Works of mercy, or the works of war?

By Mary Ellen Quinn, Pax Christi Maine

ED. Note: The following speech was delivered April 9 at a “Bring the War Dollars Home” rally in Maine.

I am here with you today as a daughter, a wife, a mother, a social worker, a member of Voices for Peace and Pax Christi Maine, a student of the non-violent Jesus–but on this day, I am here primarily as a grandmother. My granddaughter Jillian was born in October 2001, in the month following the events of 9/11. My granddaughter has never lived in a time of peace, only in a time of war.

Endless war. Permanent war. We live in a war economy – built on militarism, weapons production, nuclear arsenals, occupying forces. We have a war consciousness – mindful of retaliation, of domination, supplying armed soldiers and bombs as so-called “peacekeepers”, all the while pursuing our own selfish interests.

All of us are witness to the vast amount of money being spent to uphold this war economy. Just the other day, it was announced that the United States action in Libya costs the American people $6 million dollars a day… $6 million dollars a day.  It’s impossible to comprehend.

As a social worker who sees the impact of gross inequities on people every day, I ask myself: “Why is there always money for war?” and “Who really pays?”

I can only imagine what we might have spent those dollars on here at home. Here at home where the dwindling resources dedicated to meeting human needs both at the national and state level grows smaller and smaller each day.

We have been and continue to be in the throes of severe, and some would say immoral, budget cuts to healthcare, to education, to infrastructure, to environmental protections and to social programs.

We don’t have to look far to see who really pays for endless war. Right here in Maine…

  • The young mother with two small children, one with special needs, living in poor conditions on very little income, will soon lose her TANF benefits because she cannot find a job.
  • The homeless man still waiting for a decision on his disability benefits will not be able to depend on general assistance for rent so will remain at the shelter.
  • The person addicted to narcotic pain medication will have no access to residential substance abuse treatment.

In addition to these vulnerable citizens, our children and grandchildren are paying. They are paying the price of national priorities that perpetuate war, that favor the wealthiest Americans, that grant corporations ultimate power… priorities that prize acquisition and hoarding.

Marian Wright Edelman, a tireless advocate for children, stated it so well, “We do not have a money problem in America. We have a values and priorities problem.”

Do the budget priorities reflect your values? Is this the legacy we will leave to our young people?

The people and the natural world around us cry out for fundamental change… for transformation. Transformation to a permanent peace. Transformation to a peace economy. Yes! We in Maine want to be “open for business!” — the business of PEACE, where our investments are in people over profits, in decent paying jobs, in affordable education, in our precious environment, in a social safety net that not only supports people in a time of crisis but offers a clear path out of poverty and marginal living. Transformation to a peace consciousness based on the principles of justice, sharing, sustainability and non-violence. Economic decisions made based on the common good, policies developed that ensure environmental sustainability by considering the impact on future generations… A peace consciousness that sees the humanity of our brothers and sisters in our country and around the globe.

Transformation is not an intellectual exercise; it is primarily a work of Spirit and heart. Transformation is a spiritual process guided by those who inspire us to get involved, to persevere, to be a visible sign for PEACE.

Gandhi tells us, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Transformation from a world at war to a world at peace requires all of us. Individually and collectively, we each have a part. We must continue to build this community for peace…the community in which you find yourself today!

In the words of Dorothy Day, “We must lay one brick at a time, we can be responsible only for one action in the present moment. But we can beg for an increase of love in our hearts that will vitalize and transform all our individual actions, and know that God will take them and multiply them as Jesus multiplied the loaves and fishes.” And surely our children and their children will benefit from our labor of love!

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