By Gwen Jaspers
Tweeted by Rep. Barbara Lee of California late last month, “Defund the Pentagon Budget” is four words that would have been quickly dismissed a few months ago.
But that was before white America’s visceral awakening to centuries of U.S. police brutality and murder of Black Americans, and our nation’s systemic abuse and neglect of Black and Native peoples and other neighbors of color. It was before the pain and fury of living through a pandemic with incompetent, even lethal national leadership. Now, it’s starting to make deeper sense that perhaps our yearly increasing, over-sized military budget has cost us health care, health research and personal protective equipment.
It has cost us affordable education, renewable energy development, generous small business loan programs, abundant low-income housing, focused climate change education and planning. In fact it may be costing us the very environment that sustains us. Research by Neta Crawford of the Watson Institute at Brown University cites the Pentagon as the largest institutional user of petroleum and the greatest producer of greenhouse gases on the planet.
This year’s $749 billion Pentagon budget is more money than that of the next seven countries’ (including Russia’s and China’s) military budgets combined and has been for years.
How do we defund the Pentagon budget? For starters, we talk about it. We may even decide, eventually with trusted supporters, not to pay for the Pentagon’s war budget by omitting the amount from our tax payment that the Pentagon receives — a whopping 50 percent or more of what we pay in federal income taxes.
This year we can also rally around an articulate and educational resolution introduced by Lee to cut $350 billion from the Pentagon budget and redistribute that hard-earned taxpayer money to meet the needs of everyday Americans.
Lee notes that last year’s Pentagon budget ($738 billion) was the “largest on record” and adds, “The prioritization of defense spending and the underinvestment in public health has led to 10 times more deaths from COVID-19 than the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” She is joined by 28 House members and at least two senators.
One of those senators is Bernie Sanders. “We need to cut our military budget by 10 percent and invest that money in human needs.”
Supported by Sen. Ed Markey of Massachusetts, as well as Lee and Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin from the House, Sanders’ proposal “would take $74 billion in annual savings from the Pentagon — exempting salaries and health care — to create a domestic federal grant program to fund health care, housing, childcare and educational opportunities for cities and towns experiencing a poverty rate of 25 percent or more.”
Both of these initiatives can be the start of a national conversation to reroute money from death and destruction to life-enhancing programs. For decades, groups of citizens across our country and in our community have found ways to protest and/or refuse the use of their tax dollars for war and preparation for war. Among the organizations in the Eugene/Springfield area, Taxes for Peace Not War, associated with the National War Tax Coordinating Committee, can be reached at 541- 731-1189. A number of websites also provide more information: nwtrcc.org, OregonWand.org and NationalPriorities.org.
Gwen Jaspers is an environmentalist and peace activist who lives in Eugene.