Memo to Governor Scott Walker: Bargain for Peace

28 02 2011

When the Peace Development Fund gave its Grassroots Peace Award to the Jobs with Peace Campaign in 1989, it anticipated the showdown between the unions and the Wisconsin governor as a false issue. “We are always blaming the victim,” Ann Wilson said in Milwaukee then, and this time the victim is government workers. But it is not pensions that have bankrupted state, local and the federal governments; it is the ongoing costs of war.

PDF grantee, National Priorities Project (costofwar.com), estimates that the savings to taxpayers in Wisconsin for the proposed total spending for FY2011 for Iraq and Afghanistan would be $2.7 billion—quite a dent in the state’s $3.6 billion shortfall. How could the state benefit from that kind of savings? Here are just a few choices Governor Walker could make: salaries of 43,957 elementary school teachers for one year; salaries of 60,578 firefighters for one year; 394,158 Head Start slots for children for one year; 377,736 military veterans receiving VA medical care for one year; or salaries of 42,578 police or sheriff’s patrol officers for one year.

If Governor Walker would focus on ending war, instead of collective bargaining, he could save the citizens of Wisconsin a boatload of money, and heartbreak.

from Peace Developments, Winter 1988

A Closer Look: Jobs with Peace – A Multiracial, Multilevel Campaign

“In this country, we are always blaming the victim,” says Ann Wilson of Milwaukee’s Jobs with Peace (JwP) campaign, “but when you convince people that they can do something, that they are somebody, they will go out and change things themselves, provided there’s organization. That’s what Jobs with Peace is all about.”

Ann Wilson knows. “I got interested in politics when I lost my job; then I began to see the connections.” After the factory she worked in closed shop and moved abroad – like so many others in Milwaukee – she volunteered at the local Jobs with Peace office. “I did some reading and began to see that the closing was a foreign policy decision. A company can’t take off to Puerto Rico or Korea unless the government permits it.” Soon she was working 30-40 hours a week with JwP on voter registration and housing issues. When the city threatened to cut the manager/tenant liaison program in public housing, she brought together tenants like herself to gather signatures to petition the city government.

“Our petition was successful,” she says, “and in the process, people began to tie into the bigger picture. They saw that cuts at the federal level mean cuts at the state and city levels.” The housing projects had always been isolated from each other, but now people saw advantage in working together. They set up a tenants’s council, which meets regularly at the JwP office and, with help from JwP, they are putting out their own newspaper, The Independent.

With the election of a new mayor after twenty-eight years, thanks in part to public forums staged by Jobs with Peace, Ann Wilson was appointed to the City Housing Authority, of which she is now President. Her work there coincides well with her position as senior organizer for Milwaukee JwP and co-chair of the National Board.

Getting people involved is the first priority of the Jobs with Peace campaign, a national organization with eleven chapters and many affiliates, from San Francisco to Baltimore. With a history of remarkable achievements in cities across the country, they have recruited, organized and sustained the work of those people most affected by the rapid escalation of the military budget and most underrepresented politically. As Jill Nelson, Director of JwP’s national office in Boston, explains, “We work community by community to provide an agenda that really addresses people’s needs. We offer a mechanism for people to get involved and to get their neighbors involved.”

When Jobs with Peace first began, early in the eighties, it focused its efforts on putting referenda on city ballots nationwide calling on Congress to transfer military funds to domestic programs. In late 1986, however, JwP decided to make the message less abstract – as Ann Wilson says, “You can’t talk to people about billions when they’re only making $400 a month!” People care, and will get out to do something about it, when the problem is brought home to them around an immediate, concrete issue.

An important reason why people stay involved to Milwaukee’s Roger Quindel, is organization and training. Jobs with Peace works hard at helping people make specific commitments that they can accomplish, however small. “When they achieve what they’ve set out to do, you’ve strengthened the human being,” says Quindel. “All our work is aimed at involving new people, then helping them to feel successful, to develop their skills, to feel part of the work of change.”

How does all this link up to peace? Jobs with Peace is helping to build what Jill Nelson calls a “triangle coalition” of labor, civil rights, and peace groups around an agenda that speaks to all their needs. In real terms, this coalition building brings heartening and measurable successes. The Minnesota Alliance of Progressive Action (MAPA) is an example: over the past several years, JwP’s work on economic conversion laid the groundwork for an alliance of twenty organizations which this fall registered over 10,000 new voters.

The challenge is great, but the vision is clear: “The majority of the people do not support the policies of our government,” says Anthony Thigpenn of the Los Angeles Jobs with Peace campaign. “We are building a multiracial, multilevel power base, reaching out to the millions and millions”.

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From Washington to Rural PA: Candles and Congressmen

11 02 2011

It has never been unusual for Peace Development Fund grantees to go to Washington for a demonstration or to meet with their congressman.  What was unusual—and still is for many grassroots groups—is to get funding to make the trek.  PDF has a proud history of funding groups in isolated areas to foster connections to the larger social justice and peace movement.

“The trip to Washington in this PDF article from 1984 was memorable on many levels,” says Bob Borzok today.  “I brought home a large poster and still use it from time to time.  Last year I took Russian, and showed it to my professor from Volgragrad University.  She is in her late twenties, and I thought she’d be interested in knowing what was going on over here on this side of the world during that time.”

The Peace Development Fund, like many groups, focused on the nuclear arms race in the early 80s.  Mr. Borzok’s group, PDF grantee the Nuclear War Education Group (NWEG) of Tioga and Potter Counties, evolved into a more general stand for peace.  Today, the Peace Education Group (NWEG’s successor) sponsors an annual Candlelight Walk for Peace.  People hold candles and walk from one end of the town to the other, ending with a message by a local pastor and Christmas tree lighting.  Adds Mr. Borzok, “The event has actually gotten much larger than back in the days when we were more or less protesting.”

Says Bryn Hammarstrom, the Peace Education Group co-chair, “Our area is in the heart of the Marcellus shale natural gas development, and much of the area’s political activity/momentum has shifted to stopping the drilling in NY or limiting the environmental impact of the exploitation in PA.”

Yet through 30 years of acting for social change, the residents of Tioga and Potter Counties five principles for rural organizing that this article talks about still hold:

Move the meetings around.

Publicity is more important than meetings.

Reach people where they live.

Vary the activities.

Take time out for fun!

That’s still how we get to peace.

From Peace Developments, Winter 1984-85

“Working for Peace in Rural Pennsylvania”

Bob Borzok lives in farm country and cares about the arms race. One day he went down to Washington from his home in Pennsylvania to talk to his congressman, Joseph M. McDade, a powerful Republican on the Defense Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee.

After listening to the argument that the U.S. needs a huge arms build-up before it can negotiate disarmament, Borzok answered, “In Tioga County farmers know that if you’re going to tear down a barn, you don’t start by building a new roof!”

How do you work for peace in a rural area? Plain speaking and common sense like Bob Borzok’s certainly help. Nonetheless, by all accounts from grantees  in places like Sweetwater County, Wyoming or the mountain country of southwest Virginia, such work is not easy.

The basic hindrance is isolation. People in rural, conservative regions who share a common interest in nuclear disarmament often live geographically far from one another and psychologically even farther from the concentrations of peace activities and strong support systems found in the cities.

If the problem is isolation, then the solution is connection. When Bob Borzok and others formed the Nuclear War Education Group of Tioga and Potter Counties in the spring of 1982, they were connected by one central article of faith: “We believe that our efforts can change the direction of the arms race.” After about six months of educating themselves on the issues, this group of physicians, farmers, public school and university teachers, homemakers, and others started to bring the issues to their larger community.

A skillful approach in such outreach is crucial. This farm country in northern Pennsylvania is solidly Republican. Instead of horrifying people with visions of holocaust, a tactic that probably would have backfired, the Nuclear War Education Group carefully connected with people’s other concerns. For example, it showed a slideshow on the civil defense crisis relocation plan to the Lions and Rotary and asked, “What would actually happen in our community if this plan had to be put into effect?”

When Borzok returned from his visit to Congressman McDade, he shared his experience with his neighbors at the local Grange. Because they have “duly sworn to protect the resources of the land and the rural life we love,” the Charleston Valley Subordinate Grange of Tioga County subsequently adopted a resolution condemning the arms race and supporting a nuclear freeze.

After much experience and success with such local outreach, the Nuclear War Education Group cast its net far wider. With a grant from PDF the group held a conference last spring of peace groups from all over Pennsylvania’s huge, sprawling Tenth Congressional District. Comprising ten counties and lacking any city which serves as a hub of communications, the Tenth District presents a formidable challenge to coordination.

The conference met this challenge well, drawing many participants and creating a district-wide steering committee and communications network for the region’s peace groups. A second grant from PDF has helped to pay for a newsletter and other costs of the new network.

After nearly three years of practice, the Nuclear War Education Group has learned a good deal about working for peace in a rural area. Here are some of their conclusions:

Move the meetings around. With long working days and with long distances to travel, rural people find it hard to get to meetings. Not everyone will come when you alternate the locations of meetings but people in isolated corners of the countryside get a chance to participate and to feel included in the effort.

Publicity is more important than meetings. Small rural newspapers are hungry for substantive articles and good letters to the editor. Many people will not go to meetings, but almost everyone reads either the paper or the “penny saver.” So even though only a small number of people might come to a film about the nuclear issue, hundreds will read the article detailing the film’s message when it appears in the paper.

Reach people where they live. Many farmers will not feel comfortable on a university campus, but they might discuss the nuclear freeze at their Grange or at a church meeting.

Vary the activities. A colloquium is an important medium for some kinds of people, while coffee house events draw others.

Take time out for fun! Working constantly on the subject of nuclear war can become grim. It helps now and then to put aside Mutual Assured Destruction, megatonnage, throw weight, or the prospect of nuclear winter, and to gather instead for a potluck supper where people can bring the kids and just enjoy each other. “I have met some terrific people in this work,” says Dennis Murray, one of the founders of the Nuclear War Education Group. “It is very important in a rural area to find like-minded people, to know that your neighbors care.”

The coming together of people who care remains one of America’s oldest and healthiest traditions. From Crooked Creek, Pennsylvania to the “global village,” it is by such connection that peace will be won.