage of its gross domestic product on war preparations than the United States does, it almost certainly spends less than 1 percent what the United States spends.