Chicago Should Divest from Weapons Manufacturers

by Shea Leibow & Greta Zarro, Rampant Magazine, April 29, 2022

Chicago pension funds are currently invested in massive weapons manufacturers. But community investments are not only better political options, they make more financial sense.

Chicago flag with militarist symbols
Source: Rampant Magazine

IIn 1968, Chicago was a focal point of U.S. resistance to the Vietnam War. Thousands of young people protested the war at the Democratic Party Convention in downtown Chicago and were brutalized by a hostile National Guard, army, and police brigade—much of which was broadcast live throughout the world on television.

This legacy of opposition to war, imperialism and racist policing in Chicago continues to this day. Numerous examples illustrate the point. For instance, organizers are working to end the city’s $27 million contract with ShotSpotter, a faulty technology developed for use in warzones to detect gunshots that played a significant role in the Chicago Police Department’s murder of 13-year old Adam Toledo last March. Local organizers have also focused on ending the Pentagon’s “1033” military surplus program, which has funneled $4.7 million worth of free military gear (such as mine-resistant MRAP armored vehicles, M16s, M17s, and bayonets) to Illinois law enforcement agencies. In recent weeks, many Chicagoans have taken to the streets to protest the war in Ukraine. These vibrant local movements show the commitment of Chicagoans to stand in solidarity with communities facing military violence, both at home and abroad.

These investments fuel endless wars abroad and police militarization here at home.

What many Chicagoans do not know, however, is that our local tax dollars are playing a significant financial role in propping up militarism.

The City of Chicago has hundreds of millions of dollars invested in weapons manufacturers and war profiteers through city pension funds. For example, just one fund alone, the Chicago Teachers’ Pension Fund (CTPF), has at least $260 million invested in weapons companies including the top five biggest arms makers: Raytheon, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Lockheed Martin. These investments fuel endless wars abroad and police militarization here at home, which stands in direct contradiction to what should be the city’s primary role of protecting the health and well-being of its residents.           

The thing is, investing in weapons doesn’t even make good economic sense. Studies show that investments in healthcare, education, and clean energy create more domestic jobs — and in many cases, better-paying jobs — than military sector spending. Instead of investing in some of the largest military corporations in the world, the city should prioritize a community impact investing strategy that infuses capital into local projects that provide social and/or environmental benefits to Chicagoans. Community investments also have low correlation with traditional asset classes, hedging against market downturns and systemic risks in the economy. What’s more, they offer financial benefits such as portfolio diversification, which supports risk mitigation. In fact, 2020 was a record year for socially and environmentally responsible investing, with ESG (Environmental Social Governance) funds outperforming traditional equity funds. Many experts expect continued growth.

Since city tax revenue comes from the public, these funds should be invested in a way that is responsive to the desires of the City’s residents. When investing its assets, the city should make deliberate choices about how money is invested, choices driven by values of sustainability, community empowerment, racial equity, action on climate, establishment of a renewable energy economy, and more.

It should be said, however, that the city has made some small steps in this direction already. For example, Chicago recently became the first city in the world to sign onto the United Nations’ Principles for Responsible Investment in 2018. And more recently, Chicago City Treasurer Melissa Conyears-Ervin made it a priority to invest the City’s dollars with investment firms that meet diversity, equity, and inclusion criteria. These are important steps towards an investment strategy that values people and the planet, in addition to financial profit. Divesting the City’s pension funds from weapons is the next step.

It’s far past time for Chicago to stop fueling weapons, war, and violence with our tax dollars.

In fact, a recent City Council resolution introduced by Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, and co-sponsored by a growing number of alderpeople, aims to do just that. Resolution R2021-1305 calls for a fundamental re-assessment of the City’s holdings, the sale of existing investments in weapons manufacturers, and adoption of a socially responsible investment policy that stands up for what truly matters to our communities. It would also block future investments in arms companies.

It’s far past time for Chicago to stop fueling weapons, war, and violence with our tax dollars. By continuing this City’s lineage of anti-militarism work, Chicagoans can use our voices to call for an end to militarized violence in our investments, our streets, and the world.

Sign our petition to pass Resolution R2021-1305 here: https://www.divestfromwarmachine.org/divestchicago

  • Shea Leibow – Shea Leibow is a Chicagoan and an organizer with CODEPINK’s Divest from the War Machine campaign. They can be reached at shea@codepink.org.
  • Greta Zarro – Greta Zarro is the Organizing Director at World BEYOND War, a global grassroots network advocating for war abolition. Previously, she worked as New York Organizer for Food & Water Watch, campaigning against the corporate control of our resources. She can be reached at greta@worldbeyondwar.org.

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