Ed. note: The following is a speech given by Peter Bohmer on October 7 at the Localization not Globalization event held in Sylvester Park in downtown Olympia.
I remember one year ago being at Sylvester Park on a Friday evening, October 7, 2011. It was the beginning of Occupy Olympia, 20 days after the beginning of Occupy Wall Street.. There was an open mike and I mentioned that the war against the Afghani people had begun 10 years ago and that we should continue to oppose it as part of Occupy Olympia and our activism. There was little reaction to my comment.
This war, the so-called war on terror led by the United States, continues to kill and injure many, many people in Afghanistan and Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Iraq, Bahrain, and US soldiers.
The war in Iraq is supposedly over but there is no peace or justice there.
The human and economic costs of the war to the people of the US are also astronomical.
Among those costs is the growing racism and repression against Arab and Muslim people in the United States. Let us resist that as part of our anti-war movement and in our daily lives.
Over 2 million US soldiers have been stationed in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last 11 years. Besides the 7,000 soldiers that have died in these wars, how many more were wounded psychologically and physically, how many more have committed suicide?
What kind of society do the US soldiers come back to? One that you would not know about if you watched the first Obama- Romney Presidential debate on October 4; one where over 100 million people are poor or near-poor, and where almost half of all Black and Latino children are below the official poverty line. Where more than 50 million people don’t have any health insurance, over 2 million people are in prison—half of whom are African-American—and millions have lost their homes.
Most soldiers are from working class families, many who enlisted had the alternative of unemployment, and then face unemployment when they leave the military.
There was no mention of poverty or poor or working class people by Obama or Romney in their debate; it was as if all of the US is middle class and all who pay income taxes own small businesses. I said at a talk a few years ago outside of Ft. Lewis that the best way to support US troops and their families is to end the US wars and occupations, and to build a society where there is quality health care for all, full employment and living wage jobs, strong labor unions, free education thorough college, a healthy environment, free childcare, and more generally economic and social justice. Most troops become civilians and this would help them a lot more than waving the US flag and increasing the military budget.
Economically these changes are feasible and possible. The challenge of course is creating the political power and strength to win these changes. Joseph Stiglitz and other economists have estimated the direct and indirect costs of the US wars since October 7, 2001 at over 3 trillion dollars—that’s 12 zeros. The military budget is over $720 billion dollars a year. If we took five months of that, about $300 billion, the US would still be spending $420 billion per year on the military, as much as the next nine countries together. That $300 billion reduction in the military, which is five months of military spending could finance free tuition for all post-secondary education—technical school, community college, and four year college through PhD. It could include five million more people in college who might go if there was free tuition. So it is clear that money is there. We need to organize to use it to fund human needs not war, present and future.
In thinking ahead, let us not allow a war against Iran to happen. The propaganda against Iran is building just like the lies did against Iraq 10-12 years ago up to and including the attack on Iraq in March, 2003. Supposedly Iran is creating materials that could be used in the future to build an atomic bomb. Israel is threatening to attack Iran and is asking for US military support for this aggression.
I don’t know whether Iran is building an atomic bomb, but notice the total hypocrisy and double standard of the United States and Israel. Israel has at least 200 atomic bombs and probably more; the US has thousands of atomic and hydrogen bombs enough to destroy the world many times over. Our so-called liberal president says he will bomb Iran if they are actually building a bomb, that he will not allow it. So Iran does not have the same right as Israel or the United States.
Who is the only country that has ever used atomic weapons? Iran and many other countries have proposed a nuclear weapon free Middle East. But that is not considered even a possibility by the masters of war in Washington, DC. Israel cannot attack Iran without US support or permission. Let us strongly oppose the lies about Iran and the ongoing US aggression and work against an escalation to a full-scale war and not wait until the bombing starts.
So economic justice and equality at home; opposing US present and future wars and supporting those who were or are in the military are all tied together. Let us connect them better than we are doing.
In rebuilding the Occupy Movement let us oppose US aggression and wars abroad. For example, the growing use of drones in Pakistan and other countries where the Obama administration is judge, jury, and executioner, and lies about the number of civilians killed. This is a war crime. We need to make this war by drones more public, and make it clear that the issue is about more than just US deaths—that all deaths are equal, that the lives of Pakistanis are as valuable as ours. I want to thank and salute the brave people including some from Olympia and other peace activists who are right now going to the border between Afghanistan and Pakistan to put their bodies on the line to oppose these murderous drone attacks.
Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Olympia are both a year old. We have brought forward and made more visible the obscene and growing inequality of income and wealth in this country. Today, the top 1% have incomes that average more than 40 times the income of the bottom 90%. Thirty years ago—though still unacceptable—the top 1% had 14 rather than 42 times the income of 90% of the population.
The Occupy Movement has been somewhat quiet the last few months although consciousness about Wall Street and the 1% and economic injustice have been awakened. Movements ebb and flow; let us help make this one flow more strongly.
Many of who were active in Occupy Wall Street and the many who heard us and our message feel powerless—others are focusing instead on the elections. With regards to the elections—Presidential, Governor, US Senate and House, Washington State representatives, etc—in general the Democrats are not quite as reactionary as the Republicans. There are some differences. But what I would like to stress is that politics is about a lot more than voting and electing the lesser of two evils. It is about building power from below, through protesting, organizing, creating organizations and movements where we can connect the issues, develop principled unity, fight the power, educate each other, and struggle to revolutionize and transform this society. If we build this power from below, we can win short run reforms from those in power while understanding these reforms will always be limited in a capitalist society. So I would suggest voting in Washington State for gay and lesbian marriage, for marriage equality; for legalizing marijuana, against Charter Schools, for Proposition 1 that will create municipal power and end the privatization of electricity and gas heating in Thurston County; and for allowing a majority vote of the legislature to raise taxes. All of this matters but what matters more is building ongoing organizations and institutions and infrastructure so that the Occupy and similar movements can grow in vision, numbers, power, organizational capacity, and become more welcoming and inclusive. Occupy is not over. Voting is but a small part of a real democracy.
As people and movements committed to liberation and economic and social justice, it is a necessity that we remember our history and support political prisoners and challenge repression as part of our daily lives and movements. Today, in Seattle, there is a march for Indigenous People’s Day. The land we are on right now was stolen from Native people of the Pacific Northwest. The march in Seattle commemorates this ongoing struggle for self-determination and dignity of Native people. It also calls for the freedom of Leonard Peltier, an inspiring leader of the American Indiana Movement, who has been in prison for over 36 years for protecting Lakota people against the FBI and the multinational corporations who want their land and resources.
Federal grand jury resisters
There is a Federal grand jury that is now meeting in Seattle—a direct attack on the Occupy Movement and all of us. Already there are two Olympia residents being held in a Federal Prison in Seatac, Matt Duran and Katie O. This Federal grand jury is criminalizing people for being anarchists.
The way it works is that people are subpoenaed and when they refuse to testify against others, they are considered in contempt of court and sentenced to prison, without trial. They can be imprisoned for the length of the grand jury. These courageous grand jury resisters are in there for all of us. Let us be out here for them.
If the federal government gets away with this, repression will continue to grow. Similar grand jury attacks on activists have been going on in Chicago and Minneapolis. Support the grand jury resisters by writing letters to newspapers publicizing what is going on. Attend rallies and benefits on their behalf. Demand their release.
Amnesty for immigrants
Also close to home is the Northwest Detention Center in Tacoma where over 1500 immigrants are being held, most of whom will be deported to Mexico and Central America. The crime for most is coming to the United states to work after leaving their countries because global capitalism or US supported wars and intervention in their country have created conditions they could not survive. Let us push for amnesty for immigrants. Let us close this monstrosity of a private prison run by the Geo Corporation that makes millions off the suffering of undocumented immigrants.
Call to action
In closing, we are living in an economy where over 20 million people are unemployed and this is likely to continue, and where climate change endangers this planet and its people, particularly in the Global South. We can say or feel that we cannot do anything about this crisis and related injustices. This cynicism and feeling of powerlessness are conscious tools of those in power.
Let us instead act in our daily lives in ways small and big to connect the movements and the people and the issues to each other. Let us see ourselves as long distance runners for creating a humane society without racism and sexism and homophobia—not a society based on profit and exploitation—so we can live in harmony with each other and the natural environment.
Act in solidarity with those globally struggling for justice. Let us educate each other and build ongoing institutions that do not fall part. Persistence pays off! So does being bold and courageous and taking risks. Rebuild Occupy and other movements; fight US aggression at home and abroad; overthrow capitalism and create a new society. Our humanity and future is at stake.
Tell no lies, claim no easy victories. Power to the people!
Peter Bohmer has been active since 1967 in movements in solidarity with revolutionary struggles around the world and in anti-racist and economic justice movements in the United States. Since 1987, he has taught economics and political economy at the Evergreen State College.