As we remember all of the men and women who have died on the battlefield and in active military service, it is also important to think about the many risks we face today when America’s military engages in and escalates violent conflicts overseas.  

Let me be clear: The world is living through a perilous, dangerously tense time. Donald Trump’s repeated threats of nuclear annihilation loom over the Korean peninsula. In recent months, America has shredded the Iran nuclear deal and waded militarily into the conflict in Syria. Washington continues to supply repressive regimes like Saudi Arabia with military hardware, deepening the destruction and blood-letting in Yemen.

All of this is taking us in the wrong direction from building a world on the principles of peace, not war. Memorial Day was initially known as Decoration Day and originally honored those lives lost while fighting in the Civil War. Later, Memorial Day became a day to remember all those Americans who died in military service. But I believe this day should also serve as a moment to reflect on the ways we can and should avoid military conflicts and the tragic loss of lives everywhere caused by war and destruction.

I have always taken an anti-war approach to U.S. policy. In the 1980s, I was involved with the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador (CISPES) working to stop U.S. intervention in El Salvador. And as the Mayor of Richmond, I was a member of Mayors for Peace, where I co-sponsored national resolutions to stop funding wars overseas and start putting money into our communities instead.

The fact is, there are so many opportunities we could seize in our towns and cities today if we rerouted billions of dollars we spend annually on military endeavors, and funded creative, innovative projects and social programs in their place.

For instance, the U.S. House of Representatives – with no less than 131 Democrats signing on – just passed this year’s National Defense Authorization Act that budgets an eye-popping $717 BILLION for military spending. Did anybody do the math on how many tens of millions of hungry, under-housed, under-schooled Americans could be fed, housed and schooled with just a portion of that money? I wish they had.  

Our society has so much potential to do more, rather than less, with all of our skills and creativity. It will take political will and vision to shift away from war so that we prevent more precious loss of American lives, and lives across the globe, in the future.

Anti-war activism has a history, and we must draw on that history today, more than ever, to mobilize for peace across all corners of the globe.