On April 12, 2011, the International Peace Bureau (IPB) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) co-organized the first-ever Global Day of Action on Military Spending. We judge the Day to have been a great success, both in terms of the number and geographical spread of the activities undertaken, and the rich variety and inventiveness of the actions. We felt we accomplished our major goal of making visible the issue of military spending. Our GDAMS events generated considerable media coverage with stories in the Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, Russia Today Television, Telesur, Voice of America, and many national and local outlets. We also accomplished our secondary goal of creating a global network of organizations and individuals committed to working on the reduction of military spending worldwide. Finally, we forged an important partnership with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute that we plan to continue.
There were GDAMS events at the international, national, and local levels. Activists produced videos, constructed powerful public displays and performances, held press conferences and seminars, and mobilized public opinion in favor of reducing military spending.
Statements of Support
A diverse array of leading organizations -- from international institutions to faith groups to peace groups and musicians -- lent their voices to the chorus of support for cuts in military spending.
Sergio Duarte, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs, issued a statement declaring, “At this Global Day of Action on Military Spending, I call on governments to consider the full possibilities of creating security through non-military means.” He concludes, “The Global Day of Action on Military Spending should serve as a catalyst for shifting global and national priorities from massive military spending to creating human security and safety for all.”
Similarly, Dr. Mustafa Y. Ali, the secretary general for the African Council of Religious Leaders, issued a statement of support on April 12. Calling for further agitation on disarmament for development, he writes: “We ask state, non-state actors and stake-holders to increase their efforts in reducing the demand for, availability and supply of arms through advocacy, public education and necessary Demobilization Disarmament and Reintegration.”
Likeminded statements were issued by the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Pax Christi International, the American Friends Service Committee, the All Wales Activist Network, and U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). Dozens of other organizations issued their own local and national statements to coincide with their events.
We also received endorsements from the Win Without War coalition, the Fellowship of Reconciliation, United for Peace and Justice, the Global Fund for Women, the National Priorities Project, and Rethink Afghanistan, among many other organizations and coalitions. The band Peachcake also dedicated a song,” We Were Ever Really Right?” to the day of action.
All told, our more than 100 endorsing organizations and individuals organized at least 90 events in more than 35 countries on every inhabited continent.
From seminars to sit-ins, discussions to die-ins, and flier drops to photo ops, volunteers organized in every conceivable way to drive home the message that military spending must be cut.
Rallies, Displays and Demonstrations
In Switzerland, the International Peace Bureau and its partners set up a large display of boxes outside Geneva’s UN offices to demonstrate the disparity between global military expenditures and the comparatively modest costs of meeting the UN’s Millennium Development Goals, all under the banner of “End War – Fund Human Needs!” Meanwhile in Washington, the Institute for Policy Studies and its partners gathered outside the White House with representatives from unions, peace groups, and human needs advocates to share “flash facts” about the trade-offs between military spending and social priorities, emphasizing the effect on the international, national, and local levels. A number of local poets contributed powerful poems about war, social needs, and the military-industrial complex.
Other groups played vigorously and creatively on this same theme. In Allentown, Pennsylvania, activists marched through a hollowed-out downtown and posed outside military recruitment offices, health facilities, and other public institutions with signs calling for an end to Pentagon-driven neglect of local communities. In Corvallis, Oregon, volunteers sat outside a library whose hours had been restricted because of local budget cuts to ask people to write on a white board, “Instead of war, I want my tax dollars to be spent on…” One man in full military fatigues was photographed with a sign declaring “HEALTH CARE.” Not far away, in Eugene, organizers gave over 100 passersby pennies to distribute in various jars according to their spending priorities. “If Eugene residents ran the government,” they concluded, “their tax dollars would be funding social and environmental programs and not endless war.” Meanwhile, student groups at the American University and the University of Maryland reconstructed our flag display, using small colored flags to show the massive disparity between money spent on the military and money that could be spent instead on a plethora of development priorities.
Many other groups took to the streets as well. Organizers with the American Friends Service Committee, U.S. Labor Against the War, and their partners organized an event with speakers and poets in Oakland, California, and received a letter of support from U.S. Rep. Barbara Lee (D-CA). They also organized small public displays and distributed leaflets at metro stations in San Francisco. In Fairfield, California, a group held signs and banners outside Travis Air Force Base and distributed fliers “educating military personnel about the obscene economic and social costs of excessive military spending.” Many other U.S. groups organized leaflet drops, information tables, public letter-writing campaigns, and questionnaires in Brooklyn, New York; Bryn Mawr and Glenside, Pennsylvania; Burlington and Montpelier, Vermont; Evanston, Illinois; eastern Massachusetts, and Spokane, Washington. International organizers put together similar campaigns in Medellin, Colombia; the Canary Islands and Algeciras, Spain; Gothenburg, Sweden; Manchester, UK; Adelaide and Brisbane, Australia; and Wellington, Auckland, and Motueka, New Zealand. In France, Mouvement de la Paix organized public discussions and distributed thousands of fliers in Paris, Calvados, Givors, Rennes, and Seine-Saint-Denis.
Other partners organized rallies and demonstrations at public squares and busy thoroughfares all over the world. Activists in Kansas City, Missouri staged a downtown vigil. In Lincoln, Nebraska, Nebraskans for Peace held a rally with former state senator Ernie Chambers. Under a banner that read “Goin’ Broke: Paying for Pentagon Pork,” Chambers declared, “Little Orphan Annie has to count pennies. The military only determines what it wants while other people have to beg.” Similar U.S. rallies occurred in New Haven, Connecticut; Vero Beach, Florida; Indianapolis, Indiana; Akron, Ohio; and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Organizers in Halifax, Canada staged a similar event. In Athens, Greece, volunteers with the European Bureau for Conscientious Objection organized an eye-grabbing display on the steps of Parliament, luring passersby into conversations about how else to spend public funds. Other protesters organized marches and die-ins on the steps of the UK Treasury in London and on the streets of Florence in Italy. A group of activists in India held a three-hour vigil and drum circle at New Delhi’s India Gate, where they distributed fliers and organized a memorandum on military spending for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Parliament. In Daejeon, South Korea, the Women’s Association for Peace held a roadside rally and engaged passersby in discussion, while their counterparts and partner organizations in Seoul held a similar event. Elsewhere in Seoul, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy organized excellent informational displays and posed for photos with activists and parliamentarians. In Bangkok, the Student Federation of Thailand staged a Chinese funeral rite outside the Ministry of Defense, where they burned effigies of guns, tanks, and money, issuing a statement calling for cutbacks in military spending and military reform in Thailand. Other partner organizations staged rallies outside the Department of Defense in Canberra, Australia and at the university in Jaoa Pessoa, Brazil.
Several of our partners sought to link events from other campaigns to the Global Day of Action on Military Spending. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Cleveland, Ohio and at the statehouse in Augusta, Maine as part of the Bring Our War Dollars Home campaign, which these and other organizers linked to the Global Day. In Ventura, California, Citizens for Peaceful Resolutions has for years presented a mock check to the nuclear weapons industry on behalf of Ventura County taxpayers. This year, they held their event on April 12 in observation of GDAMS. In Henoko, Okinawa, where protestors have been camped out in tents for years to protest the expansion of U.S. military facilities, the Okinawa Network for the Global Day of Action on Military Spending held a special day of events. We also received a photograph from Ottawa, Canada, where a demonstrator crashed a rally in support of Prime Minister Stephen Harper with a sign protesting the government’s purchase of F-35 aircraft from the United States.
Seminars, Conferences, and Film Screenings
While demonstrators engaged the public directly all over the world, organizers in several countries convened scholars, students, activists, and concerned citizens to discuss the problem of military spending, the need for more social investment, and practical steps that can be taken moving forward. The Mouvement Chrétien pour la Paix was present in Brussels for the release of the SIPRI report to the European Parliament, where they and others posed questions about its implications. The IPB organized two meetings in Geneva on April 12th: a seminar on the theme of military spending for diplomats, students, NGOs and others, including a detailed presentation by a senior SIPRI researcher; and an evening meeting on militarization in Burma featuring a film about the regime’s nuclear program.
In New York, the Office of the Chaplain and the Presbyterian Ministry at the United Nations hosted 35 representatives from 25 different religious NGOs working at the UN. Together they explored answers to the question, “what is civil society’s role at the UN, in the streets, and in places of worship regarding militarism, militarization, and military expenditures?” At American University, students and faculty held a teach-in with professors, a former Department of Defense contractor in Iraq, an Iraq war veteran, and other peace activists. They discussed the role of propaganda in militarizing societies and steps that can be taken to realign government spending with human needs. In Columbus, Ohio, peace groups met with freshman state legislators to discuss the impacts of military spending on domestic budgets. In San Juan, Puerto Rico, the Citizens Coalition against Militarism held a forum entitled “$1.6 Trillion: For Peace or for War?” They used the opportunity to convene groups that will lobby high school students and their parents to prevent school principals’ from giving students’ personal information to military recruiters.
Groups in Toronto, Helsinki, Oslo, Budapest, Yorkshire, London, Berlin, and Istanbul all discussed the role of war and militaries in their own societies, as well as the roles civil society can play in rolling it back and to put the needs of people first. Peace Movement Aetorea hosted comparable events in Wellington and other locations in New Zealand.
In Kota, India, the Rural Development and Youth Training Institute organized workshops, village rallies, and meetings to discuss India’s military expenditures compared to its poverty alleviation measures. In Nagpur, the Indian Institute for Peace, Disarmament, and Environmental hosted politicians, bureaucrats, policymakers, activists, and NGO representatives for a similar discussion. Comparable events took place in Dhaka, Bangladesh, where parliamentary officials, journalists, and an ambassador joined students and scholars, and in Seoul, where activists and sympathetic parliamentarians submitted a joint declaration on cutting back military spending. In Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian SUARAM coalition held a press conference and unveiled a memorandum to the country’s government in front of red GDAMS banners. While organizers in Kampala, Uganda had to postpone plans for a 2km march because of the country’s political climate, they were nonetheless able to hold two meetings on military spending at a revised upcountry location.
Japan’s Peace Boat docked in Manila for a meeting with atomic bomb survivors and the Mindanao-based NGO Initiatives for International Dialogue. Together they met with the members of the Philippines’ Office of the Presidential Advisor to the Peace Process, where they discussed the human costs of war and agreed that force alone cannot resolve conflicts.
Other groups used short films to spread information and start discussions. In Sydney, the Australian Anti-Base Campaign Coalition launched a short film called “Bite the Bullet,” featuring many Australians talking about the need for a reduced defense budget. Other partners in East Lansing, Michigan and Fairbanks, Alaska held screenings of other films on the subject, as did French groups in Paris, Venissieux, and other cities.
While many partners organized letter-writing campaigns and issued memoranda as part of their events, others coordinated virtual actions.
At the international level, Religions for Peace incorporated GDAMS into their Arms Down! campaign, gathering thousands of signatures for petitions to the permanent members of the UN Security Council asking them to cut their military spending by 10% and invest the savings in meeting the Millennium Development Goals.
At the national level, London’s Campaign Against the Arms Trade launched a Twitter campaign, encouraging supporters to tweet suggestions about how to invest UK taxpayers’ money to the Treasury department. The Ceasefire campaign in Canada gathered nearly 1000 letters for Canada’s major political parties, all demanding that Canada “use military spending for human needs.” Similar initiatives were undertaken by Swiss Women for Peace and the Okinawa Dugong Environmental Assessment Watch. After launching a powerful short video comparing military expenditures to the costs of Millennium Development Goals, Barcelona’s Fundació per la Pau released a joint manifesto on military spending and coordinated a cyber action to send a letter to Spanish Prime Minister Zapatero.
Materials about many of the above-mentioned events are available at the GDAMS website: http://demilitarize.org/event-reports/ (organized regionally). The documentation includes some striking photographs, videos and weblinks, as well as narrative reports.
Two additional documents are now available for consultation: A short Summary of the actions undertaken, and Strategy paper offering some suggestions for follow up activities at local, national and international levels. (ADD LINKS)
Washington/Geneva, May 16, 2011