1ST ANNUAL IDEAfest – Lollapalooza

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Opening remarks given on September 24
by Judith LeBlanc, Field Director, national Peace Action

Anything connected to the word lollapalooza is definitely something I want to be associated with!

Thanks so much for inviting me to this first annual idea-fest!
Ideas have changed the world, when movements for change have taken them up. In fact, all great social change has come about through grassroots movements that fight for seemingly impossible ideas. We are living in a time of when our country suffers from a tremendous moral deficit. There is an urgent need to right the immoral injustices in almost every area of life.:
– The continued use of death penalty.
– The highest rates of poverty in decades.
-1 in 4 families have a hard time buying food this year.
– 1 in 4 children lives in poverty.
– Biggest round ups of immigrants since the Palmer raids.
– Huge racial disparities between Black, Brown and White continue to grow.
– 25 million people are unemployed or underemployed.
– Full scale attack on public workers right to representation on the job while a half million have been laid off by local governments since 2007, a half million teachers, sanitation workers, nurses and first responders.

And as you know, and I quote, “Corporations are peopling too, my friend.”
There’s a moral deficit when some want to put the burden of the economic crisis on the oldest, the youngest and the sickest in our country with budget cuts. There is a moral deficit, not simply a budget deficit, when 58% of yearly discretionary spending goes to weapons, war planning and maintaining US bases around the world.

We need a new kind of peace and justice movement that can challenge the moral deficit and fight for changing our country’s priorities. A new kind of grassroots movement that fights for a more peaceful world and justice in our communities. Peace, racial and economic justice is impossible without demilitarizing our federal budget and foreign policy.

It is immoral for our government to prioritize bombs rather than books, wars instead of jobs. At no other time has it been clearer that wars and the Pentagon budget are the biggest obstacles to progress and justice. Fifty-eight percent, a majority of yearly spending, goes to the Pentagon. Immoral and wrong priorities. Endless wars and ever-newer weapons come at the expense of our communities. President Eisenhower, Supreme Commander of allied forces in WWII, said that every bomb made takes food away from the hungry. He warned of the growing danger of the Military Industrial Complex controlling politics, culture and the economy.

Dr Martin Luther King’s admonition during theVietnam War rings ever truer today. He realized that when our bombs drop on foreign soil they explode in our communities. The bombs dropped in Afghanistan and Pakistan today are exploding in South Chicago, Detroit and Harlem. Ike and Dr King were right. Signs that more and more Americans understand these harsh truths are all around.

Poll after poll shows that people believe that tax loopholes for the rich and corporations and the wars are what drove this deficit up. And they are right! Taxes and wars! The AFL-CIO issued a statement on the deficit budget deal. They called for demilitarizing US foreign policy. They said the wars were a mistake and are draining the scarce resources we need for jobsand services in our communities.

Peace Action worked with Code Pink and other peace groups and pressed 22 Mayors to sign onto a resolution calling for brining the troops and our tax dollars home to fund our cities introduced at the US Conference of Mayors national meeting in June. It’s not a grassroots conference. It is a meeting of mayors from all political outlooks. That resolution created a real “whoha”, but passed by a majority! Some mayors asked, “Why are taking on a foreign policy issue?” The answer was clear.

Our cities and towns need the taxes dollars and troops to come home in order to deal with the dire economic problems we face. The debate got a huge media bounce on Face the Nation, New York Times, Washington Post When the Mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Viallragosa, the new president of the US conference of Mayors was asked about it, he said. “The most patriotic thing we can do is to bring home the troops and make sure they have jobs when they get here.”

People understand what Ike and Dr King meant at the local grassroots level. Grassroots coalitions are being organized to respond to budget cuts, and public worker layoffs. And the connection between the costs of the wars and the impact on our communities is being made. The huge debate about the Federal budget deficit makes it harder to cover up the impact foreign policy has domestically.

We watched with our hearts in our throats or soaring like eagles as the people took over the WI State Capitol. Labor unions, students, community all were there and so was WI Peace Action. We brought the message “Move the Money from wars and weapons back to our communities.” Their banners and rotunda speeches got huge support. The peace movement was not the leader, but part of the struggle, bringing in part of the solution. In Ohio, the Cincinnati Peace and Justice Center, responded to our call for peace groups to join up with NAACP, labor and community groups to come to Washington, DC to march for One Nation Working Together last Oct. They organized a bus.

You know what happens on an 18-hour bus ride to DC. Beaucoup political talk and bonding! Standing with hundreds of thousands for jobs, peace and justice inspired them. The labor, peace, NAACP and church leadership folks, decided to hold a couple of pot lucks to see how the One Nation Working Together could “keep on” in Cincinnati. And then crap hit the fan when the Ohio Governor and the state legislature went “Wisconsin” on the public workers. The director of the peace center told me, ”We had to join the marches”. We had to protect the teachers and the firefighters. This is about ending the wars and justice!”

They joined the petition drive, a historic undertaking; never in US history had 1 million signatures ever been collected in a few months. Labor and community got out on the streets together. Now they are “bird-dogging” their Congress people who have joined up with the Tea Party calls for cuts. They all wear tee shirts into the congressional town halls and public events, which say, “Jobs, end the wars and tax the rich.” The media has been covering their efforts because they will not leave their Congressional representatives alone for a minute!

That’s the new kind of peace and justice movement I am talking about. One that is connected to communities of color includes every day people, young and old. I go into so much detail on what has gone on because grassroots organizing is not brain surgery. Its one small step to the next timed with political and economic developments. And we are in the beginning of birthing a new kind of movement for peace and justice. But let me make it real because this is a lollapalooza idea-fest. We are at the beginnings of a very long organizing campaign to shake the hold of the military industrial complex. Ike and Dr King were right!

Without ending the wars, compelling the rich and the corporations to pay their fair share of taxes it will be next to impossible to fund our cities and we endanger Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare. NO way to dislodge the military industrial complex without a movement that uses every tool in our tool box, from elections, to lobbying, to marching, direct action and popular education.

We have to be mapping out how to build slowly but surely a movement which musters the political will to challenge the immorality of Federal budget priorities which means pushing back on MIC, October 2011 compelling a new kind of foreign policy premisedon respect for national serenity, diplomacy and international law. We need our country to be one country among many, not the ONE country selling arms, waging wars and keeping hundreds of bases around the world.

The struggle must be local to demilitarize the federal budget. It is no easy job because there is resistance on both sides of the aisle in Congress. The Mayors know that, city councils state legislators know that. So with a movement that brings together faith, community, labor and peace, they will be compelled to listen up. Nope, not every struggle is won, but unlike Charlie Sheen…we are winning. When the AFL-CIO & US conference of Mayors says demilitarize foreign policy, end the wars.

The North Suburban Peace Initiative has been mobilizing for peace for decades. Now you have joined the national Peace Action family of 100,00 members strong. We are so happy to have you. You have joined our family at a fierce time, when we are faced with a Congressional Super Committee of 12 who are making decision s that could destroy the fragile social safety our great, grand folks fought for.

The military industries have spent 70 million between January, and July almost double what they spent last year lobbying Congress. We have a fight

Between now Nov 23 we need a full court press on our Congressional delegations, in the media and online.

We must:
-Call for cutting the 58%, move the money!
-Say President Obama is right! We have to stick to the deadlines or better yet, speed up the withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan. Bring the tax dollars home.
-Cut the money being spent to modernize the nuclear weapons complex. We have got to stay on the road to disarmament.
-Close US bases around the world.

These ideas are not peace movement demands they are being discussed and raised across the political spectrum in bi-partisan commissions and rightwing think tanks.

Between now and November 23 we have to be present, be vocal, be specific about what the SuperCommittee needs to do. They have an online suggestion box, fill it up. http://tinyurl.com/6dc9x9q

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