By Rachel Gilmer, AlterNet
Editor’s note: This testimony was presented at the People’s Tribunal on the Iraq War, which took place December 1-2 in Washington D.C. under the leadership of CodePink, Institute for Policy Studies, Washington Peace Center, and numerous other organizations.
There is a fundamental relationship between the oppression experienced by black people living in the U.S. and the oppression experienced by people around the world living under the U.S. empire. We are connected through legacies of white supremacy, imperialism and neoliberal policies that advance corporate power at the expense of our communities.
The Movement for Black Lives is an anti-war, internationalist movement. We demand an end to the wars being waged in Iraq and throughout the Middle East, across the continent of Africa, in our own neighborhoods here at home and around the world, a reinvestment in black communities domestically and reparations for the endless death and destruction that our people, and all working-class people, have experienced at the hands of the corporate war machine.
We recognize that the State’s decision to invest in mass incarceration and policing over programs that build the futures of black people—like free public education, affordable housing and a guaranteed federal jobs program—is directly tied to their same decision to invest in waging war and expanding U.S. military presence abroad. The U.S. government spends more resources criminalizing poor people, incarcerating poor people and paying corporations to destroy our communities and then paying them again to “build them back” than it does on actually creating policies and programs to advance our wellbeing. We demand an end to the profiteering off our suffering, our death and our destruction.
The war in Iraq has led to the destabilization first and foremost of the Iraqi people, but it has also contributed to the destabilization of communities across the globe, including black, brown and working-class people in the United States. Money that could be used to create jobs, build schools and equip communities with the resources they need to thrive is instead being used to wage terror against our people here and around the world, all while fattening the wallets of major U.S. corporations. Each day, the United States spends nearly $10 million in Iraq, totaling over $2 trillion since the start of the war, with no end in sight. In the years since 9/11 and the establishment of the U.S.-driven global war on terror, U.S. military spending has increased by 50 percent, with hundreds of billions going directly to private corporations. Each year, we spend nine times more on war than on education and 20 times more than on social security and unemployment programs. This choice means that instead of affordable education and job opportunities for young people, we are sending many of them off to war—or waging war against them with police violence here at home.
My partner Steve, like many in our generation, could not afford college. His historically black college, Florida A & M University, saw massive budgetary cuts under former Florida governor Jeb Bush, who was leading the war in Florida against public education, black people and the working class while his brother George waged war in Afghanistan and Iraq. FAMU has also experienced cuts federally under almost every recent presidential administration, including President Obama. These cuts were targeted directly at historically black colleges and universities precisely because they are black. As a result, his school lacked a strong financial aid program despite its status as a public university. His single mother couldn’t afford to support him either. Steve went into the military because he felt it was the only path forward. Going to war felt like a better gamble than a guaranteed life of poverty.
Steve’s story is not the exception, but the rule of Iraq-era veterans. This government’s decision not to invest in the lives of working-class people, but in massive bailouts for Wall Street, means that increasingly, the working class—not the governing class—is sent to war. More poor people have gone and been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan than in any wars prior. Working-class people should not have to kill to make corporations richer, just so they can pay for college and maybe get a good job.
Since 9/11, the war on terror has killed at least 1.3 million people in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq alone. In addition, the U.S. has expanded western colonial control over Africa in the name of fighting terrorism through the establishment of the U.S. military program, AFRICOM. The U.S. has killed thousands across the globe through drone policy and increased militarization of our communities domestically through surveillance, increased policing and mass incarceration. Companies like G4S have been contracted by the State to incarcerate black people in the U.S., uphold apartheid in Palestine, guard Iraqi oilfields and attack water protectors in favor of big oil in Standing Rock. We know our struggles are not exactly the same, but it should be very clear that we are fighting against the same systems.
Today, we live in a society that imagines itself at war with an unnamed enemy that will always be there, so much so that we would rather spend resources killing people than building the futures of young people. The U.S. war machine, just like the prison machine, runs on lies about who we are, what our problems are and what solutions should be put forward to address these problems. It has created a culture of violence that presumes black and brown people are innately criminal and terrorist, that people ought to kill one another all the time whether or not war is declared, and that death and incarceration are the only solutions to the problems we face. The war machine centers money-making over actual diplomacy. It turned Iraq into a fully privatized market, a playground for corporations to make money off of lies, invasion, death, occupation and “reconstruction” of Iraqi communities.
The post-9/11 war machine has boasted a culture in which corporations are openly profiting off of the destruction of black and poor people. It happened in Iraq, it happened in Afghanistan, it happens at home, it’s spreading and we need to stop it.
Throughout history, black and brown people have been the driving force pushing the U.S. toward the ideals it articulates but has never achieved. Today, we continue this legacy through courageously fighting to end the war against our people, repair harm and attain the political and economic power necessary to determine our own destiny. We do this because we know another way is possible. The black radical tradition calls on us to build a broad-based left agenda rooted in ending imperialism, white supremacy and capitalism. We will not win if our only call to unite is to end this war. We must be equally invested in building black, brown and working-class communities here. We need a clear call for reinvestment. This is an opportunity for our various movements to come together under a single agenda.
This is a fight against neoliberalism. This is a poor people’s movement against the uber-rich, regardless of political party, who see us as collateral in their scheme to make billions. Donald Trump has presented himself as the anti-war, anti-interventionist, populist president for and by the people. It is clear that the neoliberal war-making of the Democratic party is a total disaster, so instead we have a fascist who claims anti-interventionism. Trump has co-opted our language against intervention even as we see arms companies’ stocks rising since he became president.
The only way we can defeat this fascism is by building a strong anti-war position, one that sees the wars being waged against our comrades around the world as connected to the wars being waged against working-class people in the United States. We need to build a position that sees the expansion of policing and militarism against black people, immigrants of every race and working-class folks in the U.S. as connected to the expansion of U.S. military presence abroad.
The time for status quo is over. An anti-war movement that does not engage black people locally is not enough, and a black liberation movement that is not loud and clear in its call to end U.S. imperialism is also not enough. This is not to say our struggles are the same, but rather, we must recognize that we are struggling under the same systems and that we know we cannot break free from these systems if anyone around the world continues to suffer under them.
So what will you do if Black Lives Matter is a put on a terrorist watch list? What will you do if Trump follows through on his calls for mass deportations or for the establishment of the Muslim registry? What are we all doing about Standing Rock?
We live in the belly of the empire and because of this we bear a particular responsibility for what is happening around the world. There is no longer time to see our struggles in silos. We must work together to tear down U.S. empire. There is no excuse. Global liberation depends on it.