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Linking Arms to Reduce Arms - Report on the Global Day of Action on Military Spending 2011

Colin Archer & John Feffer

On April 12, 2011, the Institute for Policy Studies and the International Peace Bureau co-organized the first-ever Global Day of Action on Military Spending. We accomplished our major goal of making more visible the issue of military spending. Our GDAMS events generated considerable media coverage with stories in the Christian Science Monitor, Huffington Post, Russia Today Television, Telesur, Voice of America, and many national and local outlets. We also accomplished our secondary goal of creating a global network of organizations and individuals committed to working on the reduction of military spending worldwide. Finally, we forged an important partnership with the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute that we plan to continue in future years.
There were GDAMS events at the international, national, and local levels. Activists produced videos, constructed powerful public displays and performances, held press conferences and seminars, and mobilized public opinion in favor of reducing military spending.

International level

At the international level, the UN High Representative for Disarmament Affairs issued a supporting statement that concluded that GDAMS “should serve as a catalyst for shifting global and national priorities from massive military spending to creating human security and safety for all.” Religions for Peace mobilized people from more than 30 countries to send letters to the permanent members of the UN Security Council – the United States, China, the United Kingdom, France, and the Russian Federation – asking them to cut their military spending by 10% and re-allocate those funds to development. In front of the UN offices in Geneva, the International Peace Bureau was creatively thinking inside the box with a visual representation of global spending priorities. The Foundation for Peace in Barcelona produced a short, powerful video in Spanish, Catalan, and English on military spending versus Millennium Development Goals. The indie pop group Peachcake composed a song for the Global Day.

National level

At the national level, activists targeted their governments and their national media to influence the debate on military spending. In South Korea, organizers produced a National Assembly and civil society joint resolution on GDAMS and cutting military spending signed by 31 parliamentarians and 35 civic groups. The Australian anti-bases movement produced this video of many citizens speaking with one voice. In London, the Campaign Against the Arms Trade did a die-in at the steps of the Treasury building. In Athens, protestors erected eye-catching displays and invited passers-by to indicate where they would spend government money. In Bangladesh, activists held discussions with parliament members including the Deputy Speaker. In India, activists drummed for three hours in New Delhi as part of a campaign to get the attention of national leaders. In Thailand, campaigners conducted a Chinese funeral rite in front of the Ministry of Defense where they burned money and guns. In Uganda, the government cracked down on a proposed 2 kilometer-march in Kampala, forcing activists to hold their meetings in more remote areas. Activists in Canada, Ireland, France, Spain, and Malaysia all presented petitions to their national governments.

Local level

At the local level, activists highlighted the impact of misplaced budget priorities at the community level. At Henoko in Okinawa, Japan, activists connected the anti-base protests to GDAMS. Village rallies took place in a number of rural Indian communities. Activists leafleted subway stations in Medellin, Colombia and San Francisco in the United States. In the Lehigh Valley in Pennsylvania, activists did a walk for peace through a community devastated by cuts in social spending. In Corvallis, Oregon, Veterans for Peace set up in front of the library, where hours have been cut back because of funding, and asked people to indicate their own budget priorities.

In all, more than 90 events took place in more than 35 countries.

Future work

We believe there is great potential for developing this campaign. It touches a raw nerve for many people – how can governments waste such vast sums, they say angrily, when the world cries out for a quite different set of investments? Where are the billions for conflict resolution programmes, primary schools, maternal health, clean water?

Plans are already under way for the 2012 edition of this global action. Between now and then, organizers are planning face-to-face strategy sessions to identify the tactics most likely to have political impact; a report on successful case studies of military spending reductions to publish at the same time as the SIPRI annual findings; and a revised organizer's packet to help grassroots groups to continue pushing for cuts in military spending and fresh commitments to human security.

Where it came from

Some people have asked how we came to organise the Global Day. The explanation is that this initiative draws on several years’ work on the themes of ‘Disarmament for Development’ (IPB) and ‘Foreign Policy In Focus’ (IPS). Each organisation has a large network of collaborators/members around the globe. We felt that, with the economic crisis severely impacting social programmes, the time was ripe to organize an event highlighting the disparity between governments’ support for the military and their slashing of budgets for social justice, human rights and the environment. The specific proposal for the Day arose at a seminar organised by IPB in Washington DC in November 2009, which was attended by IPS staffers. One of the great virtues of international organizing is the extraordinary opportunity for crowd-sourcing. We provided some overall materials and SIPRI provided the numbers. But activists around the world translated those materials into their own languages and cultures and produced a wonderful variety of actions. As we prepare for the next GDAMS, we can now offer a much richer toolbox of ideas and activities that people around the world can use, adapt, and build upon. There are many root causes of excessive military spending, and we must address this problem with many different tools.

Global Day of Action on Military Spending
International Peace Bureau
Institute for Policy Studies
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