AFSC staffers Raed Jarrar, Aura Kanegis, Lewis Webb, Jr., and Pedro Rios joined Media Relations Director Alexis Moore for a one-hour conversation on Feb. 10, 2015.
President Obama and Congress have begun negotiations over the federal budget – but moving away from militarism in domestic and foreign policy is not on the agenda. In our recent Google Hangout on Air, AFSC staff with expertise in foreign policy, mass incarceration, and border militarization weighed in on federal budget proposals.
Military cuts: rhetoric versus reality
Despite Congressional budget caps that were supposed to apply across the board, military spending has continued unabated. Raed Jarrar of AFSC’s Office of Public Policy and Advocacy (OPPA) in Washington, D.C., addressed some common misperceptions about the military budget.
How much are we spending on national security?
The President’s proposed budget seeks $39 billion over the current military spending caps, Raed said, adding that the numbers being discussed are not even inclusive of all national security spending.
In foreign policy, if you ask the wrong question, you’ll get the wrong answer
Aura Kanegis, who directs AFSC’s Office of Public Policy and Advocacy, added another dimension to the conversation, questioning U.S. approaches to conflict resolution.
“In a time when fears are high about ISIS, potential conflict in Ukraine, [and] other hot points around the globe, the wrong question on many lips in Washington is ‘are we spending enough on the military to address this dangerous world.’”
“What if we… make a more serious investment in non-military tools and approaches?” asked Aura. “It’s inexplicable to me that in this age of innovation, our best idea for protecting civilian populations is to send weapons.”
Militarized policies in the U.S.
AFSC media relations director Alexis Moore next turned the conversation to militarism in domestic policy. She asked Lewis Webb, Jr., program coordinator in AFSC’s New York office, what he thought of the Department of Justice’s budget request, which includes funds for police reforms such as body cameras.
“The quick response is that the body cameras are a step forward,” said Lewis, adding that he has some concerns about how cameras will be used and emphasizing that accountability is about more than money.
“It’s going to happen when we start talking about racism on the ground,” said Lewis. “AFSC has amazing work about undoing racism. You want to talk about an effective tool? Bring that into the communities that are policing us.”
While unemployment reports have been positive overall, jobs aren’t well distributed among many demographics. Lewis spoke to the collateral consequences of felony convictions--in the form of a 60% unemployment rate.
The Department of Justice is seeking millions more for immigration judges and to provide legal representation for children who fled violence from Central America this summer. Alexis asked Pedro Rios, of AFSC’s immigrant rights program in San Diego for his thoughts.
Pedro affirmed some aspects of policy and budget changes, but questioned others. “We are seeing… that the budget also includes staggering and complicated and troubling amounts of money” for other things, including a bed mandate specifying that 34,000 immigrants must be detained each day.
“The bills that we see on the table… include some devastating proposals for border communities,” Pedro went on to say, citing lack of accountability and abuses of authority by border patrol agents.
Moving away from militarism
“We’re willing to pour virtually unlimited dollars into militarized approaches globally, militarized approaches at our border, militarized approaches in law enforcement with almost no question at a societal level of whether that’s a good investment,” said Aura. “Working on changing that societal reflex is the project of our generation.”
You can watch the full recording of “Moving away from militarism” here.