Monday, April 27, 2015

Tax day protesters decry nuclear weapons spending

After years of hearing that the United States needs to reduce its budget deficit, demonstrators suggest cutting nukes.

IOWA CITY, Ia. — April 15 is a day no doubt dreaded by millions of Americans from coast to coast: Tax Day.

Peace activists spent that day highlighting what they saw as excessive government spending on nuclear weapons. After gathering in front of the Iowa City Post Office, they advocated for reallocating income tax revenue.

“We’re being told every day that you have to tighten your belt, we don’t have enough money,” said Maureen McCue, the Iowa coordinator of Physicians for Social Responsibility. “And yet we’re spending money on a weapons system that was developed during World War II ... an accidental use or an intentional use could essentially end civilization.”

Ongoing nuclear negotiations with Iran were of interest to many demonstrators.

Ed Flaherty, a member of the Iowa City chapter of Veterans for Peace said he would encourage Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, to stop blocking a nuclear deal with Iran and work make sure the agreement comes to pass.

“If there’s a war with Iran, [Ernst and Grassley are] gonna have to explain why [they] tried to undercut this,” Flaherty said. “So don’t undercut it. Encourage this agreement.”

Korey Schneider with Global Zero, an organization seeking worldwide nuclear disarmament by 2030, said he hopes the nuclear deal with Iran can be a stepping stone for U.S. nuclear disarmament.

“As an organization as a whole, we’re taking an active role in promoting peaceful negotiations with Iran and non-proliferation negotiations throughout the world and once we can buckle down on non-proliferation, we can start disarming ourselves,” he said.

McCue also emphasized that spending so much money on nuclear weapons prevents the United States from spending money on other worthy causes.

“We don’t have enough money for our schools, she said. “We don’t have enough money for housing. We don’t have enough money for mental health.”

A report from the Stimson Center tried to reconcile conflicting expenditure estimates from official government and independent studies. The global security think tank found that the Departments of Defense and Energy spend a combined $32 billion on offensive nuclear weapons annually.

Global Zero specifically took issue with U.S. plans to spend $1 trillion over the next 30 years on modernizing its nuclear weapons program. In particular, Schneider said that there have been so many close calls where nuclear weapons could have accidentally detonated that they aren’t worth the risk.

Nancy Porter, a retired teacher and former chair of the National Education Association’s Peace and Justice Caucus, highlighted the struggles that public schools have faced in recent years. She cited a statistic from the Iowa Department of Education, stating that 41 percent of the state’s public school students are eligible for free and reduced lunch. Living in poverty makes it harder for students to learn and with large class sizes that result from low school funding, Porter said, it becomes difficult to give struggling students extra attention.

Tying low social service funding to high nuclear weapons expenditures, McCue argued that the country needs to change its priorities.

“The more we deny people access to basic needs, the more we prioritize the military and particularly these horrific weapons systems,” McCue said. “The more conflict we’re going to see and the more difficulty people are going to experience.”

Jon Overton is the Media Editor of Iowa Peace Network and an undergraduate at the University of Iowa studying Ethics & Public Policy and Sociology.

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