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”.