By Victor Lopez, Intern – AFSC Office of the Carolinas
About the Author: Lopez is a senior at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies, Lopez was the 2008 college winner of the Nation Magazines student essay contest. He writes for the College paper, The Guilfordian.
Greensboro, NC- Feb. 20- The community forum titled “Bring our War Dollars Home” encouraged citizens of North Carolina to urge their legislatures to spend tax dollars more wisely. The information discussed at that meeting could cause a grassroots movement to ignite in the college town.
The American Friends Service Committee and North Carolina Peace Action held the event at Elon Law School in downtown Greensboro, for what some hope will be a continuing conversation regarding the wasteful spending of tax dollars, in the face of growing joblessness in North Carolina.
The potential grassroots movement is starting at a time when the Obama Administration’s 2013 budget scales back Defense Department spending by an estimated half trillion dollars over the next ten years.
North Carolinians have responded to the news of Obama’s plan with varying reactions.
Some believe that any reduction in military spending will hurt small business owners who are dependent on defense contracts, while others view the proposed cuts as an opportunity to turn tax dollars, otherwise spent on defense, into meaningful community resources.
“Considering the mix of different community leaders with varying interests, all converging here, I’d say this is a historical moment,” said Isabell Moore, the forum’s moderator and adjunct professor of history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.
During the forum, activists discussed the foreclosure crisis facing the community: a local realtor spoke about the sight of abandoned houses foreclosed upon; a chief editor of the local newspaper spoke of helping those experiencing hunger, homelessness and poverty.
Later an economist asked rhetorical questions about wealth trickling down to those who need jobs, and a representative for the Fund for Democratic Communities spoke about locally democratizing the budget.
Many worry about the future of Greensboro with an unemployment rate having climbed to 10 percent, in a city that a 2011 Stanford study found to be one of the cities having the greatest income disparities.
An estimated 130 participants attended the community forum. Some North Carolina legislators such as State Rep. Pricy Harris (D), Marcus Brandon (D), Alma Adams (D) and Sen. Gladys A. Robinson also attended.
Keynote speaker Matthew Hoh spoke to the policies and dialogues that keep U.S. defense spending at unprecedented levels. Hoh served as a U.S. Marine and later worked at the State Department as a senior civilian representative and political adviser on Afghanistan.
“Once the U.S. creates a dialogue of victory, the military action will continue whether or not it makes little social or fiscal sense,” said Hoh, who in 2009 quit his post at the State Department, making him the only senior state department official to publicly resign in protest of the Afghanistan war.
Hoh said that without public desire, the Obama administration would not stop the war. Unless there is clear public support, elected officials are often called unpatriotic for pulling troops out of war zones.
“The president needs to understand he has the political support to end the war in Afghanistan,” said Hoh. “Our leaders won’t do a thing about the war in Afghanistan unless we let them know they have our support.”
Ann Lennon, area director of the American Friends Service Committee Office of the Carolinas, said that diverting tax dollars from Defense Department coffers to education, health care and social services, rests primarily on priorities, not just on economic expediency.
“What we need to do is really consider where our priorities are, bearing in mind the actions of our country over the last decade have cost so much, yielded so little,” said Lennon. “We are giving the generation to come a lot less than we were left.”
Lennon’s observations, saying in an e-mail interview, that U.S.MIT professor emeritus and linguist Noam Chomsky agreed with spending has reached unimaginable heights and can hardly be considered defense related, in any meaningful sense.
“As long as U.S. policies remain as they are, they will require a huge military force all over the world, unique in the world today, and with no historical precedent,” said Chomsky. “It is the policies that should be under review.”
Back in Greensboro, others, like Lennon, think that the city is as good a place as any to bring public awareness and continue the conversation started at the Elon Law School event. After all, the city is no stranger to activism, as evident by the city's role in the civil rights movement.
Lennon said that she expects the forum in Greensboro to be one of many continuing conversations about how to turn the information learned, gathered and related into meaningful action.
“We need more discussions that articulate the city’s values, priorities and future hopes,” said Lennon. “It builds the capacity of community members to deliberate and decide where their priorities lie.”
Logie Meachum, an educator, storyteller and musician, said there has always been a kind of magic that has transformed Greensboro into a town that has effected change.
“With hope,” Meachum said, “that enchantment will reveal itself once more.”