International Women’s Day Highlights Nation’s Misguided Budget Priorities

by Randy Shaw on March 8, 2011

Today is International Women’s Day, publicly celebrated throughout the world but given little attention in the United States. Ideally, it is a day for people to consider how their country’s budget priorities serve human needs, and to then take action. Women are likely to lead this effort. For example, on November 1, 1961, during President Kennedy’s first year and office and at the height of the Cold War, Women Strike for Peace brought 50,000 women together in 60 cities in the United States to demonstrate against nuclear weapons; a nuclear test-ban treaty was signed two years later. Today, as budget shortfalls cause teacher layoffs, increase class sizes, and shutter schools, in addition to other slashing of public services, we have yet to see a similar outcry over the United States spending $2 billion each week in Afghanistan. The U.S. war in Afghanistan makes even less sense than the Cold War, and perhaps a day celebrating women’s accomplishments will spark efforts to change budget priorities that put women and children last.

International Women’s Day was the brainchild of the American Socialist Party (though it was first celebrated in Germany in 1911), and its origins and emphasis on women’s wages and working conditions has meant it is little celebrated in the United States. But International Women’s Day 2011 offers a perfect opportunity to connect the cost of the Afghanistan war with fiscal attacks on public employees, widespread school budget cuts, and President Obama’s own planned cuts to Community Development Block Grants, community service grants and other programs impacting working women.

Activists Keep Heads in Sand

Fifty years ago, it took a courageous group of women activists to highlight the insanity of the nuclear arms race. Women spoke out when dissent was not popular in the United States, and after a newly elected President maintained the status quo after promising in his campaign to offer a new direction.

Today, progressive activists are engaged in state and national battles to prevent spending cuts to vital education, housing, health and other programs particularly impacting working women. These battles are all framed around a massive federal budget deficit primarily caused by Republican-backed tax cuts for the rich, and also by a politically unpopular and strategically pointless war in Afghanistan (not to mention the misguided invasion and occupation of Iraq).

How exactly do United States women benefit from our costly war in Afghanistan? Is it really better to wage this war than to fund schools, which are supposed to be preparing our next generations of leadership?

I understand why MoveOn, Democracy for America, and even Michael Moore speaking in Madison, Wisconsin are targeting the Republican Party and Corporate America. What I don’t get is why nearly all of the progressive community is fighting these budget wars without demanding that their Democratic Party President stop spending money in Afghanistan that would save enough to avoid these budget fights.

This is not about pushing to cut unnecessary fighter jets or the billions spent annually on military hardware; this is about the cost of a war whose purpose is even foggier in light of Al Qaedas’ routing in Egypt, Tunisia and elsewhere.

International Women’s Day is a perfect opportunity for activists to make the case that the United States has more pressing priorities than engaging in endless war in Afghanistan. It is a struggle being paid for with the lives of Afghan civilians, and by decreased life opportunities for millions of American children.

About that metaphorical twelve-piece pie where the rich take eleven and the public then attacks public employees for taking the last piece? The same could be said for the nation’s war and military budget, which has left most Americans, particularly working women, only with crumbs.

Randy Shaw’s most recent book is Beyond the Fields: Cesar Chavez, the UFW and the Struggle for Justice in the 21st Century. Shaw is also the author of The Activist’s Handbook.

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