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Connecting Issues: Iraq War Vets March in Solidarity with Labor
By Nathan Toth
On Saturday March 19th, 2011 in Madison, Wisconsin, members of Iraq Veterans Against the War marched up State Street followed by members of Vietnam Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, public workers, private-sector workers, students, and retired persons to protest the budget repair bill and next budget proposed by the governor of Wisconsin and the Republican controlled legislature. Republican Governor Scott Walker has proposed a budget repair bill and budget that strips collective bargaining rights for most public sector workers and cuts pay by 8-9% by requiring higher premiums on health insurance and increase contributions to pensions. And those aren't the worst parts of the bills. He wants to take direct control of BadgerCare, Wisconsin's implementation of Medicaid, so he can kick off the poorest Wisconsinites. He wants the power to sell state owned power plants to private industry with a no bid, no review process. He wants to gut social services, the same ones that help homeless families, single mothers, orphans, immigrants, the poorest among us, and the disabled. His cuts to the education system will amount to over $1 billion. Wisconsin is known for having some of the best schools in the country, but that could all change under Governor Walker.
When Governor Walker took office, the state was projected to have a small surplus by the end of the budget cycle. But Scott Walker decided to give a sizeable tax cut ($140 million) to big businesses and the wealthy in Wisconsin. This was so they would create jobs. Well, unemployment hasn't changed much (it's gone down slightly, along with the rest of the nation). To fix his manufactured budget crisis, he announced a budget repair bill that hurts the neediest people in Wisconsin.
This act kicked off weeks of peaceful protests and sit-ins at the Capitol. Firefighters and police officers would protest with union workers and students after their shifts. Corrections officers took vacation time and brought their whole families to spend days at the Capitol. State Senators fled the state to hold up the vote on the bill. And influential figures from all over the country flew in to protest alongside Wisconsinites. Jesse Jackson came a couple times and led students from Madison's East High School.
For weeks, local and regional members of Iraq Veterans Against the War participated in the protests. We protested because we think it's wrong that our country spends trillions on war while our economy is in the tank, people lose their jobs, local budgets are cut because there's no money, and the rich get to laugh all the way to the bank. The cost of one cruise missile is enough to pay 10 teachers for 1 year, or help every homeless veteran in Madison, or restore art and music classes to hundreds of Wisconsin children. We believe that war spending has made a big impact on, and may be largely responsible for, the state of our economy. It's time to end the wars and occupations and bring our troops home.
The March 19th protest was to send a message, a loud and clear message, that Wisconsinites are tired of sending billions to Iraq and Afghanistan while taking budget cuts and pay cuts here. A couple hundred people marched up State Street, and met up with firefighters half way. The march was met at the capitol with thousands of supporters and protestors. A rally was held and IVAW members spoke, along with music by the Raging Grannies and Jason Moon, an Iraq War vet and tireless advocate for homeless veteran in Milwaukee. Mayor Dave gave an excellent speech, along with leaders of the Machinists union, AFL/CIO, and other labor organizers. The rally was finished off by one of Madison's greatest assets, Veterans for Peace member Will Williams.
Wisconsin heard loud and clear that our wars and our financial problems are directly related. Now, will our leaders listen? Will they bring our troops home, along with future billions of dollars? Will they fully fund the programs that help the poor, the disabled, the students, and the elderly? Or will they continue to spend billions on wars that kill and wound our own, destroy our economy, and give tax cuts to the rich? Veterans need to be on the forefront of these issues, and they were on March 19th in Madison.
Nathan Toth was in the US Navy 1999-2003 (Invasion of Afghanistan and Invasion of Iraq campaigns). He is a IVAW member and a Madison resident.