July 09, 2006

Think Locally, Act Globally

One of the themes of the World Peace Forum (WPF), held in Vancouver, British Columbia last month, which I had the pleasure to attend, was the importance to cities of taking action for World Peace. Cities must respond to the needs of their citizens. One of those primary needs is the need to live in peace.

Vancouver was one of 62 cities designated as Peace Messenger Cities by the UN General Assembly in 1986 for its efforts to spread a Culture of Peace within its boundaries. It was in that spirit that the city organized the WPF. They made a special effort to include representatives from other Peace Messenger Cities and Mayors for Peace.

It is easy to see why the Mayor of Hiroshima is the President of Mayors for Peace, or why Mayor Winstanley Johnson of Freetown, Sierra Leone sees peace as a prerequisite for running a city, as he copes with the aftermath of civil war. Both of those cities have experienced the disruption, devastation and suffering to their people caused by war. The UN makes this case in CITIES - THEIR RESPONSIBILITY TO A CULTURE OF PEACE.

Many city officials believe that they are supposed to pay attention to local problems and ignore everything that happens outside the city limits. In practice, however, you have to work with other cities, counties and governmental agencies to solve regional problems. Most cities wouldn’t hesitate to lobby for laws and regulations on the state level that affect the city. They will even go to the National government for funds for an important local project.

At a time when local governments are having a hard time finding money for maintaining their infrastructure and providing services for their citizens, military spending can be seen as a huge diversion of funds.

Worldwide, military spending reaches $1 trillion a year, about half of it by the United States. President Eisenhower said, that every dollar spent on the military "signifies in the final sense a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." In more concrete terms the National Priorities Project documents the cost of war to local communities and shows other choices that could be made. For instance, taxpayers in California will pay $40.6 billion for the war in Iraq. For that same amount they could have had 631,955 Elementary School Teachers or built 4,421 new Elementary Schools, or provided healthcare to 16,850,732 people.

At the WPF we heard Jennifer Hostermann, Mayor of Pleasanton, California talk about how her city is affected by its location near the Lawrence Livermore Lab, which is a major research center for nuclear weapons. She realizes that in a nuclear war, her city would be right next door to one of the first targets of incoming warheads. In that she is not alone. Many of us in the United States are close to a military base that is sure to be targeted in the event of a war. Of course, cities will also be targets and the effects of nuclear war will be global so all of us are at risk. It is easy to forget, but Russian and American missiles are still ready for launch, despite the end of the Cold War almost 2 decades ago. She also feels a responsibility for the people who live in her city. That responsibility doesn’t end when the potholes are filled but extends to representing their interests at a state, national and global level.

Many cities, recognizing the detrimental effects to their residents of the war in Iraq have passed resolutions in opposition. Some feel that since they took an oath to uphold the Constitution, they are bound to oppose an unconsitutional war. Likewise, cities in the US, Britain and elsewhere have declared themselves Nuclear Free Zones. These declarations added momentum to the antinuclear movement that in the 1980s led to a significant slowing of the arms race. In an extension of this movement, national governments in the South Pacific, Latin America and Africa have declared Nuclear Free Zones that have had a real effect in limiting the spread of nuclear weapons.

With the big powers becoming more belligerent, a new arms race is on. It is time for people to act in their cities and communities, where the government is still accessible to ordinary people, to demand an end to the squandering of lives and money on war.

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