Will US Mayors Vote Against the War?

Senate Armed Services Chair Carl Levin?a Democrat from Michigan–had just put down the gavel, marking the end of the confirmation hearing for Leon Panetta to be the next Secretary of Defense, when Detroit-born CODEPINK activist Tighe Barry jumped up. “Shame on you, Senator Levin, for supporting endless wars while Detroit is dying,” he shouted. “Your constituents are eating cat food while you’re funding a champagne war.” Levin shook his head in disgust, dismissing Barry as some kind of kook, and walked out of the room.

But Barry’s words ring true. The city of Detroit stands as a mirror to the United States’ battered economy and failing wars. Our nation’s continued military exploits in Iraq and Afghanistan are fueling Detroit’s destruction. Taxpayers from Detroit shell out over two billion dollars a year for war, money that could cover healthcare for over 150,000 children or the payment of some 3,000 teachers’ salaries.

While Senator Levin might not want to make the link between war funding and the financial woes of our cities, mayors around the country are doing just that. At this year’s annual U.S. Conference of Mayors, to be held from June 17-21 in Baltimore, hundreds of mayors will gather to discuss diverse issues from job growth to homeland security. One of the issues they will vote on is the Bring Our War Dollars Home resolution, introduced by Mayor Kitty Piercy from Eugene, Oregon, which calls on Congress to redirect military spending to domestic priorities.

Thanks to the work of local grassroots activists under the leadership of CODEPINK’s Bring Our War Dollars Home campaign, the resolution has 20 cosponsors from cities such as Minneapolis, Baltimore, Santa Fe and Ithaca. All agree that the wars’ combined cost of over one trillion dollars would be better spent in job creation, health care, sustainable energy, infrastructure, and programs to reduce poverty and crime in American cities. “We are spending a billion a month after Osama bin Laden has been killed. And while I appreciate the effort to rebuild nations around the world, we have tremendous needs in communities like mine,” said Joseph C. O’Brien, the Mayor of Worcester, MA and a co-sponsor of the resolution.

The U.S. Conference of Mayors is not known for challenging foreign policy and hasn’t called for an end to a U.S. military engagement since the days of Vietnam. But even the Conference’s mainstream Executive Director Tom Cochran seems fed up with Washington’s priorities. “As the slashing continues by Washington targeted to American cities, $150 billion a year is poured into the Afghanistan War. The money being sent and spent abroad goes unchecked. The small amount provided for infrastructure, security, community development here in the USA is slashed,” Cochran wrote in the April 25 edition of U.S. Mayor.

This basic frustration evades the grasp of the Washington Post Editorial Board, which in a June 11 opinion piece entitled “The Afghan Withdrawal,” dismissed the claim that the United States can no longer afford the $2 billion a week being spent on the war, stating that “the marginal billions that might be gained from withdrawing more troops now will have no significant impact on a deficit problem measured in trillions.”

The mayors, the elected officials closest to the people living without food in their bellies, money in their bank accounts, and roofs over their heads, do not underestimate the power of “marginal billions.”  A supporter of the Bring Our War Dollars Home Resolution, Mayor Joanne Twomey from Biddeford, Maine, knows how people living in small cities, like her 20,000 constituents, could benefit from bringing home the massive amounts of federal funding that has been sent overseas. “In Biddeford we are cutting $1.6 million in our education budget,” complained Mayor Joanne Twomey from Biddeford, Maine, a supporter of the Bring Our War Dollars Home Resolution. “It’s my responsibility as mayor to start saying if our priorities were straight, if we could bring these war dollars home, I wouldn’t have to be doing this, and neither would the Biddeford school board.”

CODEPINK organizer C.J. Minster, who has been working for months on the mayor’s campaign, thinks the mayors’ resolution has a good chance of passing: “We look forward to helping the mayors use their collective power to remind the federal government that true human security includes freedom from hunger, job opportunities, health security, and environmental protection.”

Medea Benjamin (medea@globalexchange.org) is cofounder of CODEPINK: Women for Peace (www.codepinkalert.org) and Global Exchange (www.globalexchange.org).

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Medea Benjamin is the co-founder of the peace group CODEPINK and the human right organization Global Exchange. Follow her on twitter at @MedeaBenjamin.

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