By Mary Bahr, Gainesville Veterans for Peace member
Dennis Lane, executive director of National Veterans for Peace, said the cost of war can be seen today “in family and community violence, in the human and environmental impact of depleted uranium and a wide variety of chemical exposures, and in a weakened domestic economy and de-funded health, education and other social programs.”
You may have seen the Gainesville Vets for Peace Cost of War program. It gives the cost of war to our local community and to the state of Florida, as well as the national costs in blood and taxes.
The data is derived from the National Priorities Project Cost of War project at www.costofwar.com. These pages will give you the cost in tax dollars on counters that change every second and will also offer tradeoffs (what those dollars could have bought in our domestic economy had we not spent them on war).
Even with troops withdrawing from Iraq, many troops and support personnel will be left behind. We still have to pay the costs of equipment replacement and health care, which are projected to total a trillion dollars each. And then there’s still Afghanistan.
As I write this, the total taxes paid in Gainesville for both wars are $232,649,897 and counting. Those hundreds of millions paid by our local citizens could have bought a year’s worth of college scholarships for 4,997 students, solar energy conversion for 7,742 households, or healthcare for 4,824 low income people. If you visit the site, these numbers will have increased, as we continue to pay far more for war than we do for the needs of our own citizens.
Because of the clear connection between our government’s priorities and war, Vets for Peace finds a natural fit for support of the Occupy movement. On a national level, we passed a resolution to protect the Occupiers against police brutality, recognizing “that our common enemy is the wealthy power elite, those who control, ravage and exploit.”
On the local level, VFP Gainesville has supplied support to Occupy by organizing a Veterans Speak-Out at Bo Diddley Plaza, which resulted in moving testimony from young soldiers returning from war. We also invited Occupy to table at the annual Winter Solstice Concert, where we presented the group with a Peace Helmet award for their dedication to the fight for justice, and supplied them with Occupy buttons to give away and sell.
One VFP member, John Fullerton, has become a daily part of local Occupy, providing logistical support by delivering and removing the canopy and supplies the movement uses each day, arriving at the Plaza before 8 a.m. and loading up around 11 p.m.
On Nov. 11, two VFP members, John and Tommy Butler, were arrested along with 21 other Occupiers for staying in the “Free Speech Zone” of our public downtown plaza past 11:30 p.m.
John is also the liaison with Occupy Supply run by the national blog Firedoglake. He went through online training for this position, which enabled him to receive supplies for our local Occupy, including blankets, hats and rain ponchos.
Occupy Supply has a mission of helping the movement make it through the winter, which is especially challenging for the encampments up north. It has raised more than $174,000 and has spent more than $150,000 on union-made, high quality clothing, tents, blankets, etc. for encampments across the U.S. You can donate online to Occupy Supply, and 100 percent of your money goes directly toward supplies and shipment.
John said that in addition to coordinating supplies, his liaison position also puts him in touch online with fellow Occupy workers around the country. John sees Occupy as “an acorn that has been planted,” which he hopes will acquire the critical mass to grow into a much larger movement.
His take on the movement is that it has a focus on getting money out of politics.
This theme was addressed at their GA as members connected with Move to Amend, a group that addresses the Supreme Court’s Citizens United case treating corporations as people and corporate money as free speech.
John agreed with an analysis by Firedoglake blogger and Newark Occupier Tobiasfox, in an article called “Why We Occupy.” He describes Occupy as consisting of three groups of people.
The first group is “solely interested in occupying public space and making that public space a community within a community, regardless of how organized or chaotic that community may appear. This is all they want to do: occupy public space. Occupying public space is critical because it’s a place where we can establish the commons and create a true democracy, and set up all the social systems needed to support a fully human society.”
The second group consists of affinity groups within that community. For our local Occupy, those affinity groups include a women’s group, Move to Amend, a food and comfort group, radical cheerleaders, a group focused on big Pharma, and a Koppers group addressing environmental pollution from Gainesville’s own Superfund site. This is not a comprehensive list, but it is representative of the groups allied under the umbrella of the Occupy community.
The people in the third group are the activists who stir things up and organize actions like the one against Wells Fargo and Bank of America. The picketers focus on the fraud committed by these banks in the housing market and encourage passersby to move their money to community banks and credit unions.
The Occupy members I visited with generally agreed with this analysis but said it oversimplified the situation and pointed out that the group was fluid with many overlapping views and foci.
Occupiers responded to the One Percent comments that they should “get a job and quit whining.” Nancy from the food and comfort group said she already worked full time and that no one had a right to criticize if they did not attend a GA, i.e. join the community. Another Occupier answered more from the activist side of the group that “job” stood for “Just Over Broke,” and he would not buy into the present economic system because it did not value its workers.
Deborah told her story of the benefits of the Occupy community. She attempted to close an inactive account at Bank of America and was told that she would have to wait 30 days. She informed the teller that she would be back with pickets from Occupy Gainesville. After checking with a manager, her account was closed immediately.
To see how to support Occupy Gainesville and a calendar of upcoming events, visit www.occupygainesville.org or stop by Bo Diddley Plaza any time you see the tent. Most days there is a GA or a working/affinity group meeting around 6:30p.m.
Occupy Gainesville will host the Southeastern Regional Occupy Gathering March 23 – 25 in efforts to connect the movement in the U.S. and also the Caribbean.
My visit to Occupy found a group of young and old people working together on community and organizing that community to make John’s acorn sprout and grow.