I was recently arrested in front of U.S. Senator Chris Van Hollen’s District office while two dozen BIPOC MOCO high school students chanted: “Stop the war! Save the climate!” (Sentinel, August 12, 2022.) I’m a member of Veterans For Peace. The BIPOC students were completing their term project in the BIPOC MOCO Green New Deal Internship, an independent program I founded last year. All of us are deeply concerned about where Senator Van Hollen and the rest of our elected officials are taking Montgomery County and the United States.
In many ways, I am an unlikely arrestee to stop the war in Ukraine and save the climate, much as I am an unlikely member of Veterans For Peace. My Dad was a World War II Marine Corps hero. I gave up two draft deferments to volunteer as a Marine and was awarded a Bronze Star for my actions in combat in Vietnam, 1968-9.
However, like many combat veterans, I turned against that war and all wars as even younger men than me got killed taking and then retaking the same piece of land. Some were close friends; some were following my orders. Only later did I learn the deceptions driving that U.S. invasion.
In 1982, that experience led me to quit my job as a professor at MIT to work full time on peace and social justice. Indeed, I led the successful effort to persuade our County Council in 2017 to declare the first climate emergency in the entire world.
However, neither the County, the state nor the nation has done much about that climate emergency in the subsequent five years.
Basically, our County, nation and species have to choose between two directions: war and peace.
As an example of Sen. Van Hollen’s direction, the much ballyhooed Inflation Reduction Act spends nearly $400 billion on climate action. However, that amount is spread over ten years, so the real total is less than $40 billion a year. By contrast, he voted for over $800 billion for the military just last year–more than 20 times more.
Like many of us working on climate, until the war in Ukraine, I had ignored how our economy depends so much on the military and how it uses war and the threat of war to keep us distracted from real problems.
Ukraine, now morphed into a “proxy” war on Russia, which Senator Van Hollen proudly supports, is just the latest distraction and gift in profits to what Eisenhower called the “military-industrial complex.” As with Vietnam and Iraq, the U.S. government and a subservient media have painted an ahistorical, one-sided, distorted narrative to justify the damage we have foisted upon the people of Ukraine, the long-stereotyped nation of Russia, the hungry of the world and our own economy.
Ultimately, social change—especially of conditions like climate change affecting BIPOC people most severely–requires large numbers of people going into the streets nonviolently and making demands. Non-cooperation!
We know that such a movement usually starts small and sometimes takes a long time. But, eventually, people ask themselves, “Why did that guy quit MIT? Why does he willingly risk arrest?” Then, more and more people join us.
That is the point at which we will get real climate action in MOCO and in the U.S. That is when we will choose peace over war—and cooperation with Russia and China on issues like climate change and nuclear disarmament. Indeed, both those negotiations have been undermined by this war.
That is what those BIPOC young people were learning outside Sen. Van Hollen’s office. That is why I got arrested.
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