Deer Isle town meeting day was March 1. Two thirds of those at the Deer Isle Town Hall on this picturesque island of 2,400 lobstermen, artists, tradesmen and “from-awayers” took their stand: Saying “no more,” the substantial majority voted to approve an article on the town warrant calling on Rep. Mike Michaud not to fund the wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan and to take a lead in demanding the same principled position of his colleagues. Thanks in large part to impassioned statements made in support of the article — no one spoke in opposition — Deer Isle may boast of playing a lead in Maine’s prerogative, showing the country the way.
Resident Deb Suran, a gardener and self-employed webmaster, offered convincing testimony. Citing the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, she reported that U.S. military expenditures in 2008 were $607 billion while the People’s Republic of China came next at $84.9, trailing by a mere $522 billion. Suran mentioned that while the U.S. is busy bombing the Afghanistan countryside, China has the largest foreign investment project in that country.
Deer Isle taxpayers got the picture: The U.S. is waging war, China is concentrating on commerce.
Marcia Kola, an artist and community activist, reminded townspeople of Donald Rumsfeld’s response to widespread public resistance to war in Iraq. “I don’t care what the people think as long as they continue to pay their taxes,” said George Bush’s secretary of defense. Kola asked citizens to take a close look at America’s budget and consider the question, “Do you see yourself as a person who wants their country to be using 50 percent of your taxable income to pay for bombs and drones and bullets?”
The vote wasn’t even close. Deer Isle’s answer to Kola’s question could be thought of in these terms: “No, we don’t want our tax dollars funding the reduction of Afghan homes to rubble and the further degradation of Iraq’s environment, while frost heaves grow and potholes multiply on our country roads and schools and hospitals struggle.” The majority on Deer Isle no longer buy into the fear tactics that enable the so-called defense industry — Communists and drug lords, al-Qaida and terrorists, all hobgoblins that can’t possibly justify a military empire of more than 1,000 foreign military bases, can’t justify a “defense” budget equal to that of the rest of the world’s combined, and can’t justify another drone attack.
The article on Deer Isle’s Town Warrant was inspired by the Bring the War Dollars Home campaign, a collaboration of 17 concerned citizens’ organizations led by the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space and Code Pink Maine. A number of other towns and cities in the state may soon follow Deer Isle’s lead as the campaign reports similar resolutions being considered in 10 other municipalities.
There are other promising signs. One of Maine’s school district boards has voted 9-4 to support a “Bring the War $$s Home” resolution, which will ask state legislators to request congressional representatives stop funding war and to use the money to fund education. The campaign also reports that 17 state legislators have now signed on to the “Bring the War $$s Home” letter asking Maine’s congressional representatives to support votes that will terminate war expenditures.
On the weekend of April 10 and 11, supporters of the campaign, weary of good-money-after-bad rationale and unwilling to support one more appropriations bill, will fan out in many towns across the state to place notices on residential doors to remind us that the average Maine family has paid $10,000 for warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan.
At the end of the day on Deer Isle, the town moderator quoted Thomas Jefferson: “The will of the people is the only legitimate foundation of any government, and to protect its free expression should be our first priority.” It was an eloquent testimonial to that cherished keystone of democracy in New England — the town meeting.
The people of Deer Isle spoke. Our representatives in the people’s house, the House of Representatives, have the authority to stop funding the wars. Our Rep. Michaud will hear from us. May the Deer Isle example be followed across the land.
Dud Hendrick is a U.S. Naval Academy graduate and a veteran of the Vietnam War. He is an adjunct professor in Peace and Reconciliation Studies at the University of Maine and serves as president of the founding chapter of Veterans for Peace.