Fighting for a U.S. federal budget that prioritizes peace, economic security and shared prosperity
Sept. 15, 2020
[2:27] Basav Sen: “I want to quickly introduce the Institute for Policy Studies. We are the oldest progressive multi-issue think tank in the U.S. dating back to the early 1960s. And we have active programs in a number of areas dealing with social and economic justice. For example, we work on economic inequality, we work on the prison system and mass incarceration. We work on foreign policy and war. We work on climate justice. We work on drug policy, rights of low wage workers, and a lot of other issue. And the National Priorities Project is one of the projects of IPS that specifically looks at the federal budget and what kinds of priorities are reflected in it. And how to transform the federal budget to make it more just.”
“And I’m very pleased to introduce the four panelists who are joining us today. Cris Lagunas serves as the Director of Strategy at Climate Mobilization and Climate Mobilization Project. Cris is originally from Chile, and he’s been organizing in the migrant-rights and climate movement for over fifteen years. Miguel Mijangos is the representative for Guerrero in the Mexican Network of Mining-Affected People, known by REMA its initials in Spanish. And REMA works in sixteen states in Mexico support struggles against the extractive model. And Tetet Lauron is based in the Philippines where she works as an advisor for the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung’s International Politics Unit. She has been following the UN Climate negotiations for more than ten years now and while this is an important space, she is even more resolved that solutions to climate breakdown will only come from alternatives that justice movements from both the South and the North have been fighting. And finally, my colleague Lorah is also joining us on this webinar. And she works on the National Priorities Project at IPS. And in this role she produces and analysis on the intersection and militarism and the climate crisis and supports movement building focused on shifting our war economy to address the climate crisis. And with that, I’m going to ask our panelists a few framing questions to guide the discussion and call on a few of the panelists to respond to each of the questions. And with that we can get the discussion started.”
“So many progressives recognize that military budgets consume an overwhelming amount of resources in many countries, particularly in the United States, the world’s biggest superpower, and that defunding the military will generate resources for other vital needs including tackling climate change. However, I want to dig a little deeper on this. So military spending is commonly justified as being for everyone’s safety and protection. But does military spending keeping our communities safe, especially in the context of the climate crisis and the current global pandemic? And in what ways do you see bloated military spending as a reflection of misplaced governmental priorities? And I will call on Lorah to start answering this questions.”
Lorah Steichen: “Sure, thank you Basav and thanks to everyone who is joining us this evening or whatever time of day it is wherever you are in the world. Really glad to have along for this discussion. I think that’s a great question Basav, thanks for posing it. Just to back up to give some context for folks, right now, we’re spending over seven-hundred-billion dollars every year in the United States on the military. And so over half of the federal discretionary budget goes to the Pentagon every year, but when we add up all the spending in the federal militarized spending in the federal discretionary budget, including militarized agencies immigration enforcement for example, militarization occupies an even greater piece of the pie. So two-thirds of the federal discretionary budget is militarized spending, and that leaves only one-third of the pie for literally everything else besides militarism. So that’s important context for the rest of our discussion, because meanwhile, proposals to meaningful address the climate crisis are often characterized as these unrealistic pipe-dreams. Whenever proposals are put fourth for the kind of social spending we need to meet people’s basic needs, people across the political spectrum, how are we going to pay for that? But the same scrutiny is almost never applied to military spending and massive investment in the military are accepted as given for many people in power. And so the reality is that there is no shortage of funds in the United States for a just transition to a green economy, there’s no shortage of funds in the United States for the kinds of investments we need to actually keep each other safe. And I think that’s what you’re getting at Basav—enormous and unnecessary military expenditures have really warped many people’s sense of what’s possible tricked many people into believing, at least people in the United States that we can’t afford to improve our lives and keep our planet livable.
“And like you said, Basav, military spending is justified as necessary for safety and protection, but I think in this current movement it’s pretty clear that militaristic budget priorities are actually making us less secure in many ways in the United States where we’re number one for military spending but we’re also number one COVID-19 deaths and I don’t think that’s a coincidence. U.S. militarism is violent and deadly and devastating to people around the globe, and that’s really critical to include in this discussion, and we’ll talk more about that, but if we’re just interrogating the assumption that the military is what keeps the American people safe, that’s not certainly not true when we account for all that we’re choosing not to invest in because we’re allocating so many of our resources to the military. And so to keep each other safe we need to invest to mitigating and adapting to the impacts of climate change. We also need to invest in a social safety net that establishes an infrastructure of care and this includes all kinds of demands from progressive social movements from universal healthcare to housing for all. That’s how we keep each other safe, not militarism. And I really want to stand in solidarity with Black-led movements in the United States right now that are demanding we defund the police and reinvest in community safety and I think the same goes, the same paradigm, for the military.”
BS: “Thank you so much Lorah, and I want to Miguel to answer the same question.”
Miguel Mijangos[*]: “Thank you very much for your invitation. I would like to put on the table the global dynamic at the level of the military sector and at the level of the budget and how the military sector has to do with security but also the control of mobilizations. This is an issue that we need to remind beyond the appearance, right, so it has a lot to do with the control mobilization that is related to military spending, which goes in hand with the stream of military operations and the fabrication of the building of arms, of weapons. So they all complement each other and they all link to that project of the territories, of displacement. he other stream, it relates to the industry, with the weapons industry is the money that is related to the military sector, but the logic of war really leads to what we call the grabbing of natural resources—of resources like water that is being used in many industries. Water is a natural resource that is being used in the process of building weapons. This feeds into the logic of maquiladoras—sweat shops at the border of the United States. Some of those sweat-shops are dedicated to building weapons.”
“Another point is the legitimization of military spending, disguised behind the idea of deregulation. Many countries around the world are implementing laws that legitimize violence and the use of force. Here in Mexico we have a growth of armed-forces with two bills that were implemented in 2017 and also recently around issues of national security that are allowing police forces to act in the interest of controlling the public. Not only that, they are also creating a very Mexican-style of power because here they are not only taking care of the precepts of security or the mobilization of the Mexico-US border due to migration towards the United States. But they are also involved in the construction, for example, for private work such as an airport… they are participating in providing these goods. So there is a growth in political power that doesn’t just have to do with security but also to activities that are tied to social development. And this brings in a completely different situation.”
BS: “Thank you very much Miguel. I’m going to move on to the next question. One context in which questions about community safety becomes particularly critical is after a disaster, such as typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines and Hurricane Katrina in the U.S. So why do you see cohesive and militaristic responses by governments to disasters such as these. And what interests do you see these militaristic responses as serving. And Tetet, I would love to hear your response.”
Tetet Lauron: “Thank you very much Basav and thank you very much for the invitation to be a part of this very interesting and relevant topic. The Philippines is a country that is most effected by disasters. We’re number five in the climate-risk index. And the impacts of climate change are an added layer to the multiple vulnerabilities already experienced by my country and by my people due to our unique geography but also because of our state of underdevelopment.”
“Super-Typhoon Haiyan in 2013 was an example of the many cases where communities displaced by disasters were hit by a triple-whammy. They were already very poor before the disaster struck, they were displaced by disaster--and there was lots of corruption in the rehabilitation and in the relief efforts—and then in the third would be, in the name of public safety, these communities were not allowed to go back to their communities in order to rebuild their lives, but their coastal lands have been transformed to become retirement homes for the rich and famous, real-estate development because it’s a beach-view property and these are all protected by the military and by the police. These areas now have been declared as a no build, no fishing zone, and communities who are trying to assert their right, to go back to their homes, have been criminalized. So there is a lot of profiteering from the disasters and these are now reinforced by the military and by the police.”
“The bottom line here is that we have a lot of government policies that are neoliberal, pro-foreign, pro-business, anti-people. And the context with which all of this is happening is that of gross-wealth and income-inequality. The Philippines is probably one of the countries in the world where oligarchs have accumulated wealth from environmental destruction. These oligarchs are working in collusion with foreign and local corporations, politicians, officials, and they are all engaged with real-estate, constructions, power, energy, water, oil, mining, and agri-business. So this is a very complicated web where only those who already have so much to be begin with are profiting from environmental destruction end up with even more after disasters.”
BS: “Thank you Tetet. And Lorah your response.”
LS: “We know that in a climate-changed future there will be more shocks to come, more crises, more disasters. This is what Naomi Klein has described as serial-shocks. And so if we continue to allocate 2/3 of the federal discretionary budget in the United States to militarism there is very good reason to be fearful of and resistant to the military taking a greater role in disaster relief, especially as ecological disasters become more and more common. We know that when we’re only robustly funding militarism, suddenly all of our responses to crises are militarized ones.”
“And so the reality is that we’ve already seen this play out, even in the United States and beyond. An example of this that really illustrates how this phenomenon is often racialized and racist in the United States is the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans in 2005. In this instance we saw military forces used against the mostly poor and predominantly black communities in the lower ninth who were treated as aggressors and really violently targeted by military and the police who were deployed to respond to the crisis. Thousands of National Guard troops were deployed to Louisiana and Mississippi. There was imagery that many of us on news coverage of soldiers points machine guns at residents as they boarded buses to evacuate. There were instances where police officers shot and killed residents who were attempting to flee the flooded city, so these are the direct implications of budget priorities in the United States and this is the kind of response that plays out when we invest heavily in militarism and fail to invest—in the case of hurricane Katrina not only in adequate physical infrastructure in our cities but also a different kind of infrastructure of care that we actually need to keep each other safe.”
“This is a good example of the ways that environmental crises are increasingly characterized as security issues that require militarized responses. And we’ve seen that when militarism is deployed as a disaster response tactic its often a part of a broader set of techniques that are deployed in a crisis or a disaster context to maintain existing power structures—often property arrangements are prioritized (as Tetet was alluding to). In the case of Hurricane Katrina some snidely described the disaster as a means to finally clean up the city’s public housing. But militarism can also be deployed to serve the interest of powerful corporations, real estate interests for example, or other groups who are looking to capitalize on disaster in the short term or impose structural changes that will benefit the elite in the long term. This is an entire industry that revolves around militarized, security-led and a for-profit approach to climate adaptation and disaster response and so we really see militarism used to prop-up capitalism.”
BS: “Thank you so much Lorah. And what we heard from both Tetet and Lorah is like, the perfect segue to the next question n. So before I dive into the question itself I want to very briefly mention some news that broke today. It turns out that a lot of big corporations, particularly fossil fuel corporations like Chevron and Marathon Petroleum. But also some big financial institutions like Black Rock, JP Morgan, and Wells Fargo, and a number of utilities such as Exelon and Duke Energy are actually funding these private foundations who raise funds for police departments. So over and above the funding that the police get from their city budgets and some amount of federal assistance as well to the cities, they’re getting completely unaccountable, private money from large corporations. I want our panelists to keep that information in mind as they think about this next question. The question is, in what ways do you see militaries and their domestic counter-parts such as police, as enforcing the power of fossil fuel and extractive industries and actively impeding social movements including movements addressing the climate crisis. Miguel, would love to hear your response.”
MM: “Yes—there is no question here. There is a clear trend, not only in Mexico, what we’ve mostly seen is what occurs in Latin America but I am sure we see similar things occurring in Europe, Africa, and other continents, where just as what was mentioned in the previous question where countries are enacting laws that are allowing for additional actions to that of the military forces—that’s the first point. And there are many contradictions here because for example sometimes there are articles in the law that empower the military to defend private interests, to defend private investments. And often times in order to defend private interests they empower the armed forces to use force and in some cases they empower armed forces to use force but also to use weapons. So, not only what we later see with shields and such but also to use weapons to forcefully and this is something that has been occurring and it adapts depending on the processes of resistance in each country. Something that concerns us is not just this trend between the armed forces linked to the local police that are part of the legal or law-enforcement apparatus as is the case in Mexico, but also by means of out-sourcing that is linked to financial and industrial means. The companies themselves hire their own private police forces that are often times regulated by the state but they are independent entities. And in many cases they have direct financing without any kind of oversight—so its direct financing for law enforcement that are not regulated by the state. In other words, here we are speaking of illegal armed groups that operate within and without mining facilities for example, and we have seen that they have an operation of collusion with the regular armed forces of the state. And this is a growing trend. It’s leading to two significant processes that tie into the origins of global warming which is leading to increased poverty and increased migratory flows in the quest for access to the job market, on the macro-level.
“But the other process that we’re seeing is that where extractive industries are being set up, which is very aggressive in the case of mining activities, after one or two years of work they immediately lead to forced displacement. In other words since they completely end the usefulness of the territory that is where the criminal forces operate, and the legal forces and the illegal forces operate to bring about what we called forced displacement. And there’s a great contradiction here because it is often to see that there are forces of forced-displacement in the territory and along their ways there are check-points of military forces that want to force them to return to where these displaced people came from or don’t want to allow them to freely transit which should be a right that they have to be able to mobilize themselves freely within the national territory. So, there is a process underway which is very, it’s new. You could say it existed in the past but it wasn’t as visible or so outright. Currently it is very very common throughout the country, wherever there are extractive activities, but specifically mining activities there has been a process of collusion between the local police and the armed forces and illegal groups. And in many cases is it via outsourcing or contracting of extractive industries. And public resources are being used as well as private resources for greater repression, but they are also legislating in such a way that the forces are allowed to repress the population without there being accountability and of course, human rights are being violated and of course there is an increase in displacement—a very significant increase. Where there are four mines operating in an area where there are approximately 250 communities, nearly 150 are suffering forced displacement and we’re speaking of a five-year period of 16,000 people that can no longer live in their homeland. There is a growing trend, something that wasn’t present and used to be much more fragmented and now it’s much more consolidated and occupying larger areas of Mexico. When we speak without colleagues in Central America we see that they are facing similar situations. In other words, the problem we are facing is becoming a model or a system.”
BS: “Thank you Miguel for that very perspective answer and I’ll ask Cris to address the same question.”
CL: “Thank you so much Basav. You know this is a really really interesting question because pretty much the difference between Miguel and I’s answer is that mine is in English and his is in Spanish. When we look at how the police and the military repress movement here in the United States or in the North American territory as a whole, it also starts before the police interaction. It actually starts in the halls of Congress… [audio glitch]… companies have been members of groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council or political organizations like that that lobby to pass laws to enforce harsher penalties on activists that target what is called “critical infrastructure.” And in the US under the category of critical infrastructure we have things like gas terminals and pipelines. A great example of a pipeline that’s very famous is Keystone XL, right, we’ve all seen that fight play out on the news, on social media, and pretty much everywhere throughout the past few years and we’ve gotten to see firsthand—whether we’ve been in the field or from the bizarre comfort of our homes how activists get beaten and thrown in jail with arbitrary sentences and with no return home in sight and that’s quite concerning. And so essentially what we’re doing is that corporations are setting up the legal infrastructure to suppress activists so then the military and the police can go in the field and enforce these laws. If we’re going to keep it real we’re going to recognize that laws are only meaningful because they can be enforces through violence, right, and this is a prime example of that.”
“So essentially the police come and arrest activists, harsh penalties are enforced as time moves on, and essentially the state and the oil industry collide to maintain the status quo. The government and the market is pretty-much creating an activism to prison pipeline. How that’s going to unfold in the current social-political climate is hard to guess but my assumption is that Black Lives Matter protestors are going to be facing some of these same critical infrastructure penalties at some point in the near future and that’s quite concerning. And also if we look at the demographics it’s often times communities of color. When it comes to climate issues its often-times Indigenous, its Black people, its Indigenous diaspora from around the world. So what we end up with is a dynamic of suppressing people of color to sustain corporate infrastructure.”
“Now if we want to get a glimpse into the future of what might come for us on this side of the land all we have to do is listen to what Miguel is saying. Miguel is talking about military and police groups and those who operate like military and police groups but are not actually law enforcement, have the almost moral-ability and position to use fire-power. And I think we’re going down a slippery-slope here in the US and if we really want to understand where we’re going—I know many of you have probably heard this before—but I highly recommend looking at the case in 2014 where in Honduras twelve environmental activists that were members of the COPINH were murdered, including the famous Berta Cáceres, for protesting and doing activism against hydroelectric projects on their land. There were eight people who participated in the murder of those activists including three that were tracked down and they all had received training at Fort Benning, more specifically at the School of the Americas. So the fossil fuel industry not only plays a role in sustaining this oppression here in the U.S. but also around the world in providing infrastructure to the actors of oppression in Meso-America, in the Global South to continue the crusade against people and against the planet.”
BS: “Thank you very much Cris, and again a beautiful into our next question. So Cris, you were talking about laws enforced through violence and what better an illustration of that than immigration laws and borders. As the climate crisis intensifies, large numbers of people are being displaced from their homelands. Can militaristic responses to the displacement of people, for example at the US-Mexico border or in the Mediterranean, be thought of as a form of climate apartheid and how. And Cris, would love to hear you answer this.”
CL: “Sure, you know I’d like to go to the definition of this very specific word that we’re using, which is apartheid. Apartheid literally means a system of segregation based on race. And if we look at the current state of our immigration system and what’s going on in the borderlands—and just for some context, I’ve been back in the U.S. for a year. Before that I spent half-a-decade working on the Mexican side of the border and I’ve seen this first hand. When we look at how the U.S. treats people who are coming here seeking safety we find things like children in camps around the border. Literally kids in cages without their parents, wondering when they’re going to see them again, just sitting there is the desert sun, hoping for the “American Dream” as cliché as that may sound. So we’re currently in this weird dynamic where the U.S. has created all these conditions for people to come and has caused strong waves of migration. And our response to that has been completely violent. Even the asylum process in the U.S. requires that you go through the process while being incarcerated. We also have quite-an-aggressive deportation system that is separating families left and right. So essentially what we have is white-nationalist laws and what that means is that we have laws that fuel the idea that our national identity should be built around whiteness. And that’s confirmed by how these laws effect non-white immigrants. The Muslim ban is another great example of that, right? When these laws only effect people of color it’s really hard not to see what’s in front of us, which is a completely racists system, which is a system that separates people—quite literally—and families. And here’s the thing—as the climate crisis continues to advance, things in the Global South, in the Meso-American territories are going to get worse. And when a climate-disaster hits, the influx of climate refugees coming to the U.S. is going to multiply by a huge number. We’re not going to be ready to welcome those people. And when our response has been so violent, we’re pretty-much looking at an amplified system like we have now—we’ll have more camps, we’ll have more deportations, we’ll have more bans. So I guess what’s I’m trying to get at, is that if you’re asking me if these things can be called apartheid, my answer is a very strong yes.
BS: “Thanks, and Tetet would love to hear from you.
TL: “Thanks very much Basav. We have to understand that when communities are displaced by climate impacts, they often move from rural areas going to urban areas or from urban areas going to the rural areas. Wherever it is safer. Crossing borders is the not immediate course of action for many. That’s why for us in the Philippines, us in the Global South, you have this phenomenon called Internally Displaced People, or IDPs. And Displacement puts many of the fundamental rights—the right to life, water, food, housing, education—fundamental human rights, at risk. Although one does not necessarily lose their human rights just because one is displaced. But you know—one thing is on paper, one thing is the actual reality that’s happening. So when people say that there is a right to move, it’s granted, but there is also such a thing as the right to stay. And I don’t think a lot of people realize that. This assumption that communities just want to leave their homes, their loved ones, their culture, their way of life and move to the land of milk and honey. That’s not always the case. People want to be able to stay in their own places, in their own communities. After a disaster they want to rebuilt, they want to pick up their lives and livelihoods—whatever they can salvage—and maintain that dignity as a people. So when militaristic responses are enforced, especially to give way to business interest, not only is this apartheid, it is structural injustice. Because survivors often find themselves under threat of permanent displacement. As lands are cleared and opened up for conversion and other kinds of investments under the guise of recovery and rehabilitation, so you know—you’ve already been displaced from climate impacts, you’re already poor from the start, and now in the name of recovery and rehabilitation you are now being suppressed and met with violence when you want to go back and rebuild your small, tiny, shack; when you want to go back fishing. This is all in the name of corporate investments. We now are seeing the corporate capture of rehabilitation and the recovery agenda. Post-disaster projects have been used time and again by governments, international financial institutions, corporations, to find exciting “marketing” opportunities in the wake of major disasters. So, you know, it’s very very sad, but it also angers us that communities displaced by typhoons, because they live along the coast line, are now permanently displaced because there will now be the construction of retirement homes for retired, aging, sick, white folks who need to be cared for by Filipino care givers, Filipino doctors. Because it is in our culture that we are such a caring community, this is now looked upon as our comparative advantage, to entire foreign investments to come into the country. So it’s not only climate apartheid, but it is injustice at the very core.
BS: “Thank you very much Tetet, and you know, your answer reminded me of a good friend of mine from the Maldives. The Maldives are a very low-lying island chain in the Indian Ocean that are very much at risk from the rising seas. And, you know, she said, “we don’t want to move. Our ancestors are buried here. This is our home. We don’t want to move. So, brings exactly back to what you were talking about. Miguel, would love to hear your response.”
MM: “Of course, I think it’s quite interesting to put it in the context of the current contradictions. The climate crisis is there and it’s getting faster and faster and we’re not changing our mode of consumption and production and energy models. And those forces are generating displacement. And people are moving, in the case of Mexico, there’s a contradiction. We are facing new barriers, new walls, like on the border with Guatemala where the National Guard and the local police is impeaching the transits of displaced people created by the economic model. So on one side, in concrete locations, the local police is [HERE 49:01] the displacement but when they want to go across borders they are detained. So this creates a social condition that’s quite new in border regions where we have social-political conditions with thousands of migrants that are on the borders, whereas nations should offer basic assistance, humanitarian processes, but what they face is a process of being rejected, deported back to their country, so its an irrational contractions in Mexico in the last ten years. If we look at the data from 2009 to now, those numbers, we’re talking 400,000 displaced people linked to violence, because of the destruction of the territory. That number is moving—we’re talking about 400,000 people but we have high-rates of murders and assassinations, people that have been assassinated or murdered over the past decade. There’s disappearances, ten days ago we had a report of a number, which is the first national number that we observed, we’re talking about 73,000 disappearances among which many forces have participated—police of course but other forces in the territory. And you know also the case of our comrades—43 disappeared in the city of Chiapas and how the police and how the armed forces were responsible for those disappearances of those students. On the face of this, we are facing major mobilization of many people, but linked to that there is a social cost. This really harms people and their lives and we need to question why those countries continue to finance and fund those armed forces and also create the conditions for those armed forces—some legal some illegal—to keep acting on the territory with such a high rate of disappearances. I wanted to highlight that contradiction and obviously it needs to be developed much deeper but that’s an overview I wanted to share.
BS: “Thank you very much Miguel—and that brings me to the last one of the prepared questions I have and then we’ll open it up questions from our audience. So, the question is, over the years, the climate justice movement has put forth a detailed vision for how we can transform global politics and finance. For example by transforming trade agreements, development banks, and international negotiations. And it has also advanced strong demands for the cancelation of illegitimate debt and for the Global North to pay its climate debt to the South. How do you see this vision intersecting with anti-militarism and are there ways that global climate justice demands can support demilitarization and vice-versa. And Tetet I’d love your response.
TL: “Thank you Basav. I think us from the movements, we have the responsibility to connect the dots. It’s already there, it’s happening, we need to now learn how to effectively connect those dots. We need to be able to confront corporate power, authoritarian governments everywhere where there is injustice so we can build more just and equitable societies. The climate justice struggle is one of addressing the root causes of vulnerability, you know? The root causes, of environmental degradation—why are communities not resilient. Why is the whole world not prepared? And you know, this lack of preparedness is very much magnified now in the pandemic situation. I think climate justice is not just about mitigation or adaptation or going down to parts per million, etc. if you want to go to the geeky stuff in the negotiation. But ultimately the struggle for climate justice is the struggle against all systems of injustice. For instance, why is it that trade policies—the bottom line is it that trade policies put a price tag on nature. Why is it that investment policies promote false solutions? Investments are used to further the extraction and do not respect the Earth’s natural systems. Why is it that the whole global financial architecture push the limits of nature and drive countries and communities deeper into debt, depriving them of resources that value human life? Why is it now that countries that have been indebted structural adjustment policies, austerity measures, everything else is now privatized, we don’t have basic social protections that governments are supposed to fulfill. In governance, why is that politicians treat everything like it’s a business, where the ultimate indicator is profits? So, so many questions already. Any why is it that environmental defenders, those who defend the sanctity of Earth, Indigenous people, workers, women, farmers, fisher-folk, the youth, why is it that environmental defenders are the ones getting silenced, harassed, and killed? So we now come to the realization that neoliberalism, or capitalism, will always be at odds with a healthy environment. Because neoliberalism, and capitalism, will always use the instruments of coercion and subjugation. This connect-the-dots and clarifying how different struggles are inter-linked, as I’ve mentioned, this is already happening. We need to make it more visible. We need to make it accessible. And we need to make our vision a reality. And so, you know, let’s stop singing to the choir. We need to reach-out and build stronger movements. So, for instance, in the Philippines, we are not only a center of environmental degradation, but the Philippines is also a center of environmental movements. Such that the Philippines is now the most dangerous place in Asia for environmental defenders. Now, we have a new law. It’s the anti-terror law, where on the mere suspicion that anyone who has the intention to commit terrorism, anyone can be arrested without warrant and detained without having a legal case. So, you know, these are the key words: we suspected to have an intention to commit terrorism. And activism is being equated by many governments to commit terrorism. So any one of us who are working for environmental changes are now suspected of becoming terrorists. So for us, you know, the challenge for us would be how to make those links more visible, more accessible, and how do we make our vision a reality by making our movements stronger.
BS: “Thank you very much Tetet, and now I’m going to move on to questions from our audience. And we have a few in already. And I’ll start with one for Lorah and then maybe anyone of the panelists who wants to respond to this. Where can we start to retool the military?
LS: “Thank you Basav. So last—if we’re thinking about which aspects of the U.S. Military that we can target or cut, last year the Institute for Policy Studies worked with the Poor People’s Campaign in the United States to produce what we called a Moral Budget, that’s a good place to look. We found in that report 350 dollars’ worth of annual military spending cuts that we can make and the nation and the world would be more secure. So in terms of actually looking at which aspects of the military we can target for starting to chip away at the massive military budget that’s a really good place to start.
Another thing that I’m wanting to bring into this conversation and to challenge is this concept that in the United States we don’t hear a ton about the role of militarism in the climate crisis in climate movement spaces, but something that we’re hearing more and more is this concept of greening the military, which we should be really cautious of and critical of. And so this concept for folks who haven’t heard it is put forth even by progressive champions, or by people who are seen as progressive champions, as greening the military or making the military more environmentally sustainable. So the U.S. military is a massive polluter, it’s the number one institutional consumer of petroleum in the world, and so sometimes the response to that is—oh, okay great we find ways to make the military more sustainable. And beyond the very real limitation of greening the military, plans to make the U.S. war machine more fuel-efficient completely miss the point. We don’t want carbon-neutral militarism, we don’t want carbon-neutral war or “green” war. We just don’t want militarism, we don’t want war. And so I think those of us that are in climate spaces, we should be really cautious about and disrupt those kinds of false solutions that are put forward. So I want to bring that up and also just be critical of the U.S. military’s motivations in greening their operations. The U.S. military isn’t interested in fighting climate change, the U.S. military is interested in ensuring that it can remain operable even in climate chaos and also in taking climate problems and introducing military solutions. So we also greening the military can also invite militarized solutions to the climate crisis. So that’s something that I want to flag for us as something we are certainly not wanting to start with as a way to retool the military.
BS: “Thank Lorah. And in the interest of time, to fit in more questions, I’ll jump to the next one. And it’s a very specific one for Miguel. Are there weapons systems for the U.S. military for the Pentagon that are being manufactured in the maquiladoras assembly zone in Mexico and can you elaborate on what companies and what weapons systems?”
MM: “Thank you. There is a part of this information that’s difficult to access precisely because it has to do with the defense sector and therefore there are strong controls in the access to information. But an agreement was signed that is called Wassenaar I believe where they open up the corporations and the defense sector as well as the automobile sector and electric sector, and some ICT companies in order to be able to have a coverage in production for dual use. It’s important to keep this in mind. In other words, I can have a factory that’s producing vehicle parts, but also, within this dual use policy it means that this same factory could be creating a component for a jet, or for a weapons system or for a canon that is linked to the arms sector. Mexico has close to 20 or 30 years operating in this way. And this policy has led to many things linked to FDAs, tying in this dual aspect and this plays a predominant role. Well how important is that role that it plays? Well now that we are in the COVID context, Mexico was one of the countries that closed nearly all its industries. It basically only left consumption open as an essential service or activity. However, due to pressure from the United States, the government of Mexico was basically forced to open up all factories linked to the automobile sector but also to the creation of these dual part because there was very strong pressure coming from the United States who was no longer receiving what they required in what is currently an economic crisis for them as well. So this is where it’s very evident or easy to see, as mentioned by the previous speaker, how there is no way to be able to clearly establish within ethics if there’s not a process of dismantling the system behind rule-setting and that determines in which direction they are headed. In Mexico, at least within the mining context, we speak a lot of the same language of green-mining and responsible, adequate, and just and all of these categories that are currently striving to be very visible in the media so the new discourse is precisely to discuss this green awareness through the media outlets. But this does not dismantle the energy matrix or our consumption model. Therefore, everything that we can do as a society in those regards, that only attenuate will not have a significant impact because the process of accelerating the deterioration of natural goods, due to the current model of consumption, is crazy. And this is something that—so Apple says that they want to create two million watches of eighteen kilos in gold. This is Mexico is three-quarter parts of an open mine creating close to ten pounds of gold per year. If our consumption logic is to supply gold in order to be able to sell two trillion watches based on all the symmetry and the environmental costs this represents and all the CO2 emissions represents—there’s no way to legitimate a model based on, for example, there being some sort of a compensation for damage or restitution for damage. Therefore, this matter is of grave importance to us, so our maquiladora industry, due to this duality I mentioned, is linked to our border to the United States, specifically in Ciudad Juarez, that’s where the main presence it. We have the automobile sector, the aviation sector, and the defense sector. And this is the same problem we’ve been facing for some time now. Part of its mission is to create conditions of slavery for its employees, I would say, because there began to be repression or mass termination of contract so long as to avoid the kind of exchange of these kinds of pieces with the United States. So this is a complicated and real matter that we deal with. We have a very porous border, as we say, because we send arms-parts and they return them, not for our armed-forces alone but also in order to equip the illegal forces present in Mexico and this is no minor issue. In the arms purchases, Mexico purchases seventy-five percent of the region’s purchases in arms, so it’s a strong mercantile force and one that is very complex, difficult to tear it down. And therefore our local activism plays an important role but it’s limited.
BS: “Thank you Miguel, and one quick question for clarification. When you’re talking about illegal forces are you talking about entities like drug cartels?”
MM: “Yes, in Mexico there are several categories when we say illegal forces. We have paramilitary groups, which are groups of the community that have been specifically trained by the armed-forces in order to carry out counter insurgency activities or local vigilance activities this is one way to have civilians that do not represent state forces, but have been trained by government forces that can provide information but can also act in order to disappear persons or annihilate or to create processes of social division. And we have another problem that has to do with organized crime and this has been significantly fragmented from those who were connected to drugs and arm-trafficking but then began to mix. And then we have organized crime that is more linked to extortion and kid-napping and also collusion with the industrial apparatus. These forces collide at times among themselves but there is always some kind of collusion with the government or state forces or national forces so that’s what we’re referring to when we speak of this process of arms in Mexico. It has to do with purchasing arms to equip illegal, irregular forces with different kinds of weapons.”
BS: “Thank you, Miguel. And we have lots of questions that have come in but looking at the time I am going to use my moderators privilege to ask one question that will require a little bit of a, you know, thoughtful response, and I’ll see what Tetet and Cris have to say about this. The question is this. Is it valid to say that we can’t adequately address climate change and global warming without also addressing militarism and military spending? And Tetet, would love to hear your response.”
TL: “Thanks very much Basav. I think—I have a very quick answer to that. You know, the struggle cannot be won without having anti-militarism at its core. Definitely the struggle for climate justice will not be won without the struggle against militarism at its very core. Because as we’ve already heard, and as what we’ve mentioned, we see that the military, that the police architecture, does not really serve the interest of people and planet. Just as the other branches of government—legislative, executive, there all held capture by business and political interests. So that is why we need to really make those dots very clear and connect those dots. We also need for us in the movement, the divide between what is “inside work” and “outside work”—you know if you’re engaged in campaigning, policy advocacy—we need to tear down those artificial divides that make our movements weak. Instead we need to appreciate where campaigning, where organizing, where direct action, all come together into a larger picture. We need to keep pushing for progressive policies, because there is a need for immediate relief and a need to set the bar high and to hold governments accountable. I think all these talks about Just Transition, it sounds nice, it sounds sexy, it sounds positive, but, you know, deep inside me I’m very very suspicious. Because when government easily co-opt a social movement concept then, we’re screwed [laughs] pardon the language. But we’re screwed when governments start adopting—so much, like, sustainable development, climate justice, these used to be movement alternatives. But now even governments are saying, we need a just transition, so that means there’s something fundamentally wrong with how there are presenting and co-opting these concepts. And so, for me, these are all about greening capitalism—which should not be at the core of our struggle for system-change because, no matter if you go 100% renewable energy, it’s not going to save the planet without energy democratization, without energy sovereignty. You know, this talks about de-growth, it’s not going to save the planet because the whole world is fixated with a growth-propelled economy. So unless we go to the root of what is wrong, what is working against people and planet, then we will always have the problems of militarism, we will always have the problems of injustices.”
BS: “Thank you and Cris, would love to hear your response.”
CL: “Umm, you know there’s not much more I can add to that beautiful response. I one-hundred percent agree with what Tetet just said. You know and something else I think we need to break-through, and something that we’ve highlighted in this conversation, is the mysticism behind the military, that it’s a form of safety, right? When in reality it’s a force of destruction. And one of the ways that I find really interesting that this plays out is that we have this notion that the military can provide relief in the face of climate disaster. For example, after the earthquake in Haiti, NATO deployed a bunch of troops to do “humanitarian relief work” who ended up to be incredibly not trained, ineffective, and you know, pretty much operated to meet a political imperative rather than meet a humanitarian need, right? And I think what Tetet just said is right on point. We need to understand, dismantle the system, and center our analysis around the fact that we do not need the military and break through the social mysticism of what these military forces really represent—they represent destruction, they represent death, they represent bloodshed. They do not represent safety or relief in any way.
BS: “Thank you very much. And with a little more than ten minutes left I’m going to invite all our speakers to very briefly make any closing remarks as well as any calls to action, anything that you want listeners to take away or even to act on. And I’m going to start with Miguel.”
MM: “Well, one first message, which is quite pessimistic I’d say, because I believe throughout the whole of South America, as the process of violence advances many communities in many parts of the country are trying, at the community level, to create their own security systems. In theory, this is one first reaction to what is occurring. And you might say that this is logical when there is such a clear attack and such a strong attack, it’s understandable that communities will have a reaction of striving protection. In this case it’s by the means of them creating their own security systems. In Mexico, this is leading to a multiplicity of stakeholders. On the one part there are consolidated police actors that are operating under the service of communities. In other words, they are not paid and these are positions that are cyclical. They could be acting as defense forces for the community as police men or women for one or two years. But on the other part, there’s also the organized crime, and other illegal groups that are focused on extortion are forcing communities to develop their own police groups so that they can be legitimated and have greater regional mobility. So this puts us in a fix, because I one way or another we’re always speaking of our struggle, being carried out on several levels, but we’re always speaking of community-bases, organized community bases where we know that problems need to be stopped there, not higher up and not via legislation. Here I’m referring to, say a mining company wished to enter a community, the possibilities of me stopping them are higher and more efficient if I work in the community with an organized, informational long-term project then if I do it via media and politics understanding that the entire structure is aligned in collusion with the capitalist model. So this puts us in quite a fix. We do not have more than these ideas or knowing in general terms that we need to demilitarize and we need to reorganize politically and economically and this must be done is a very profound way, but in practice we see that there’s constant pressures from all sides and we see a model that are everyday more evident, so global warming is more evident and COVID is demonstrating that we are in complete crisis regardless of whether we are from the poor South or the rich North. All countries have experienced a crisis given that the model the as we already knew but is now globally evident to not be working. However, now when we speak of the new normal, the new normal is that each and every one of us leaves their home with a face mask. And there’s not a single positive response to what is happening to what is happening to us as a planet. So what Tetet says is very important. If we do not dismantle the project as a whole and if we do not propose—not a simple solution but rather a dismantling and being able remove these layers is going to be very difficult to transition through these communities struggles that are already underway. In other words, the resistance throughout the world are present, we are there, fighting every day and assuming the costs of disappearance and criminalization, everything we already know that happens to us, but there’s one part where if the state and if governments do not shift their gaze towards that which is social and continue in their corporate logic than the pressures of these forces will be a latent force and this leads to the process of alternatives becoming much more complex.
BS: “Thank you, Miguel. And Lorah would love to hear from you.”
LS: “Sure—thanks to everyone for joining, first of all. A lot of gratitude for taking the time to the attendees, to the panelists, and the interpreters, everyone who supported. I just want to offer briefly a call to action primarily to folks who work on climate in the United States and the Global North. I really want to encourage those folks and those groups that are listening to bring the discussions that we had, that we started on this webinar tonight back to the groups that you organize with in the climate movement. A lot of folks in the movement, particularly in climate justice spaces, are already drawing connections between militarism and the climate crisis. But at least in the United States, we are really lacking in our movements oftentimes in have a global framing and really standing in solidarity with movements resisting militarism, extractivism, and climate change around the globe. We tend to be very focused on ourselves in the United States, not that we don’t have a lot to do in our own country but part that work, based on how much responsibility the United States has for causing climate change is a global project of cooperation and support and sharing the resources that we have. And so I really just want to encourage to continue this conversation, we know that politicians in the United States are way behind where social movements are at. Even if we have a democrat as the President next year, we have a lot of work to move our agendas forward. The National Priorities at the Institute for Policy Studies is certainly interest in supporting climate groups in the U.S. that are looking to develop a more anti-militarism and a more global framework into your work. So please feel free to get in touch and we’ll continue this struggle.
BS: “Thank you, and Cris”
CL: “Thank you. I’ll keep it super brief as I think we’ve got about three minutes here. I’ll just say, going back to the beginning, I’m the Director of Strategy at an organization called the Climate Mobilization. All of you from your localities can access our website and check out our work. For those of y’all in the U.S. please look out for us in the near future we’re going to be doing a fair amount of work post-the-election and after the election really looking at what it takes to address this climate emergency in a real way regardless of who is in power in the United States. So I’ll let you all find out more about our work on our website and I was about to say I’ll see you on the streets but we’re in a pandemic so I’ll see you on the next Zoom call. Thanks y’all.
BS: “Thank you, and given the time, Tetet has very graciously said she will not do a closing statement. So I just want to start by saying huge thank-yous. To start with, to Pierre and Luz, because language justice is very important and it’s thanks to their hard work that we were able to do a bilingual webinar today. And I want to thank our panelists Cris and Tetet and Miguel and Lorah for a wonderful presentation and thank you to the entire team at Institute for Policy Studies who worked behind the scenes to make this webinar possible. And finally, last but not the least, thank you to the—I forget even the total number—definitely more than one hundred, maybe a couple hundred people, who viewed this webinar between Zoom and Facebook Live and participated with questions and comments in the chat. Oh—I just got an update, more than three hundred people who participated in the chat and by asking questions and so on. And I should say from all over the world, I was looking at the chat and our participation today was pretty international and I just want to make one very quick closing comment on the entire subject matter of today—which is: if you think about it, climate change is a symptom. It is a symptom of reckless capitalism and greed. It is a symptom of colonialism. And it’s because large sections of humanity have been made into sacrificial communities and their homes have been made into sacrifice zones. That’s why climate change is possible. And you can never maintain such a grossly unequal and unjust social order without extreme violence. And that is the function of the military in nutshell. And with that thought, I’m going to say goodnight to everyone and everyone keep doing what you’re doing in your communities for a more just world. Thank you good night.”
[*] Remarks from Miguel Mijangos interpreted from Spanish to English by Pierre-Yves Serinet and Luz Sola.