Pull the Pork from the Pentagon: A National Day of Action

Ross Wallen March 1, 2013 1

Feb. 27 marked the emergence of an historic collaboration.

USAction joined with peace groups and online activists across the country to mobilize for what many believe is the single, largest national day of action ever held with the specific goal of reining in wasteful Pentagon spending.

And what a day it was.

We came together and united the resources of a diverse coalition whose sum was greater than its parts. Together, coalition members shared their strengths – decades of research on wasteful Pentagon spending, online mobilization and old-fashioned, boots-on-the-ground activist turnout.

With key assistance from groups like the American Friends Service Committee, Friends Committee on National Legislation, National Priorities Project, National Security Network, Peace Action, the Pentagon Budget Campaign and Win Without War, we organized and executed Pull the Pork from the Pentagon: A National Day of Action.

More than 30 events took place in 25 states, complemented by more than 100,000 USAction online members signing petitions to Congress as well as other online activists recruited by USAction allies CREDO Action, MoveOn.org and WAND.

Events both in Washington, D.C. and around the country first drew notice the morning of Feb. 27 in the Washington Post in an article that captured USAction’s message — Stop the sequester, but rein in wasteful Pentagon spending:

Cut the pork but hold the sequester, protesters say

Protesters with a 20-foot tall inflatable pink pig are set to demonstrate in downtown Washington Wednesday against wasteful Pentagon spending, but appearances aside, the group sponsoring the event says it opposes automatic defense budget cuts threatened by sequestration.

Street theater in Illinois

“Frankly, it’s a stupid way to govern,” said David Elliot, communications director for USAction, the group organizing the “Pull the Pork from the Pentagon” protest. “We absolutely support reining in defense spending, but you don’t do it with a meat cleaver, you do it strategically.”

The protest scheduled for 12:30 p.m. in front of the lobbying headquarters of defense contracting giant Lockheed Martin near L’Enfant Plaza is one of 34 events supposed to take place Wednesday in two-dozen states as part of a national day of action, according to the group.

Elliot said the group’s protest is aimed at defense programs, not defense workers. “We don’t want contractors to be furloughed and their families hurt, or to hurt the troops, or to have their benefits cut in any way.”

Indiana: Fund schools not war!

Across the country, USAction affiliates and allies – peace groups, including in many locales, the American Friends Service Committee – echoed the theme: Protect our troops, but refocus our country’s priorities so that we’re spending on the things we need, not wasteful and antiquated weapons systems we can’t afford, like the disgraced (and currently grounded) fleet of F-35 fighter jets.

A Round Up:

Wearing pig masks, United Vision of Idaho marched to U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo’s office and met with the senator’s staff. The action drew coverage from two local TV stations as well the Boise Weekly.

In Illinois, activists braved rainy, slushy weather and gave out Dum-dums lollypops to passersby (because sequestration is dumb and reining in wasteful Pentagon spending is a no-brainer) and engaged in Illinois

MPA gathers outside the offices of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King

street theater. In Indiana, the local Fox News affiliate covered an event organized by Central Indiana Jobs with Justice. Activists leafleted spectators and encouraged them to contact their representatives in Congress.

Maine People’s Alliance gathered outside the offices of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, munched on pulled pork sandwiches and exchanged “piggy balloons” before delivering petition signatures to the district offices. But MPA’s work went far deeper – the organization trained 150 MPA activists on the issue of wasteful Pentagon spending at the group’s annual lobby day.

Two print outlets and these three TV stations covered the a “pork” theme: WLBZ2, WABI, FoxBangor.

Progressive Maryland delivered pulled-pork sandwiches to every member of the Maryland Legislature. As the sandwiches were delivered, Progressive Maryland volunteers told the delegates and senators, “We’re giving you this pulled-pork sandwich to remind you how satisfying it can be to pull the pork.” Before the sandwich delivery (which legislators loved) Progressive Maryland held a stand-up press conference at the House office building in Annapolis. The event drew radio, TV and print coverage.

Michigan Citizen Action hosted a telephone press conference call (one way to beat the weather!) to thank U.S. Sen. Carl Illinois. Levin for his leadership on fiscal matters. “Senator Carl Levin has been a leader from day one of this fiscal debate, calling for a balanced and sensible approach to our nation’s fiscal crisis,” said Linda Teeter, MCA’s executive director. “At issue today is not the size of government but rather who government works for – military contractor CEOs or working families

NHCA’s Melissa Bernadin is interviewed by a local TV outlet.

and the middle class. We must recognize that strength and respect abroad are built, and based, on economic strength at home. And we cannot thrive if obsolete and unnecessary weapons systems are consuming our precious resources. Senator Levin recognizes this and that is why today we are here to thank him and to call on Congress to follow his lead.”

MCA’s press conference – which featured representatives from peace groups, the faith community and the Gray Panthers – received coverage in several of the state’s leading blogs: Berkley.patch.com, Troy.patch.com.

Missouri Pro Vote battled snow to deliver petition signatures to U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s St. Louis office (“Porky,” the anti-Pentagon-waste pig came along as well). Like many USAction affiliates, Missouri Pro Vote worked in coalition for the first time with a local peace group – the St. Louis-based Peace Economy Network.

New Hampshire Citizens Alliance was featured on both radio and TV – and many other activists around the country, NHCA had to battle the elements – literally, in this case. NHCA leaders pushed their way into U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte’s office in order to escape the cold rain, and, after thanking the staff for letting them seek shelter, NHCA promptly delivered 900 petition signatures urging Congress to rein in wasteful Pentagon spending.

ProgressOhio’s Brian Rothenberg participates in a live press call.

“It’s time for Congress to commit once and for all to ending Pentagon waste and instead shift that spending into housing, health care, education and infrastructure repair,” Melissa Bernadin, coordinator for NHCA’s Campaign to End Pentagon Waste, told reporters. “We are calling for a fundamental restructuring of our priorities so that we can pay for programs that build a healthy and thriving middle class and chart a course for future prosperity for all Americans.”

ProgressOhio, for the first time ever, hosted a live press call with former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich to discuss wasteful Pentagon spending. The Toledo Blade covered the event. The relationship with Kucinich could pay dividends – he has been asked to sign on to an op-ed on Pentagon spending.

Oregon Action

Oregon Action organized events in Medford and Portland, with some protesters singing, “McDonnell Douglas Had A Farm” (to the tune of “Old McDonald Had A Farm,” of course!) The group delivered 3,596 petition signatures, 279 letters and two giant pig balloons to the office of U.S. Rep. Earl Blumenauer.

Rev. Jim Lewis of West Virginia Patriots for Peace is interviewed by local TV.

Penn Action and Keystone Progress organized events in Allentown, Philadelphia and Sharon. In all, more than 15,000 petition signatures were delivered to U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey’s office. The events received extensive TV coverage: WFMZ (Philadelphia), WFMJ (Youngstown), WYTV (Youngstown).

Virginia Organizing rallied in Danville, Fairfax and Chesterfield. The Chesterfield visit was outside the district office of U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes. Fifteen Virginia Organizing members who live in Forbes’ district attended the event, and shared with the congressman’s staff a letter from a local Vietnam veteran who is threatened by cuts under the sequester. Virginia Organizing met for a full hour with the congressman’s staff.

West Virginia Citizen Action Group participated in a coalition event at Charleston City Hall. Attending were staff members from both of the state’s U.S. Senators – Jay Rockefeller and Joe Manchin. The event was moderated by Rev. Jim Lewis of Patriots for Peace.

WCAN flyered and recruited, from Spokane to Seattle.

More than 50 Citizen Action of Wisconsin activists braved a blizzard in Milwaukee to deliver over 3,000 petition signatures to U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson. Joined by Peace Action, Wisconsin Jobs Now, MICAH and 9 to 5, the activists demanded that Johnson stand up for hardworking Wisconsin families and not CEOs and defense contractors. They called on Johnson to stop lopsided automatic cuts to education, job training, and meals programs for seniors and instead “Pull the Pork” from the bloated Pentagon budget.

Jennifer Epps of Citizen Action of Wisconsin talks with a Milwaukee TV reporter.

Washington Community Action Network met in Spokane with the Eastern Washington director for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray. WCAN brought a veteran, a retired nurse, a farmer, an intern and a full-time student who also is a single mom. Murray’s staff collected stories from the WCAN representatives about the negative effect of Pentagon spending and the critical need for spending on programs that help veterans, low-income families and students.

A special thanks to all who participated.