BALTIMORE — Speakers at a town hall meeting here Sept. 26 demanded that Congress “bring the troops, bring the war dollars home” and use the trillions in revenues to create jobs, fund education, healthcare, and other vital needs.
A meeting room at the Cathedral of the Incarnation was filled to near-capacity for this second town hall meeting sponsored by the Fund Our Communities Coalition that unites 50 progressive organizations in Maryland. Jean Athey, leader of Montgomery County Peace Action, told the crowd that more than 400 people jammed a meeting hall for the first town hall meeting in Silverspring, Md., Sept. 20.
The peace movement, she said, has been demanding reduction in federal spending for war and weapons with the funds transferred to vital human needs programs “and we’re not making much progress.”
She added, “We need to grow, reach out. We have 50 groups in our coalition. That’s not enough. We need 200 organizations in this coalition.”
The Fund Our Communities coalition played a major role in pushing the “Bring the Troops, Bring the War Dollars Home” resolution through the annual meeting of the U.S. Conference of Mayors here last summer. Now the coalition is exerting pressure on elected officials to follow through on the resolution.
Charlie Cooper, an organizer of the meeting, referred to a Fund Our Communities petition addressed to Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), a member of the Super-Committee charged with slashing the federal budget by over one trillion dollars by Nov. 15 or face mandatory across-the-board cuts.
Cooper warned that time is short to exert pressure on the Super-Committee.
“Create jobs, get people back to work,” Cooper said, reading from the petition. “End the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, bring the troops and war dollars home, no cuts to Social Security. Tax the rich! Medicare for all!”
He added, “That’s our message. It’s our job to deliver that message.” The crowd erupted in applause.
Someone in the crowd criticized President Obama for failure to prosecute President Bush and Vice President Cheney for “war crimes” and continuing some of the illegal anti-terrorism policies of Bush and Cheney.
Cooper said he has no objection to criticizing Obama. But at the same time, he stressed, the movement must support Obama’s $450 billion jobs bill that faces a wall of resistance from the corporate Republican majority in the House.
Sue Fothergill, executive director of the Baltimore Education Coalition, also urged support of Obama’s jobs bill pointing out that it contains $100 billion for public schools including $585 million for new construction and repairs to Maryland schools. “Our goal is to increase the resources for Baltimore City schools to close the gap,” she said.
Max Obuszewski, who moderated the meeting, recalled the decades of struggle against war and militarism in Maryland including Baltimore Jobs with Peace, and the “Save Our Cities” march from Baltimore to D.C. in the mid-1990s. “We want to develop an action strategy that actually reduces military spending,” he said.
Jim Baldridge, a member of the Baltimore chapter of Veterans for Peace, urged the crowd to board buses Oct. 15 for the AFL-CIO-sponsored march and rally for jobs that had been postponed because of Hurricane Irene. He also urged the crowd to support Green Party candidate, Bill Barry, in his race for a seat on the Baltimore City Council.
Kostis Papadantonakis, a retired economics professor at Essex Community College, said more than half a century of Cold War military boondoggling “hollowed out” the U.S. economy, wrecking manufacturing, public education and the nation’s infrastructure to fatten profits of transnational banks and corporations.
“What if the money were to come back here?” he asked. “We could invest in our infrastructure, create millions of good jobs here in America, rebuild our educational system, save our environment, and make our economy more competitive internationally.”
Jacob George told the meeting he served three tours of duty in Afghanistan nine years ago and is now a leader of Veterans for Peace. He returned to Afghanistan last summer and met with Afghanis struggling for peace. He went to an IDP (internally displaced person) camp where 10,000 people barely survive in tents through Kabul’s frigid winters. It is located just outside the enormous walls of a U.S. military base. “The construction of that wall cost so much it would have paid for a home for every homeless person in that camp,” George said. He urged a “movement of solidarity between the U.S. and Afghan people.”