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Rally bus tour pushes for less military spending

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Photo by Jason Ruiter. Max Obuszewski holds a “A Day Without The Pentagon” sign, pushing for less military spending and more spending on domestic care at the symbolic stop of rally bus tour at Prince George’s Social Services Office in Hyattsville on Saturday.

Photo by Jason Ruiter. Max Obuszewski holds a “A Day Without The Pentagon” sign, pushing for less military spending and more spending on domestic care at the symbolic stop of rally bus tour at Prince George’s Social Services Office in Hyattsville on Saturday.

Published on: Wednesday, March 27, 2013

By Jason Ruiter

With signs stating “Healthcare not Warfare” and “Money for jobs not war,” Maryland residents rallied from Baltimore to Prince George’s and Montgomery counties to Washington, D.C., Saturday with speeches from mayors, organization leaders and department workers about the need for more funding in education and health care in place of more military spending.

The rally made its way from Baltimore in the morning by a “Prosperity not Austerity” bus to Washington, D.C., in the evening. Stopping at a school, church, community college and a library, the protesters’ route highlighted the type of departments they thought deserved more money.

“In the last decade we can see war doesn’t work,” said College Park Mayor Andrew Fellows to murmurs of assent from the picket-yielding crowd. “The sequester does lower military spending but not in a way that makes sense.”

Fellows called for a raise in gas tax in order to pay for upkeep on roads and to install the Purple Line, a light rail that would connect New Carrollton to Bethesda.

The gas tax bill that would add around 13 to 20 cents to gas passed the Maryland House on Friday. The government sequester, which took effect March 1, cut defense spending — without cutting military salaries — in equal halves with mandatory programs like Social Security and Medicaid.

“In my opinion, this is a protest revival,” said Michael Croft from Wheaton, an engineer who was once a high school teacher. “This is my generation. These people protested Vietnam.”

Unlike the era of Vietnam, when returning veterans were spat on and insulted, soldiers in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars almost reach a level of reverence by the American public today.

“There’s no young people here. They would really give it energy,” Croft said. Young people “protested Vietnam because of the draft. … I don’t think anyone wants to disband the military (today).”

Max Obuszewski, a self-proclaimed pacifist and freelance peace activist who has been arrested during protests, realizes that he is what others perceive to be “radical.”

“I want everybody to have access to health care,” Obuszewski said. “If that’s extremist, so what? … If you know your history, letting women vote was an extremist idea.”

Obuszewski said he was always a rebel, but got into peace activism when an ex-nun at a bar asked him, “‘Did you ever think of taking all that energy you have and using it for good?’”

“That’s when I went from a rebel without a cause to a rebel with a cause,” Obuszewski said, a prolific activist who has been written about by the Baltimore Sun, the Washington Post and the Peace Corps.

Today, Obuszewski has been arrested on several occasions for climbing on top of a National Guard armory and singing, sitting in the John Hopkins President’s office to protest drone research and another time at the National Security Agency to protest the Iraq War — to name a few.

Obuszewski was once on the Maryland state terrorist list and claims that a government informant spied on their meetings, a claim that is validated by agents investigating meetings for “situational awareness” as documented in intelligence records obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in a lawsuit.

The Maryland State Police’s internal records confessed they had “no evidence whatsoever of any involvement in violent crime” from the protesters, and the records were purged in2008 in what was seen as overreaching.

According to the records, Obuszewski was described with “terrorism-anti-government” and war crimes.

To Obuszewski and several other protestors, the threat of war, nuclear warfare or the militaries of Iran or North Korea are less important than the threat of climate change or not as important as funding education, healthcare, and in one case, animal protection.

One Greenbelt woman, dressed more pedestrian than someone from the “Vietnam era,” confessed she had been arrested several times over the seven years she worked with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Opposed to animal experimentation and zoos, which she says makes animals only a “fraction of their former selves,” she said she’d “like to see the budget be a moral document.”

“I feel like diplomacy is the first recourse,” she said when asked about the threat of foreign nations like Iran and North Korea.

Jayson Bozek, an assistant public defender in Baltimore for two years, believed in military priority but attended the rally because he wanted to see more done for domestic care.

“I see first-hand every day that the lack of education and health affects kids,” Bozek said, referring to his many juvenile clients. “Virtually, you could say all my cases are a mental and health issue … but there is no doubt that you need defense. You can’t have none. That would be naïve.”

Croft, who avoided talking about his political views, observed that he was “amazed that there aren’t more Democrats here. … We’re missing people in leadership roles who are anti-military. (The military) know that bad men can’t be helped by a handshake.”

In an ABC News/Washington Post poll earlier this month, 60 percent of Americans opposed cutting the military budget by 8 percent; 34 percent supported it. Those numbers are reversed in overall spending, where 61 percent support 5-percent cuts and 31 percent oppose.

Obuszewski admitted that his cause was utopian.

“I believe you have to have humor in the movement,” he said. “As an amateur historian, I don’t despair. I recognize that it’s difficult.”

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