by Emily Pistell, Randy Forsberg Intern
Mass Peace Action Education Fund
David Morales, a recent graduate from Mission Bay High School in San Diego and activist in the Education Not Arms Coalition, walked to the stage in jeans, a baseball hat, and an old jacket with an image of Che Guevara stitched onto the back panel. As Arlene Inouye from CAMS told the story of how he was denied the right to walk in his high school graduation because of absences due to his community organizing work, the 19-year-old exchanged his hat for a graduation cap. Since he was not honored in his hometown, Morales graduated with a diploma and high honors in front of a standing ovation from a crowd of hundreds at the NNOMY Counter-Recruitment and Demilitarization Conference.
The graduation of young David Morales was the beginning of a three day conference in Chicago, Illinois hosted by NNOMY (National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth) from July 17th to 19th, 2009. At the Chicago AFSC office and Roosevelt University, hundreds of youth and adults gathered to build a movement of resistance to the ever-increasing militarization of American youth and the targeting of students of low-income neighborhoods for military recruitment.
The NNOMY Conference brought together many activists and organizations as participants and educators. There were representatives from the AFSC, Alternatives to the Military, Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools (CAMS), War Resisters League, BAY-Peace, Peace Action, Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors, Truth 2 Youth, Center on Conscience and War, Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (COMD), the Student Peace Action Network, among many other counter-recruitment groups. Over 40 states were represented, and the participants ranged from age thirteen to seventy.
The conference began with an opening panel called Education, Militarism, and Counter-Recruitment: Where We’ve Come From and Where We’re Going, in order to give a larger perspective on CR work. On Saturday, NNOMY offered the conference participants 32 workshops to choose from with a vast range of topics, from the basics of counter-recruitment work (Race Class and Culture in Counter Recruitment, CR Strategies, Intro to Organizing, Militarization of Education) to taking the movement further (Legislative Approaches to CR, Alternatives to the Military, College Recruitment). Some of the most compelling workshops were those led by the high-school students who are currently leading their counter-recruitment efforts, including BAY-Peace from Oakland, Ya-Ya Network from New York City, CAMS from Los Angeles, and Educators Not Arms Coalition from San Diego.
Between all the workshops and panels, NNOMY left plenty of time for youth and adults to network with each other in order to build a national movement. The final day of the conference was left for the participants to form informal caucuses to address specific regional and identity needs, in order to engage in future organizing and planning. BAY-Peace and CAMS high school students met up with long-time activists to address issues of California, Ya-Ya Network and Veterans for Peace discussed counter recruitment on the east coast, and other regional activists found each other to share tactics and strategies.
The conference ended on Sunday afternoon with a few words of reflection on the weekend. The last speaker was a high school girl from Hawaii, who had traveled to Chicago with an educator from her school. In tears, she expressed her appreciation for the conference, for her community faces its own particular struggle against the military. The young students at the conference had inspired her to continue her activism, and now she returned to Hawaii with more materials and strategies that she had come with. She shared the Hawaiian activist cry that translates to “fight on” in her native language, and hundreds of people dedicated to counter-recruitment echoed her words, from high school students to older veterans. The movement was unified, if only for a moment, and the young girl from Hawaii found her struggle supported by hundreds of others. She left, as did every other participant, with a wealth of materials, names, and an understanding that there is a growing movement of counter-recruitment in this country.
As Arlene Inouye wrote in the introduction to the NNOMY conference, “This weekend we’ll revitalize the engine of our network by closely examining the nuts and bolts of its most crucial moving parts. We all have something to offer and all of us have more to learn. Each of us is integral to this historic effort.” The power of the conference lay in just that, in the ability for counter-recruitment to empower youth and to allow them to be the educators and experts in the movement.
At the conclusion of the conference, two goals were made clear by conference participants: to further the development of common CR resources and to increase training for CR local organizers. After this weekend in Chicago, it seemed that all the participants were revitalized and inspired by the level and sophistication of counter-recruitment work going on across the country.
Learn more and get involved at:
NNOMY.org (National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth)