by Sandra Schwartz

[dropcap] E[/dropcap]very year, especially around tax time, community groups leaflet post offices and street corners with colorful brochures depicting the disproportionate, even obscene, amounts of money we are spending on the military.
This is money being spent on current wars and the interest on the debt incurred from past wars, funds spent to develop the technology and weaponry for future wars, and benefits paid to bind the wounds of those who fought in the wars.
The numbers vary, but the United States spends a staggering amount of money on death and destruction, ranging from $553 billion to over a trillion dollars per year, depending on how the federal budget is calculated.
Every minute of every day, the U.S. government spends $2.1 million on the military. In 2012, the United States will allocate about 60 percent of its discretionary budget for military spending. This includes $553 billion as the base budget for the Pentagon. Then, after adding the cost of nuclear weapons, veterans programs, and the portion of the deficit caused by war spending, U.S. military spending totals $711 billion per year.
For a variety of reasons, activists working on housing, health, education, the environment and every other critical issue have not focused on the federal dollars spent on the military industry.
What many people don’t realize is that the military budget has increased 159 percent between 2000 and 2011, leaving little money for other issues. Now, with an economic crisis that is unparalleled since the Great Depression, activists are rethinking their alliances.
More and more people are realizing from heartbreaking experiences the truth that how society spends its money is a reflection of our values. Since 2001, we have allocated more than a trillion dollars of the nation’s treasury to fight two wars even as we allowed child poverty rates to rise to 20 percent, left our sick and elderly without care, and permitted schools, roads, and bridges to deteriorate here at home.
We don’t have to look far to see the impact of the current crisis. Even those who have been fortunate enough to keep a job and a roof over their heads just have to look around to see the foreclosure signs on the block, the empty shop windows, and the lengthening lines at the emergency food pantries.
Our personal experience of the nation’s economic crisis may be as simple as having one’s adult children move home because they can’t find a job that pays enough to cover the rent, or having friends and colleagues struggling to balance work and care for aging parents, small children or critically ill partners without essential community services.
Nearly everyone is feeling the pinch and some are feeling a great deal of pain. There is a new urgency and a movement dedicated to changing this reality.
Part of the urgency is that the U.S. House of Representatives is dedicated to slashing spending on everything except the military. It is projected that their proposals will slow the economy, causing more job losses in addition to all the jobs that have already been lost, while further decimating the safety net that would shelter people during these difficult times.
Current proposals include deep cuts in Head Start; reversing the health care legislation passed in 2010; eliminating volunteer programs such as Ameri-Corp and Teach for America; and cutting investment monies for green technology and mass transportation systems.
While it is true that the national debt is a staggering $14 trillion, slashing money from the programs that actually generate jobs and protect the quality of life is counter-productive. Many economists, including Paul Krugman, argue that federal spending to generate jobs is the only way out of a recession of this magnitude.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, a professor at Columbia University, said, “The weakness of the economy caused the deficit, not the other way around. The solution to the deficit problem is putting America back to work.”
Research shows that investing money in education, infrastructure, and health is the best way to generate jobs. These jobs tend to generate more jobs as people spend that money, and also create tax revenues which shrink the deficit and decrease the need for services.
Nevertheless, it is these very programs that “deficit hawks” are honing in on cutting or eliminating, despite the fact that they represent only 14 percent of the federal budget. Yet, these “deficit hawks” intend to increase the gargantuan pot of money earmarked for the military budget.
Fortunately, people are coming together to challenge these misguided budget priorities. Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., along with Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, are calling for significant cuts in military spending. A bipartisan commission called the Sustainable Defense Task Force released a report in June 2010 recommending a $100 billion cut in defense spending each year for ten years.
However, this will never happen without a mass movement of the people. Fortunately, the New Priorities Campaign (NPC) is working to build that movement.

The two party system “debates” the military budget. Democrats and Republicans are in collusion to give endless billions to the Pentagon. Art by Doug Minkler
The two party system “debates” the military budget. Democrats and Republicans are in collusion to give endless billions to the Pentagon Art by Doug Minkler

The campaign was initiated by labor unions, joined by peace groups, and is growing. The NPC is connected to a national network with three simple goals:

  1. End wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
  2. Bring about major reductions in the Pentagon budget.
  3. Make immediate and significant investments in jobs, infrastructure, new technologies, education, health care, environmental protection, an effective social safety net, defense of Social Security and Medicare from threatened cuts, and all other efforts that enhance the common good of our society.

New Priorities knows that people are busy trying to keep their families and organizations afloat, so they have designed a campaign where people can get involved at many levels. Individuals (and organizations) can simply sign the NPC petition at or can get more involved.
Large community meetings are held monthly. The next meeting will be held on April 3 at the California Nurse’s Association, 2000 Franklin, Oakland, at 2 p.m. All are welcome!
Outreach and education efforts are being planned for early April, including a labor rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza outside Oakland City Hall on April 4 and a BART action on April 12, the Global Day Against Military Spending. Currently, the United States spends nearly as much as the rest of the world combined on the military, accounting for 42 percent of the total global military spending.
Volunteers will be leafleting BART stations around the Bay Area. Activists are invited to use the NPC literature and include information about their own issue. Creativity is welcomed, including some kind of drama or visual to make your point. For ideas go to or
The BART actions are designed to reach people we won’t necessarily see at events. The campaign will build momentum as we demand that Congress create budgets that meet the needs of ALL the people and not just the wealthy few.
We need to stay focused on the staggering rise in tax dollars spent on the war machine. Californians will pay $70 billion in 2012 to fund the Pentagon and its wars. (See This is enough to resolve our state budget crisis more than twice over.
That $70 billion would provide the money needed for schools, parks, adult day care, youth programs, Head Start, low-income housing and more. This isn’t one-time money — this is annual. Most of us would not choose to spend our money for war, so we must demand a change in our national priorities.
Please sign the petition, print copies and have your friends, neighbors and co-workers sign. Take it to your own groups and organizations and ask them to endorse. Then come to a meeting of the larger body, and help us take this up the ladder of power by speaking out at town hall meetings, creating citywide resolutions, labor resolutions, school board resolutions, and statements from state legislators that we need new budget priorities.
To learn more, visit these websites: and Go to for a visually powerful pie chart showing the extent of military spending.