Tuesday, January 3, 2012

An old end-of-the-year wish has new relevance

Pleas for peace are common around this time of year. The “oh yeah, and world peace…” wish after asking for material goodies and techno gadgets has lost relevance in a society driven by media sound-bites and short-lived passions.

I suppose this is why the campaign initiated by the Peace Economy Project (PEP), appealed to me. In the fall, the group kicked off a fund-raising campaign asking people to submit their vision of a “peace economy.” As one of PEP’s board members, I was asked, along with others, to write a brief commentary.

Just coupling “peace” with the word “economy” invited the ebb and flow of critical analysis. The assignment, which coincided with the 10th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist’s attacks, was about more than articulating a na├»ve desire. Describing a peace economy vision this time required a fiduciary review of the resources we’ve invested these past 10 years in maintaining or hampering global tranquility.

With 9/11 as backdrop, I went back to that fragile Matrix-like moment when we could have chosen a path to healing and peace instead of one paved in fear and patriotic retribution. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, nations from around the globe – even those deemed hostile to the United States like Iran, Libya, and North Korea – came with condolences and offerings of support. Instead of humane reciprocation and strategic retaliation, we pursued a cowboy’s path of “shock and awe” that decimated towns, hospitals, airports, the lives of the innocent as well as the antagonistic and global good will.

Ten years and more than a trillion dollars later, we find ourselves no safer and even more mired in deficits, unheralded poverty and decline on our own soil. Therefore, it is entirely apropos to imagine the next ten years under a peace economy theme. In a sense, it’s mandatory to imagine a reversed course. As the New York Times noted in its July 23, 2011 editorial, it was largely Bush-era tax cuts and war spending that erased our “healthy surplus” and led to a nine year swollen deficit.         

According to the National Priorities Project (NPP), a Massachusetts-based research agency that dissects the allocation of federal tax dollars, the total cost of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 comes to almost $1.3 trillion.  Several organizations have added perspective, detailing how that amount was more than enough to: fund Obama’s health care plan, give every American high school student free college education; offer bail-outs to all troubled American homeowners; completely fund a nationwide renewable energy public works program; double the nation’s police force and place 43 million Americans in new Habitat for Humanity homes.

With the past 365 days as flashback where ordinary but disenfranchised people ousted warlords and greedy dictators in countries like Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt, a common-sense call for economic justice becomes more than a giddy, peace-lover’s dream. Young Wall Street Occupiers have captured the attention of the media and millions of struggling Americans. With demands for accountability and equity in the face of unchecked priorities that drained the nation’s surplus, turned the old middle class into the “new poor” -- all the while enriching America’s wealthiest one percent -- suddenly a peace economy becomes a relevant alternative.

With a trampoline built upon 10 years of fruitless retribution, global death, destruction and massive monetary waste, I bounced what, ten years ago, would have been a ludicrous idea. I described a vision where America was truly “great” again through exploration, innovation and investments in efforts that bring meaning, purpose and healing to our troubled world. I wrote of a peace-based economy reliant on re-shaped values and realigned priorities.

Perhaps it’s a gullible, optimistic and over-stated desire. Yet, after 10-years of actions influenced by fear and retribution, I stubbornly cling to the belief that the country is finally ready to turn a pedestrian wish into a national mandate.

Sylvester Brown, Jr. is a freelance writer, board member with the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis and founder of When We Dream Together, a local nonprofit dedicated to urban revitalization. You can view the Peace Economy Project’s website by clicking HERE