December 22, 2009

Counter recruitment and your local schools

I like this letter. That's why I'm publishing it. Take the time to read it and see what applies to your community. It does an excellent job of showing us some of the things we should be looking at in our local schools as we develop our counter recruitment programs. The military has a huge budget and is devious and ruthless in the way it goes after our youth.

Serge, a street person I knew in Berkeley, explained his concept of his sweep as it related to his avoidance of problems with police while living on the streets. He pointed out that his sweep was small, a few blocks, and he knew it well. The police had to cover the whole city, so they could never know every nook and alley as well as he did.

If we apply this sweep concept to our counter-recruitment work, the problem isn't so big. We have to watch our community, whether it be the whole city, the school district, or just one of the many schools. We can watch what the military is doing and work to keep them from preying on the innocent children in our neighborhoods. -Russell

On Dec 18, 2009, Pat Elder wrote:

I want to respond to your email last month that explained why you're adamantly opposed to Peace Action working on issues pertaining to the militarization of youth and military recruitment. I cannot understand your wholesale rejection of the concept of working on this issue. I know you're a good man and I realize we're brothers in the same struggle, but you're off the mark.

The first point you make is that you get no assistance from SPAN on recruitment issues. If anything, this point argues for a greater commitment from Peace Action, not just SPAN. You say you do a modest amount of work on recruiting issues "when something comes along that looks appropriate" but that not much ever does. I think you have to look harder, Fred.

For instance, your Seattle Public Schools have a policy regarding military testing that contradicts Pentagon policy and demands attention. Rather than selecting Option 8, to protect the privacy of children who take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, (ASVAB), the Seattle Public Schools encourage students who take the ASVAB to select Option 8 on the test. This option is not provided for by USMEPCOM regulations. and may run counter to Washington state law.

Fred, do you know the policy of your school system regarding the military recruiter opt-out form? The link to the form from the Seattle Public Schools website is broken. it would probably only take a single phone call, easier than, say, eliminating the scourge of nuclear weapons from the planet.

Consider that Washington State has one of the most militarized public school systems in the entire country, outside of the old confederacy. Two years ago, 10,187 Washington high school students took a military test during school hours and 271 high schools in your state now encourage children to be tested for military service. 64 high schools in Washington still require all juniors to take the military test. Fred, this is a practice we eliminated in Maryland four years ago. It wasn't hard. It took two of us to write a letter, make a few phone calls, and have one meeting. You live in one of the few states where military testing is still a requirement for graduation in some public high schools. See page 2 of 4:

To illustrate the point, every one of those 215 juniors at Selah High School had their private information, social security numbers, and 4 hours of test data forwarded to military recruiters. Not only does it circumvent two federal laws, (FERPA & ESEA Sec. 9528) but it probably also violates Washington state law. We know it violates Maryland law. See this database:

You made the point that the Seattle AFSC office recently laid off its peace and justice staff person who did a lot of work on recruiting issues, but the folks at AFSC in Philadelphia say that particular staff person did very little c-r work and that the majority of c-r work was done by others in the Seattle community. The widespread cuts affecting the AFSC barely touched the counter-recruitment work it does across the country. To the contrary, the AFSC c-r programs across the country were kept from the chopping block precisely because this work has continued to expand and has brought new energy into the organization. If there's a growing segment in the peace movement it's the counter-recruitment movement. NNOMY, the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth, has expanded from 50 member groups to 200 in the last two years, and that's without a paid staff. NNOMY had a conference in Chicago over the summer that attracted nearly 300 and managed to raise $30,000 to support travel for more than 100 youth. Three dozen new groups have sprung up in ten states in the last few months, each with plans to bring alternative messages regarding military service to children in high schools in their communities and to work to bring administrative and legislative changes to their school boards and state houses

What other segment of the peace movement can make a claim like this?

More importantly, we're able to tick off a string of successes across the country. Just in the last year.. We booted a JROTC Marksmanship Program from the San Diego Schools and JROTC expansion continues to meet resistance in several locations across the country. We passed a law in Maryland mandating that the opt-out form be placed on the emergency information card, assuring that contact information of tens of thousands of children won't wind up in the hands of recruiters. We stopped the expansion of military schools in Georgia. A Peace Action affiliate in North Carolina challenged a school system and won access to students. The state of Hawaii recently took steps to protect the privacy of students who take the ASVAB in public schools in that state, meaning no information will be released to recruiters. Military recruiters were banned outright from a high school in Fort Worth, TX. (Imagine that!) Military testing was banned in Toledo, Ohio's public schools. Teachers at Verdugo HS in LA stopped a military recruitment tractor trailer from making its annual visit. A Cincinnati HS changed its policy to no longer allow military recruiters to roam the halls. Duluth MN is getting set to eliminate its JROTC program. A peaceful group of 250 activists temporarily occupied the 14,000 square foot "Army Experience Center" in a suburban Philadelphia mall and plans are being made to hold more demonstrations, causing the army to have second thoughts about locating them across the country. The access military recruiters have to school children has been seriously curtailed in high schools across the country and we're winning a steady stream of converts every day. This issue resonates with parents of high school students across the country who would otherwise never become active in the programs you advocate.

The revolution is large enough for varied approaches, George. I applaud the work you do.

You state that your approach brings in "far more response from potential volunteers and donors" than would be possible though a counter-recruitment program." You write that it "makes more sense to take a course that increases our recruiting than one that merely decreases military recruiting," but the two can go hand-in-hand. It's not an either/or thing, Fred. You talked about your successful Malalai Joya event and that's great, but it doesn't preclude the establishment of a c-r program. I've answered a lot of emails from distraught mothers whose 17 year-old sons are hell bent on joining the Marines because of recruiters in school. It's sad, but the mom I spoke to last week from Murfreesboro, Tennessee isn't interested in what Malalai Joya has to say. She just doesn't think it's right that that a Marine recruiter has been playing one-on-one basketball with her son every night after school.

You argue that military recruiting is not a significant issue. You write that counter-recruitment folks in your community "are often very committed, and put in lots of hours, but only attract a finite number of people." It seems that you have an extremely narrow view of the c-r movement. I rarely go into schools and talk to students, although I know a lot of people who are very effective in doing so. Instead, I investigated how my school system was doing a poor job telling parents they had the right to request that their children's names not be forwarded to the Pentagon. I asked school officials to create an opt-out form that would allow parents to remove their student's names from the dreaded lists. Reasonable school authorities agreed that the request was legitimate and created a form to be sent home with students. I then asked if the forms could be mailed home and the administrators agreed. They even printed the form in 6 languages. Since that time, we managed to pass a law that requires the "opt-out" form to be included on the emergency information card that must be filled out for each student. Maryland is the only state with a law like this. It wasn't that tough. I'll bet you could do it in Washington State with one of those new recruits.

Several Peace Action folks in Montgomery County, Maryland organized a small demonstration at a high school while an Army recruitment van was parked on school grounds. Students were let out of class to shoot M-16 simulators. The resulting press coverage embarrassed school administrators who changed school policies to ban all military hardware on school grounds. No more helicopters landing on football fields during half time. Do they do that in your community, Fred? I know it may not resonate, like attempting to ban all nuclear weapons or organizing folks to stop the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it's do-able. It's winnable. And it's quantifiable.

Until several of us became involved in my home town, military officials would market the Junior Reserve Officers Training Corps (JROTC) program by sending letters to 8th graders in the county. School authorities finally became convinced the practice was improper and disallowed it. Several dozen emails sent to school authorities by a handful of activists made the case that the JROTC program is ultimately a recruitment tool and that soliciting 12 year-olds is unconscionable. It wasn't tough to do. Fred, does the Army market to 12 year-olds in your neighborhood? How many high schools have recently added firing ranges and marksmanship programs in your area? They're sweeping the country.

One of our most impressive victories we've had in Montgomery County, Maryland involved the superintendent's decision to disallow the military from using the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery, (ASVAB) as a recruitment tool. The superintendent ordered the selection of Option 8 for all students taking the test. This meant the military could continue to offer the test for its alleged value as a career placement tool, but could not use it for recruitment purposes without parental permission. We also tightened regulations regarding the access recruiters have to children, by simply reminding administrators of federal law that stipulates military recruiters are to have the same (not greater) access to students as that enjoyed by college recruiters. We hope to become the first state to pass a law disallowing the use of the ASVAB as a recruiting tool. We came pretty close last year, until the Colonels started making calls.

Fred, do you know if Army recruiters are allowed to have lunch with students in the cafeteria at your local school? Federal law says they're to have the same access to students as college recruiters. Do they? Doesn’t it matter to you?


Finally, my colleague, Rick Jahnkow, with the Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (YANO) in San Diego has captured the importance of integrating counter-recruitment work into mainstream peace and justice work. Fred, he must have had you in mind when he wrote "A Strategic Blind Spot for Progressives"

Rick urges the peace movement to broaden its scope and find ways to actively support other social movements, especially those whose constituencies are victimized by the economic and discriminatory aspects of war and militarism. This is a key point. Working on disarmament and ending wars du jour, you don’t come across folks who feel victimized to the extent of that lady in Murfreesboro. It’s not just a politically correct strategy, it’s a necessary one if the peace movement wants to become a more relevant, effective and sustainable force. Secondly, Rick underscores the importance of penetrating educational systems in the arena of social change. It seems the "right" is way ahead of us on this account. How else can you explain a half million applauding Glen Beck in the streets of DC three months ago?

The militarization of schools is accelerating across the country. Suddenly, there are more than 3,000 JROTC programs in high schools with hundreds being added yearly. The JROTC government and history texts teach a particularly reactionary brand of Americana. Several thousand school children in Washington state are being taught from the Army’s textbook that the U.S. invaded Cuba in 1898 to help the Cubans win their freedom from Spain. More recruits for Glen Beck.

The military tests 600,000 in high schools every year. A few districts have gone so far as to begin converting some of their public high schools into actual military academies (Chicago leads the nation with six). At lower grade levels, programs like the Young Marines are teaching thousands of children in elementary schools to march and follow commands. Militaristic grooming is also aided by an expanding network of military/school partnerships, through which groups of children are sometimes taken on field trips to military bases and ships. In your area, Fred, the Young Marines are looking for recruits in elementary schools starting at age 8.

While the process of youth militarization in the U.S. has been detectable for three decades, there has been no serious national debate on the issue. A small number of grass-roots organizations have been working since the 1980s to contest the military’s growing presence in schools, and current U.S. wars have stimulated heightened awareness of aggressive recruiting, but the overall trend of school and youth militarization is getting relatively little national attention. The U.S. peace movement has failed to make it a focus. It because too many people think like you, Fred.

Pat Elder
Peace Action Montgomery

See also: National Network Opposing Militarization of Youth (NNOMY)

See if your school is administering ASVAB and what are its restrictions on the military's access to the results HERE.

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