Ellen Augustine has helped spread over 35,000 pies around the country, and they are all very, very flat—in fact, they’re no more than postcards depicting pie charts of U.S. budget spending.
On a recent visit with Augustine, I ask what she hopes to achieve with her postcards. “See this?” she says, tapping her finger on the red-and-green pie chart image. “Since the Vietnam War, almost half our discretionary spending has gone to the military, and it’s bankrupting us.” Augustine reaches into her bag and hands me a postcard with the heading “U.S. Budget Priorities” and a spending chart that makes me wince. Nothing like a picture to tell the truth. Under the chart is a web address that resonates with my reaction to the graphic: NotMyPriorities.org.
I flip the card over. It is pre-addressed to the White House, with the following text: Dear President Obama: We need to defend ourselves, but this kind of spending on the military is bankrupting our country financially and morally. Following this text is a fill-in-the-blanks box with three blank spaces under the heading “My funding priorities.” Wow. No one has ever asked me what I would spend that money on.
Augustine’s postcards have been so eagerly received that households have hosted “pie parties” at which Augustine and campaign partner Barry Hermanson explain how a simple postcard can help puncture bloated military spending. “The beauty of this campaign,” says Augustine, reading my mind, “is how people can state their priorities simply. Millions of these cards will go to the White House—and then the next phase will be also thousands sent to individual representatives and senators, who vote on the budget.”
Augustine’s gripe is the fact that there is never significant opposition to military funding from elected officials. Last year, only 39 of the 435 members of the House of Representatives and only eight of 100 Senators voted against increasing the Pentagon budget. “It’s ridiculous how many big fights there are in Congress over allocating spending for green jobs and education amounting to a few billion,” says Augustine, “when military appropriations close to $700 billion pass with very little debate or discussion.”
Part of the Not My Priorities campaign aims to educate the public about military overspending, including studies which show that investment in green industries results in 30 to 100 percent more jobs per dollar than investment in military industries. The campaign presumes a shared value among people who would rather support their families working in green jobs than in military jobs. One campaign goal is to make Americans aware that this country’s spending on military is way out of proportion with that of the rest of the world.
“As insular Americans, we aren’t aware that we spend as much on military as the rest of the world spends combined,” said Augustine. “And much of it is wasteful spending. We have between 750 and a thousand military bases in over a hundred countries in the world, many of which do not want or need us there any more. President Obama and the Secretary of Defense have made a list of several [obsolete] high-tech weapons systems they’d like to eliminate which would reduce the budget by billions.”
Anger about bloated military spending is nonpartisan. In these budget-conscious times, the organizers of Not My Priorities claim that their U.S. budget pie chart has outraged people on both sides of the political fence and even apolitical people.
“We the people need to take action for the common good,” affirms Augustine. “And we need to do it for ourselves and for people we will never meet, who will never thank us or give us a birthday present.”