American Friends Service Committee
Patrica Watson, Editor
Sara Burke, Assistant Editor
Pat Farren, Founding Editor
2161 Massachusetts Ave.
Peacework has been published monthly since 1972, intended to serve as a source of dependable information to those who strive for peace and justice and are committed to furthering the nonviolent social change necessary to achieve them. Rooted in Quaker values and informed by AFSC experience and initiatives, Peacework offers a forum for organizers, fostering coalition-building and teaching the methods and strategies that work in the global and local community. Peacework seeks to serve as an incubator for social transformation, introducing a younger generation to a deeper analysis of problems and issues, reminding and re-inspiring long-term activists, encouraging the generations to listen to each other, and creating space for the voices of the disenfranchised.
Views expressed are those of the authors, not necessarily of the AFSC.
Another View of National Security
Martha Yager coordinates the Banking Project in AFSC/New England's New Hampshire office.
The US is now formally in recession. Big, though not surprising news. One would expect to see it across the top of the front page of the paper. But these are not ordinary times. Instead the story ran on page A34 of the Washington Post. The really big news is the war in Afghanistan, the anthrax scares, the search for terrorists, and the argument over civil liberties. Important topics, some even critical. It is easy to feel overwhelmed with all there is to learn and think about. The recession really does seem like old, back-page news. Unless one pauses to realize that 800,000 people have been laid off in the past two months and that 1 in 5 service sector jobs has been cut in the last year. A lot of people are in crisis.
Congress, like the front page of the papers, continues to focus mainly on responding to the attacks of September 11, or at least that is what the news coverage of their activity would lead us to believe. Yet many of the "normal" issues of government are percolating along in the background. Legislation is moving through committees. Most of the 2002 budget is finally settled and work has begun on the 2003 budget. Regulations are being written, sometimes dramatically changing protections put in place in recent years. Welfare is up for reauthorization. The food stamp program is being revised. All of this is happening with very little public scrutiny and little media attention.
Programs and policies assisting lower income people were already seriously under attack. On September 10 the White House Budget Office directed agency heads to plan on 5% cuts in the next budget cycle and to look for programs to eliminate entirely. (Washington Post, Sept. 11, 2001) Philosophically the administration looked to non-governmental organizations to do what many consider to be the work of government. None of this has changed since September 11.
But several things have changed.
The need has grown dramatically. According to the Department of Labor (Dec. 7, 2001 press release) unemployment has jumped to 5.7%, with job losses widespread through out the economy (i.e., much of it not a direct result of the attacks). Perhaps more ominous, the number of people exhausting their 26 weeks of unemployment insurance this September was 54% higher than one year ago. Yet the criteria for extending the benefit time period are so stringent that not one state has qualified to do so.
State agencies, already struggling to meeting rapidly increasing needs, are also saddled with assessing the state's emergency preparedness and developing plans for a variety of scenarios, all with existing staff and little hope of additional funds. An example of the cost of these activities (which are not bad things to be doing and some argue should have been done long ago) is the hours and hours spent planning emergency housing should the large cities have to be evacuated by the very staff who would otherwise be trying to figure out emergency housing for the rapidly growing numbers of homeless already in our midst.
Nonprofits across the country, especially those that assist the poor, are having to provide more assistance with fewer resources. Some are reporting donations to be down by almost half. Agencies that work with immigrants have been particularly hard hit.
Overwhelmed by direct service needs, advocates have little time to be following state and federal activities that directly impact their work and the people they serve. The result is that an administration that was already inclined to "help" corporations rather than people is pouring huge resources into various industry bailouts instead of providing a more adequate human safety net. And such actions barely cause a ripple because not many people are paying attention.
It is not yet clear how Congress plans to pay for the war. It
has authorized spending without dedicating income. It is clear
that the next budget round will see a mighty fight.
Redefining National Security
The current focus on "national security" considers outside threats and "suspects" in our midst. It is critical that we not forget that a country's strength is based on the basic health of its people. It must meet the human needs at home. The "war on terrorism" must not translate into a war on the poor, as resources needed to meet their needs are drained off to meet the costs of war. In spite of the exhaustion most of us feel, we must somehow find the energy to insist that basic human needs be met.
Below are several web sites that track federal policy and provide regular updates. Of particular importance in the next few months are welfare reauthorization, food stamp funding, extension of unemployment benefits, the National Housing Trust Fund, and an economic stimulus package.
State governments are also struggling to meet the rising unemployment and homelessness. Many of them will also be considering various forms of additional assistance in the face of additional costs to address emergency planning and their own revenue shortfalls. Advocacy will be needed here, as well.
Involvement on the local level, where one has the opportunity
to meet the people who are in need, is also critical. Fundraising
for organizations that assist the folks hurt in the recession,
stocking food pantries, or organizing blanket drives may help
provide the energy for doing the hard work of advocacy. The need
is huge. This, too, is a struggle for our national security.