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Senate hears bill to end Rhode Island’s investments in weapons of war

“In a sense it’s the state being kind of complicit in some of the things that military manufacturers do, which is provide and continue the military industrial complex, contribute to the really terrible things that are happening overseas,” testified Kirk Robinson. “I think about the crisis in Yemen… They profit on this human suffering and misery…”



“Our federal government spends about $738b for the military – it’s one of the largest line items in our federal budget,” said Rhode Island State Senator Tiara Mack (Democrat, District 6, Providence) to the members of the Senate Finance Committee on Monday. “It’s really important that as a country we are not continuing to enable and financially supporting military weapons manufacturers that derive their profits from global disruption and the various cycles of violence that we see nationally. Instead we should focus our investments on climate resiliency, universal health care, public education and other things that help build up our community, especially in light of a global pandemic.

Senator Mack was introducing her bill, S0578, which would “require the state investment commission to identify and divest pension fund investments in military weapon manufacturers whether held directly and indirectly with certain exceptions and would also require the state investment commission to provide an annual written report to the attorney general, the house, and the senate.”

“This bill would also send a message to our federal delegation that we need to invest in our future, in our climate, in our health care system and in the people of our great state.”

Here’s all the video:

The bill was strongly supported by members of the public calling in. Only one witness, Randy Rice, speaking on behalf of State Treasurer Seth Magaziner, spoke in opposition. Treasurer Magaziner heads Rhode Island’s State Investment Commission.

“The default position of the Treasurer’s office is to oppose legislation that would restrict the commission’s ability to use its’ judgement to deliver the strongest possible risk adjusted return for the pension system,” said Rice. “Last year the commission voted to end the pension system’s investments in company that manufacture assault weapons for civilian use and operate for-profit prisons. Those types of decisions, however, must be made through analysis by the experts on the commission and treasury staff to ensure that they save the financial interests of the members of our pension fund.”

Every other call was in favor of the legislation:

“In a sense it’s the state being kind of complicit in some of the things that military manufacturers do, which is provide and continue the military industrial complex, contribute to the really terrible things that are happening overseas,” testified Kirk Robinson. “I think about the crisis in Yemen… They profit on this human suffering and misery…”

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“We believe it’s a moral imperative that our countries priorities shift to fund people’s needs instead of a budget that profits the weapons industry,” said Nancy Hood from East Bay Citizens for Peace. “This investment in weaponry has kept us on the path of endless war and has not made any of us more secure.”

“An investment plan is both an economic and a moral statement,” said Peter Nightingale, on behalf of Rhode Island’s Poor Peoples Campaign. “So I have a question for you: Would you go over dead bodies for profit? … Investment in the war economy and militarism is immoral.”

David Oppenheimer took issue with the idea that the bill would hurt the state’s pension fund, noting that there are many opportunities within the language of the bill to take our time and seek out non-military investments.

Catherine Hillary noted the advantages of shifting our investments from military to green jobs given the “tsunami” of green jobs bills about to be passed.

“At the end of the day we can’t count on our federal senators and our federal representatives,” said Enrique Sanchez representing the BLM RI PAC and the Providence DSA, relating a recent conversation he had with United States Senator Jack Reed (Democrat, Rhode Island.) “They are big fans of the military industrial complex.”

“An international organization with an office at the United Nations had informed me recently of the enormous importance it ascribes to the work of peace activists in Rhode Island on the decision by the Textron Corporation to stop manufacturing cluster bombs,” said Patricia Fontes, representing the Rhode Island Anti-War Committee and Pax Christi RI. “If a small number of people, out on the street can have such an impact, imagine what you, as members of the Rhode Island Senate Finance Committee can bring about in passing [this bill].”

“I really don’t want my tax dollars contributing to investments that primarily profit weapon manufacturers at the expense of human life,” said Helen O’Grady, representing NEWEM (No Endless War Excessive Militarism). “In particular I’m concerned that the highly profitable weapons industry is aiding the war in Yemen.”

“Unfortunately the US Military is one of the investment options most destructive to the environment,” said Linda Stevens. “The defense department is the world’s largest consumer of oil and is one of the world’s top emitters of greenhouse gases…”

Jonathan Daly-Labelle from NEWEM noted that after the end of the Cold War, military spending was down, but under the Bush War of Terror, it began to rise again. “We can get there again.”

“As a Quaker… [I] cannot support violence against anyone,” said Nancy Houston with the Providence Friends Committee on National Legislation Advocacy Team, a Quaker lobbying group. “War is the ultimate act of violence, and military weapons manufacturers facilitate war…”

“We’ve been at war my entire life. We spend more on war than any other country, and we also export more weapons than any other country,” said Andrew Poyant. “It’s a tragedy what we do throughout the world…”

“Suppose our government took maybe $300B from our military spending and spent it opening free hospitals and schools here and everywhere around the world,” said Steven Schwarz a clerk for the Quaker Peace and Social Action Committee. “I imagine that would lessen tensions…”

The bill was held for further study, and Senate Finance Committee member Senator Louis DiPalma (Democrat, District 12, Little Compton, Middletown, Newport, Tiverton) recused himself, since he works for a military contractor.

Similar legislation has been introduced in the Rhode Island House, H6026 and was held for further study after testimony was heard by the House Finance Committee here:

About the Author

Steve Ahlquist is Uprise RI's co-founder and lead reporter. He has covered human rights, social justice, progressive politics and environmental news for nearly a decade.