THE FIGHT around the F-35 came to define the political moment in Vermont that summer, with debate raging between activists fighting the imperial, economic and environmental consequences of the F-35s, and the Democratic Party operatives forcing the basing on the small Vermont town, with the full support of the Congressional delegation–including Bernie Sanders.
The basing of the F-35s promised to have devastating consequences for Vermonters, including plummeting home values and adverse health impacts that would disproportionately impact minority and low-income populations. This is not to mention the grotesqueness of the deal itself, with trillions of dollars being spent on aircraft meant to bomb foreign countries, instead of on schools, infrastructure or health care–a contradiction that one would assume Bernie would acknowledge.
But the lines were clearly drawn in Sanders’ office. Constituent after constituent poured into the office to express dismay at the F-35 proposal, recounting stories of their home values being destroyed or of the terror that their child faced hearing bombers in school every day.
Most of the time, these concerns were dismissed as unserious by office staff–they were often characterized as the concerns of “anarchists” who couldn’t possibly understand the art of politics. Bernie has no influence on military decisions, they kept repeating–these people just really don’t get it.
In reality, Sanders’ support for the basing of the F-35s was critical to the project’s eventual success. Sanders had nothing to say about the burden that the basing would place on working-class Vermont families, and he didn’t want to hear from constituents who said otherwise. As both an activist and an intern, I was forced to choose whether to stand with the people of Vermont or with a politician who remained out of touch with grassroots activism.
I ultimately found myself protesting my own boss at a Vermont Democratic Party fundraiser, dodging the gazes of my co-workers and putting my job on the line. This continuous tug between the two forces continued throughout the summer. I bit my tongue as I worked through ribbon cuttings and town halls, while struggling to remain involved in political organizing beyond Sanders and the Democrats.
I still looked to Sanders for a political lead, hoping to eventually understand his political end game. What did he have to say about the occupation of Palestine? What did he think of our continuing imperialist interventions in the Middle East?
Had I done my research, I would have discovered Sanders’ frankly hawkish positions on foreign policy. It only takes a brief search to uncover his ardent support for Israeli apartheid, his repeated authorizations of funding for the U.S. military budget, and even his initial vote for Bush’s original Authorization for Use of Military Force resolution that began the war on Afghanistan. I would have even discovered pictures in the local newspaper of activists I knew being thrown out of Sanders’ office for protesting his support of the U.S. bombing of Yugoslavia.
Needless to say, Sanders was not the anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist folk hero I had hoped he would be.
The argument that the F-35 Lightning II is “too big to cancel” is not a good enough reason to keep it going.
The F-35 is behind schedule and over-budget; it isn’t delivering the capabilities the military needs; the world is vastly different from the one in which the F-35 was envisioned; and fourth and most importantly, the DoD has cancelled, or terminated early, massive weapons programs in the past for similar reasons.