Tikkun Magazine, November/December 2010

Not My Priorities: A National Campaign to Decrease Military Spending

by Ellen Augustine

How much do we really need to spend to defend ourselves?

At $708 billion, the Pentagon gets nearly 60 percent of our discretionary budget (the money Congress is free to allocate). Meanwhile our schools are in crisis, lacking the money for teachers and books, and social welfare programs are weakening, depriving the most vulnerable members of our community of vital support and health care.

Buddhist scholar and teacher Joanna Macy, author of Despair and Empowerment in the Nuclear Age, took a strong stance against this madness in a May 2010 presentation with Not My Priorities, a national campaign that seeks to stir up the public and create a debate in Congress about our defense spending. Speaking to the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists, she said:

There seems to be a scandal going on, an insanity we are in the midst of... Our president said firmly in the State of the Union: "I'm going to hold the line on domestic spending." But military spending? Greater than ever. So we are heartsick over that. At this time when so many people and their children are suffering with foreclosures and joblessness, we are pursuing an illegitimate, illegal, devastatingly expensive military operation, to say nothing of the 800 to 1,000 military bases around the world. Future generations are going to look back and say, "What was happening? Were all the people asleep?"

We look into our heart minds to see what's going on, not to run away from it. To rise above the denial and torpor that is seizing the media and so many of our brother/sister citizens. We are alive at a time when this country, which prides itself on being the last remaining superpower, is spending as much on its defense as all the other countries in the world combined. We should be up in arms about that, or de-arming them, in any case. But we're waking up. I am so pleased the Not My Priorities project is doing something so creative.

The Not My Priorities campaign centers around a budget pie chart postcard that has three spaces on the back for people to write their alternatives. Postcards are pre-addressed to the president, representatives, and senators. More than 100,000 are in circulation across the nation. Macy said:

What is heaviest on my heart in this, are the absolutely terrifying, sickening increases in nuclear weaponry that are put into this budget. There is more being assigned for development of nuclear weapons now than at any time since or even during the Cold War. So I feel very enthusiastic, relieved, and excited about the Not My Priorities postcards, which help us see this so clearly. A picture is worth a thousand words. And they're going to let us wake up our brother/sister beings to bring them into a sense of activism and agency that our citizenry needs, needs it like oxygen to come awake to who we are and to our responsibility.

The postcard is a graphic means. The tiny little slivers of the pie for environment, education, and community development are a source of shame for me, a source of revulsion. Now in Buddhist teachings, that sense of revulsion is very encouraging. It shows that you see something that relates to you and you want to do something about it. So revulsion is positive. You're ready for a new path, perhaps for The Great Turning. The Great Turning is away from the industrial growth society, the military-industrial complex fattening on war. The red portion on the postcard represents folly in terms of the weapons it's producing through contractors getting hundreds of millions of dollars even as they are being investigated for fraud like Halliburton or Blackwater. I predict this wonderful concept of the Not My Priorities postcards is going to appear everywhere so it can lead people to The Great Turning and to a sensible, life-sustaining future.

Decreasing the military budget would be a boon to our economy. A recent study by Robert Pollin and Heidi Garrett-Peltier at the University of Massachusetts Amherst found that spending the same billion dollars on education, health care, energy retrofits, or mass transit creates between 30 percent and 100 percent more jobs than the military, most of which pay a living wage.

What can you do? Not My Priorities campaign codirector Barry Hermanson suggests: "Start by sending the postcard in this issue of Tikkun to your representative. Then take this on as a project -- personally. Carry postcards with you when you meet friends for lunch, to walk, or when you go to your church, synagogue, or mosque. Mail cards to your family and friends in other states. Encourage whatever group you are involved in to adopt this as a project -- it's a perfect adjunct to whatever else they are doing."

For a free set of four postcards (one for President Obama, one for your representative, and two for your senators) go to www.notmypriorities.org or contact Barry Hermanson (barry@notmypriorities.org or 415-664-7754) or Ellen Augustine (ellen@notmypriorities.org or 510-428-1832).

It's in your hands.

Ellen Augustine, M.A., is codirector of notmypriorities.org. She is a speaker and author on creating a just, peaceful, and sustainable world. She was the Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress in 1994 (as Ellen Schwartz).

Source Citation: Augustine, Ellen. 2010. Not My Priorities: A National Campaign to Decrease Military Spending. Tikkun 25(6): 14

tags: Economy/Poverty/Wealth, Militarism, US Politics, War & Peace  
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