Berkeley Votes to Divest from War

Gar Smith
Wednesday February 27, 2019 - 08:54:00 PM

On February 19, the City Council voted to approve Resolution No. 68,766-N.S., a recommendation from the Peace and Justice Commission (PJC) that Berkeley cease investing City funds in "any entity involved in the production or upgrading of weapons." It was a historic vote against war and militarism and the vote was unanimous. 

The PJC initiative was based on a model resolution drafted by the Divest from the War Machine coalition—a nationwide community of more than 50 peace organizations, including Peace Action USA, CODEPINK, American Friends Service Committee, United for Peace and Justice and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom. 

The Divest coalition offered the following arguments for (1) debunking the false narrative of US military exceptionalism and (2) de-bucking the military-industrial complex that sustains it: 

In 2017, the US spent more than $700 billion on the Pentagon and its programs. More than $300 billion of that went to weapons manufacturers and war profiteers. That's $300 billion of our tax dollars going to line the pockets of CEOs who are profiting from war around the world and at home. In 2017, the CEOs of the top five weapons manufacturers in the US collected salaries that totaled $996 million, while American communities continue to struggle to provide basic services as federal support is slashed.  

For perspective: $1 billion in military spending creates approximately 11,200 jobs. That same $11 billion would create 26,700 jobs in education, 16,800 in clean energy, and 17,200 in health care.  

So why are we using public dollars to subsidize these corporations, at the expense of what our local communities need? 

The military and its contractors are also some of the worst polluters in the world.  

Standard controls, such as bans on open-air burning and compliance with the Coastal Zone Management Act, are routinely circumvented or categorically ignored. These actions jeopardize the health and economy of local waterways, and poison local air.  

Our communities can take back the power of the purse, and pull their support from those who seek to do harm and profit from harm inflicted upon others. We do not have to put public support behind those who are making a killing on killing. 

The PJC persuasively argued that "reversing militarism is one of the key levers of promoting sustainability" and cited the 2003 proclamation from Environmentalists Against War that "War destroys human settlements and native habitats. War destroys wildlife and contaminates the land, air and water. The damage can last for generations." 

One Significant Revision 

Two changes were made to the model resolution. The first simply defined the meaning of the word "weapons." It read as follows: 

"Add a Whereas clause to define weapons to read as follows: 

WHEREAS, Weapon is defined as any instrument or device for use in attack or defense in combat, fighting, or war, as a sword, rifle, or cannon; anything used against an opponent, adversary, or victim; and Weapons Systems is defined as any integrated system, usually computerized, for the control and operation of weapons of a particular kind." 

One last pothole remained in the path to approving the model legislation. According to PJC minutes, City staff raised an objection that the resolution, as written, could "pose problems with procurement." 

The concern was that PJC's updating of the model resolution would have prevented the City from purchasing bullets, guns, and other weapons for the Berkeley Police Department. That provision proved to be "a bridge too far" and, during its January 7 meeting, the PJC revised the resolution by removing "the ban on contracting with entities involved in the production or upgrading of weapons" and confining the resolution's scope "to the investment of City funds in such entities." 

As it now stands, the City can buy tasers, rifles, and tear-gas grenades directly from the manufacturers but cannot invest any City funds in the companies that profit from the production of the weapons. Put another way, tax dollars can buy the BPD a stock for a Remington rifle but the cash can't be invested in actual Remington stocks. 

Here is the wording of the revision: 

"Revise the first Resolved clause to read as follows: 

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, by the Council of the City of Berkeley that the City of Berkeley will not invest City funds in weapons manufacturers, and decides that it shall be City policy to divest from such entities." 

Here is the complete-and-untweaked earlier version of the full resolution: 

Berkeley Divestment Resolution  

Resolution declaring the City of Berkeley will not invest City funds in any entity involved in the production or upgrading of weapons. 

WHEREAS, since 2001, the United States has spent over $5.6 trillion on wars resulting in over 1.17 million deaths and displacing more than 10.1 million people; [1] and 

WHEREAS, the cost of US domestic and foreign militarism, including veterans' affairs, homeland security, and law enforcement, and incarceration, topped $818 billion in 2017, [2]; and accounted for 64% of federal discretionary spending in 2016, at a time when federal funds are desperately needed in order to build affordable housing, improve public transit, and develop sustainable energy sources; [3] and 

WHEREAS, the United States remains the most militarized nation in the world, with a military budget greater than the next eight countries combined, an estimated 800 military bases and stations in over 70 countries around the world, and arms producers that dominated 57.9% of the share of major global arms sales in 2016 [4]; and 

WHEREAS, nearly 15,000 nuclear weapons, most of an order of magnitude more 

powerful that the US atomic bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki, over 90% held by the United States and Russia, continue to pose an intolerable threat to humanity; [5] and detonation of even a small fraction of these weapons would disrupt the global climate and agricultural production so severely that the resulting famine could put the lives of more than two billion people at risk; [6] and 

WHEREAS, the United States is poised to spend $1.7 trillion dollars over the next three decades to maintain and modernize its nuclear bombs and warheads; the submarines, missiles and bombers to deliver them; and the infrastructure to sustain the nuclear enterprise indefinitely, which many experts believe actually increases the risk of nuclear proliferation, nuclear terrorism, and nuclear war by accident, miscalculation or intent, at a time when nuclear-armed countries are already on the brink of military confrontation; [7] and 

WHEREAS, investing in companies producing the nuclear and conventional weapons at the roots of US militarism implicitly supports this misdirection of our tax dollars; and 

WHEREAS, many major arms producers depend on the federal government as their primary consumer and are thus dependent upon perpetual warfare, political instability, and the prioritization of militarism over diplomacy; and 

WHEREAS, US weapons manufacturers continue to supply repressive regimes around the world, and US-produced weapons are being used in attacks that the international community deems unlawful for their disproportionate and excessive harm to civilians; and 

WHEREAS, billions of dollars worth of military-grade equipment has been transferred to local police departments in our communities, resulting in the disproportionate targeting of communities of color and perpetuating a culture of violence, hostility, and fear; [8] and 

WHEREAS, the rate of mass shootings in America is the highest anywhere in the 

developed world, as civilian gun manufacturers continue to reap enormous profits from unnecessary bloodshed in our streets and homes; [9] and 

WHEREAS, the average American taxpayer works 27 days a year to pay Pentagon contractors and pays 23.4 cents of each of their federal income tax dollars toward military spending, at a time when 43 million Americans live in poverty or qualify as low-income; [10] and 

WHEREAS, the US Conference of Mayors unanimously "calls on the President and Congress to reverse federal spending priorities and to redirect funds currently allocated to nuclear weapons and unwarranted military spending to restore full funding for Community Development Block Grants and the Environmental Protection Agency, to create jobs by rebuilding our nation's crumbling infrastructure, and to ensure basic human services for all, including education, environmental protection, food assistance, housing and health care; [11] and 

WHEREAS, the City's investment practices must accord with the City's commitment to equality, peace, and justice; 

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the City Council formally declares its opposition to investing City funds in any entities that are involved in the production or upgrading of weapons and weapons systems, whether conventional or nuclear, and including the manufacture of civilian arms, and decides that it shall be City policy to divest from such entities; and 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the City Council directs any and all persons acting on behalf of City investment activity to enforce the provisions of this Resolution; and 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that this Resolution shall be binding City policy and shall be in full force and effect after adoption by the City Council. 


1 "Costs of War," Brown University, Watson Institute of International and Public Affairs," 

2 "US Military Budget: Components, Challenges, Growth," The Balance

3 "The Militarized Federal Budget," National Priorities

4 "Top 100 Arms-Producing and Military Service Companies, 2016," Stockholm International Peace Research Institute

5 "Nuclear Weapons: Who Has What at a Glance," Arms Control Association

6 "Nuclear Famine: Two Billion People at Risk?" International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War

7 "US Nuclear Modernization Program," Arms Control Association

8 "War Comes Home," ACLU

9 "How US Gun culture compares with the world in 5 charts," CNN, 10 "Tax Dollar Receipt," National Priorities Project

11 "Calling on the Administration and Congress to Step Back From the Brink and Exercise Global Leadership in Preventing Nuclear War," US Conference of Mayors, June 11, 2018, 


A parting thought: I'm not a lawyer, but I'm suddenly wondering if the revision of the resolution might technically open the door for Berkeley police to be armed with swords and cannon.