Counter-recruitment Conference Ushers in Renewed Resistance to Militarism
Almost 200 activists came together during June 27-29 for the first national counter recruitment conference, titled “Stopping War Where It Begins: Organizing Against Militarism in Our Schools.” With the tremendous amount of information that was exchanged, the high concentration of organizing experience that was present and the powerful energy that was generated, it may prove to be a significant watershed event for not only those organizations that focus on youth and militarism issues, but for the overall peace and social justice movement, as well.
Held at the Friends Center in downtown Philadelphia, the conference was sponsored by 11 local, regional and national organizations: the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) National Youth and Militarism Program, AFSC Washington D.C., AFSC San Francisco, Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO), Center on Conscience and War, the D.C. group CHOICES, the San Diego groups Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (COMD) and Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (Project YANO), ROOTS/War Resisters League, the college-based STARC Alliance, and the Teen Peace Project of Port Townsend, Washington. A longer list of local and national organizations endorsed the conference; AFSC and CCCO were the local Philadelphia hosts.
Adding to the value of the conference was the fact that almost half of the participants were students or youth activists, and a total of 50 organizations were represented. A significant number of the participants, presenters and organizers of the conference were from Latino, Asian and African American communities where the military focuses a disproportionate amount of its recruiting energy. Geographical representation came from 27 states, plus Puerto Rico and D.C. -- some activists came from as far away as Hawaii!
As the conference’s mission statement explains, “Every war begins with the brainwashing of a nation’s citizens and the recruitment of troops. The Pentagon realizes that it is never too early to start the process of instilling militaristic values in the minds of young people -- values that these young people will carry with them into adulthood.” This theme was implicit in the title of the conference and underlies its challenge to the wider peace movement to develop a deeper understanding of what must be done to work with true effectiveness against war. Countering military recruiting and the militarization of young people is part of a strategy for addressing aspects of war that relate to economics, race, class and foreign policy, while, at the same time, actually interfering in a material way with the government’s ability to wage its wars.
The workshops and plenary presentations were all designed to inform people about these important issue linkages and provide concrete skills and resources for organizing in a variety of communities and contexts. The topics included the poverty draft, women in the military, the rights of students and others to counter recruiting inside schools, the roles of white anti-racist allies in the struggle against militarism, the No Child Left Behind Act and JROTC. Before the end of the conference, activists from dozens of cities and towns were excitedly talking about what they were going to do when they returned home.
There also were some very touching moments during the conference. One of the most heart-rending came during a plenary presentation on the military’s recruitment apparatus, when Fernando Suarez del Solar gave an account of how his immigrant son, Jesús, was lured into the Marine Corps. Jesús was sent to Iraq, where he was killed by an unexploded U.S. cluster bomb in March. The military refused to cover all of the burial costs because the family insisted that Jesús be given a civilian burial instead of a military one. Now, Señor Suarez reaches out to other immigrant families and tells them why it is better for their sons and daughters stay away from recruiters and stay in school instead.
Several proposals were made for follow-up activities after the conference, including some relating to literature and youth networking. The structure for an overall national network of counter-recruitment organizations is now being discussed and should soon be developed. There will also be a national week to demilitarize our schools in early October, preceded by several weeks of leafleting and other activities to encourage high school students to tell their schools that they may not release their names, addresses and phone numbers to military recruiters. The week of action in October will include different types of protests, ranging from legal leafleting and demonstrations to possible blockades at recruiting stations.
The potential is great for this work to spread and have a powerful, long-term effect. Organizations like Project YANO, AFSC and CCCO that have been doing it consistently for years are now being joined on the issue by groups like the Student Environmental Action Network, National Conference of Black Lawyers and Nuclear Age Peace Foundation. And United for Peace and Justice, the large national coalition that sprang up when the invasion of Iraq was being threatened, decided at its recent planning conference to encourage its many member groups to take up the campaign to remove recruiters from schools.
If this momentum continues to grow, if we begin to take back civilian control over our schools and make education instead of indoctrination their primary purpose again, it will enable us to evolve into the broader, more proactive movement that we must become in order to work effectively for peace and social justice in the U.S.
This article is from the July-August 2003 issue of Draft NOtices,newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft, www.comdsd.org.