Cost of War town meeting
Heartbroken about our country's actions, ready for a renewed freedom movement
William Pitt
October 2003

In the days leading up to the U.S. military assault on Iraq, the Community Coalition Against War and Terrorism (CCAWT) along with other justice and peace groups, held a lively, well-attended, inspiring town meeting in Gainesville on "The Cost of War." Speakers included former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, Gainesville community activists Patricia Hilliard-Nunn and Patricia West, and civil rights organizer Zoharah Simmons. In an earlier Iguana, we printed Rep. McKinney's speech, this month we print Dr. Simmons' moving remarks on the war, the movement, and our hopes for the future.

Dr. Zoharah Simmons is an Assistant Professor of Religion, with a primary focus on Islam and women in Islam. Prior into going into academia, she worked for years in the civil rights and the peace movements. She was a field secretary of SNCC, Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, in Laurel, Mississippi from June 1964 to November 1966. She worked for twenty-three years with the American Friends Service Committee, traveling to Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos immediately after the US war in Southeast Asia. Her areas of concern are peace with justice and economic rights.

Dr. Simmons: Well, wow, I tell you! Dear sisters and brothers, friends, citizens, patriots, lovers of peace, lovers of justice, I greet you with the Islamic greeting of peace, a salaam alaikum, which simply means 'peace be unto you,' and I am very, very happy to see the numbers of us who have turned out for this town meeting, and I am so grateful for the vision of the CCAWT members for planning this before the bombs began to fall. They had the vision. Let's give applause.

It's encouraging, it's uplifting to see you here today because these are bleak times, they are difficult times for those of us who are crying, and I have been doing a lot of crying, and are heartbroken that our country, the strongest military might in the world, has amassed over three hundred thousand troops and every imaginable weapon from its huge arsenal of weapons, missiles, bombs, planes, helicopters, computer technology, in and around Iraq to assault it, to invade it, to take it over and control it for the foreseeable future. In my opinion, as has been said, this is not a war; it's an invasion, an assault, it's a rape.

It is those with military might subduing a leader that we once supported and tearing up the country in the process. This war is awful, it's inhuman, it's monstrous, it's unjustifiable, and it is being done in our names and with our tax dollars.

We have no say in how our tax dollars are spent in the U.S. Don't fool yourselves. President Bush compares our demonstrations, our protests, our cries, and our shouts for him to stop his maniacal obsession with waging war on Iraq... he says we are like a focus group, remember that? We are a focus group - whoever heard of running a government by focus groups! He says that he isn't going to be dissuaded by the likes of us in this room and across this nation or around the world. It doesn't matter that we are the electorate. We are the people of this so-called democracy that he says he doesn't give a damn what we think!

So what do we really have control over in this democracy? Do we have any control over the minimum wages that are paid to low-income workers? Do we have any control over whether we will have universal health care? Or any health care? Do we have any control over the corporations that can decide to pull up stakes whenever they get ready and take our jobs off to the Third World where they can work people for a dollar a day or less? Do we have any control over our tax dollars, brothers and sisters? No! Do you want your tax dollars going to fund four hundred billion dollars per year at least in a military budget? That's what we know of - we don't even know what is really being spent, as Cynthia [McKinney, keynote speaker that day] has told us. Would you rather your money go to job creation? [Yes!] Job services? [Yes!] Improved conditions for all, housing for the homeless? [Yes!] I know I do. But do we really have a say?

Let me read from a quote from the vaunted Professor Samuel Huntington, who many of you know has this theory of the clash of civilizations. He wrote in another article, "The West won the world, not by the superiority of its ideas or values or religion but rather by its superiority in applying organized violence." Westerners often forget this fact. Non-westerners never do. Here the U.S. goes again, enforcing its will by organized violence, intimidation, bluster, bullying and murder. Let's call it what it is. But not in my name, people. Not in my name!

We are here today to talk about the costs of war. And here are a few of the facts. Let's look at the situation for Africa-Americans, who we're told make up at least thirty percent of the 'voluntary' military. But what is so voluntary about enlisting when you don't have any other option? Blacks are twice as likely to be jobless, official unemployment - and let's be real clear we're talking 'official' - among black men was twelve percent in November of 2002. Now that's twice the official rate, but we know it's much higher. The black infant mortality rate in the U.S. is roughly two-and-one-half times that of whites.

Now let's look at health care for all Americans. There is a crisis of uninsured families in America, and the president and the Congress are doing nothing about it. Between 2001 and 2002, 74.7 million Americans went without health care coverage at one time or another. In 2001, 41.2 million Americans had no health insurance for the entire year. In that same time an additional9.2 million children had no health insurance. How is Florida affected? Eighteen percent of the people in Florida have no health insurance. 2,842,540 people in Florida have no health insurance. Seventeen percent of children in Florida have no health insurance. That comes to 699,570 children in Florida who have no health insurance. 1,831,741 people in Florida depend upon Medicaid, which the Bush Administration is butchering, putting at risk for critical medical services. Bush's health care proposal will only make the crisis worse. He has proposed eliminating guaranteed coverage for Medicaid, hurting the working families that need it the most. His economic policies have caused unemployment to skyrocket, putting people out of work and their health care coverage at risk.

Ron Pollack, who is the director of Families USA, has said "that the result of President Bush's Medicaid cuts - proposed Medicaid cuts - is going to be a skyrocketing number of uninsured. We talk about the safety net having holes; well, it's being completely tattered." That's the end of quote, but my response to the Pollack statement is: what safety net? Ask the homeless in this country. What safety net? Ask the jobless. What safety net? The poor, misinformed, and uninformed American people keep prattling on, quote: "This is the best country in the world; if you don't like it, leave it," end of quote. And often the people saying this are three paychecks checks away from being homeless themselves. These are the people working two and three jobs to pay a mortgage and a car note. These are the people who are the most rabid in defense of this country's foreign policy because they have no real understanding of how the foreign policies are affecting domestic polices and therefore themselves. We have to admit that the right wing coupled with the corporate-controlled media have done a very good job in fooling and duping the American people.

It's unbelievable! I have been on welfare. I have been jobless. I have been panicked to death about how I was going to pay my mortgage, my health insurance, my car insurance, my heating bill, my electric bill-I've been there; I know what it's about. Just because I have a Ph.D. behind my name and I'm now hanging on by a few threads in the middle-class, it doesn't mean a damn thing. I know what it's like to suffer and be poor. My grandmother was a sharecropper cheated out of all of her money year in and year out in Memphis, Tennessee. I know about poverty. I grew up in a three-room shotgun house with a toilet out in the back. I know about it. And just like you say, where were all the freedom lovers then, the joy pushers of this world?

There was a time when I was on welfare and there was a little bit of it, pitiful as it was, but now there's nothing-thanks to Reagan, Bush Senior, Clinton and a bought-and-paid-for United States Congress, who represent the special interest groups, the moneyed folk in this country, and not the American middle-class (so-called) and working class that they are supposed to represent. We have to know that one of the reasons that the American people, especially white people, are so easily duped is because of racism. The powers that be have always made the term 'poor' mean black and brown people. Everyone else, i.e., white people, were middle-class, so no matter how poor and struggling a white working-class person might be, he or she has been made to believe that they are in the middle-class and privileged, and therefore they are unable to identify with their class position. This is where the problem comes from: so many of these people identify with the George Bushes of the world. They don't understand that this man is raping them right, left, and center. It's amazing! It needs to stop. Whenever you bring the issue of class up, the ruling class and their bought-and-paid-for Congressperson, calls: "Class warfare! Stop the class warfare! There are no class differences in America! Stop being divisive!"

They're liars and cheats. They say this while giving to the rich and taking from the poor. It is time for the working class and the so-called middle class, especially white American middle-class people to wake up! It is time for you all to wake up-and I know that's not you in this room because you wouldn't be here if you were asleep-but all of those people outside who are asleep, who identify with this. By the way, if there are any college teachers in this room other than myself, we are working class; I'm clear about that. I know that I am personally three paychecks away from homelessness and that there is no safety net to catch me when I fall ill or become too old to work, and believe you me, I'm crowding that 'old' category real fast.

So that's why I'm angry that a third of my paycheck is going to fund a four hundred billion dollar a year military budget, while all of the social programs that I care about are being cut. Did you know that the taxpayers in Florida will pay four billion eight hundred five million dollars for this invasion of Iraq, says the National Priorities Project. Do you know what we could do with that same amount of money? We could hire 95,000 elementary school teachers, we could have 678,000 Head Start places for children, we could have 2,498,778 additional children to get health care, we could even purchase 21,000 additional fire engines.

But who are the people really running our country now? How did such a nebulous collection of disparate individuals and organizations called the right wing, which include Bible thumpers, neo-conservatives, libertarians, paleo-conservatives, neo-Nazi's, white supremacists, patriots, the militia - who put them in charge of our country? What can account for this right wing success, since most of what they have fought for and gotten is so harmful to us, the majority of the American people? The attacks of 9/11, of course, have helped immensely. It rendered the floodgates to ideas that conservatives and militarists and globalists have been brewing up for years.

I just want to end by saying, what can we do?

Now, as some of you know, I'm a veteran of the civil rights movement; I grew up during the Jim Crow era, and went through all of the horrors of that period. And my life was changed by the civil rights movement. I was fortunate to join with other students, teachers, preachers, workers, homemakers-and these were black, white, brown, red, and yellow people across this country-to form one of the greatest movements for civil rights, human rights and justice that this country has ever known. Now we've got to remember, it started small when folks in Montgomery, Alabama decided that they would rather walk than continue to participate in a system that denied them their dignity, their humanity, every single day. And it grew from this momentous boycott, but of course it also grew and was built upon the hundreds of years of struggle: by enslaved Africans, by the women in the suffragettes' movement and by the workers who fought and died for workers' rights. It built upon that movement, to build this great movement that we call the Civil Rights Movement.

So today, brothers and sisters, friends and comrades, people who long for peace, people who want justice for ourselves and other people, who believe that we should do unto others as we want done to ourselves, people who believe that the earth's resources are to be shared with all of the people equitably. We who believe that none are safe when others are dispossessed, we who know that the hunger of others is our hunger, the homelessness among us is our concern, we who know what the "homeland security" really is, we must build a movement, to stop this war, but we can't stop there. We must build a people's movement founded on justice, reciprocity, and hope for all humanity and all the living creatures of the earth as well as this beautiful earth we inhabit. We must build a movement to end these distorted visions of empire, conquests, and ruling other people of the world with an iron fist. We must make America the America that has never been, a peaceful America, a just America.

Transcribed by Chris Zurheide

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