Saturday, February 25, 2012

The Makings of a Grassroots Movement Brewing: Greensboro comes Alive

By Victor Lopez, Intern – AFSC Office of the Carolinas

About the Author: Lopez is a senior at Guilford College in Greensboro, NC, majoring in Peace and Conflict Studies, was the 2008 college winner of the Nation Magazine student essay contest. He writes for the College paper, The Guilfordian.

Greensboro, NC- Feb. 20-  The community forum titled “Bring our War
Dollars Home” encouraged citizens of North Carolina to urge their
legislatures to spend tax dollars more wisely. The  information
discussed at that meeting could cause a grassroots movement to ignite
in the college town.

The American Friends Service Committee and North Carolina Peace Action
held the event at Elon Law School in downtown Greensboro, for
what some hope will be a continuing conversation regarding the
wasteful spending of tax dollars, in the face of growing joblessness
in North Carolina.

Matthew Hoh      photo credit Lori Fernald Khamala

The potential grassroots movement is starting at a time when the Obama
Administration’s 2013 budget scales back Defense Department spending
by an estimated half trillion dollars over the next ten years.

North Carolinians have responded to the news of Obama’s plan with
varying reactions.

Some believe that any reduction in military spending
will hurt small business owners who are dependent on defense
contracts, while others view the proposed cuts as an opportunity to
turn tax dollars, otherwise spent on defense, into meaningful
community resources.

“Considering the mix of different community leaders with varying
interests, all converging here, I’d say this is a historical moment,”
said Isabell Moore, the forum’s moderator and adjunct professor of
history at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro.

During the forum, activists discussed  the foreclosure
crisis facing the community: a local realtor spoke  about  the sight of
abandoned houses foreclosed upon; a chief editor of the local
newspaper spoke of helping those experiencing hunger, homelessness and


Later an economist asked rhetorical questions about wealth trickling
down to those who need jobs, and a representative for the Fund for
Democratic Communities spoke about locally democratizing the budget.

Many worry about the future of Greensboro with an unemployment rate
having climbed to 10 percent,  in a city that a 2011 Stanford
study found to be  one of the cities having the greatest income

Matthew Hoh speaks at Elon University Law.     photo credit Lori Fernald Khamala

An estimated 130 participants attended the community forum. Some North
Carolina legislators such as State Rep. Pricy Harris (D), Marcus
Brandon (D), Alma Adams (D) and Sen. Gladys A. Robinson also attended.

Keynote speaker Matthew Hoh spoke to the policies and dialogues that
keep U.S. defense spending at unprecedented levels. Hoh served as a
U.S. Marine and later worked at the State Department as a senior
civilian representative and political adviser on Afghanistan.

“Once the U.S. creates a dialogue of victory, the military action will
continue whether or not it makes little social or fiscal sense,” said
Hoh, who in 2009 quit his post at the State Department, making him
the only senior state department official to publicly resign in
protest of the Afghanistan war.

Hoh said that without public desire, the Obama administration would
not stop the war. Unless there is clear public support, elected
officials are often called unpatriotic for pulling troops out of war

“The president needs to understand he has the political support to end
the war in Afghanistan,” said Hoh. “Our leaders won’t do a thing about
the war in Afghanistan unless we let them know they have our support”

Ann Lennon, area director of the American Friends Service Committee
Office of the Carolinas, said that diverting tax dollars from Defense
Department coffers to education, health care and social services,
rests primarily on priorities, not just on economic expediency.

“What we need to do is really consider where our priorities are,
bearing in mind the actions of our country over the last decade have
cost so much, yielded so little,” said Lennon.  “We are giving the
generation to come a lot less than we were left.”

North Caronlina State Rep. Marcus Brandon shares a word with ASFC Intern Victor Lopez before the
event commenced.                                                              photo credit Lori Fernald Khamala
MIT professor emeritus and linguist Noam Chomsky agreed with
Lennon’s observations, saying in an e-mail interview, that U.S.
spending has reached unimaginable heights and can hardly be considered
defense related, in any meaningful sense.

“As long as U.S. policies remain as they are, they will require a huge
military force all over the world, unique in the world today, and with
no historical precedent,” said Chomsky. “It is the policies that
should be under review.”

Back in Greensboro, others, like Lennon, think that the
city is as good a place as any to bring public awareness and continue
the conversation started at the Elon Law School  event. After all, the city
is no stranger to activism, as evident by the city's role in the civil
rights movement.

Lennon said that she expects the forum in Greensboro to be one of many
continuing conversations about how to turn the information learned,
gathered and related into meaningful action.

“We need more discussions that articulate the city’s values,
priorities and future hopes,” said Lennon. “It builds the capacity of
community members to deliberate and decide where their priorities

Logie Meachum, an educator, storyteller and musician, said there has
always been a kind of magic that has transformed Greensboro into a
town that has effected change.

“With hope,” Meachum said, “that enchantment will reveal itself once more.”

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