Jeff Webster and Susan Van Haitsma -
Last week, we made our first SOY visit of the new school year to Austin High School. Tami and I were pleased to be joined by Ben, a Marine Corps veteran and member of Iraq Veterans Against the War who recently moved to Austin. While Ben was a student at the University of North Texas, he did organizing with Rising Tide North America, an environmental group addressing fracking and the tar sands pipeline. It was great to have Ben with us and to be able to stretch out our table of materials so that 3 of us could interact with students. Photos at www.peaceoptions.blogspot.com
Tabling with SOY was a great perspective-building experience for me. Over 12 years ago, while I was a junior, I remember speaking with a Marine recruiter and a former classmate who had just finished boot camp at my high school, after I had already made the decision to enlist. It was empowering to come back into that situation now as a veteran for peace and have the opportunity to share my perspective now, having seen the reality of war, with a new generation of kids growing up in a country engaged in permanent war. War affects everyone, abroad and at home, and the economic draft is alive and well in our schools. I was honored to have the chance to help kids find a more peaceful and rewarding path coming out of high school. This is important work, and I hope to see it continue to grow in Austin.
Since we were fortunate to have three people at our tabling today, I mainly interacted with students around our peace wheel, Americorps brochures, and offered them our various stickers. Regarding the latter, a large number of students stopped to choose stickers with "Peace Takes Courage" in English or Spanish, peace symbols, and "War Is Not Healthy For Children and Other Living Things." Susan had ordered some more copies of the book "Addicted to War" and all of the copies she brought today were chosen by students who did the peace wheel. Since I made it clear there is no winning or losing, students at this school were willing to spin and take a chance that they wouldn't know the person or group they landed on. A young guy ended up on Ruby Bridges and was proud to tell his female friend about her role in desegregating a school. Others who landed on her name or Julia Butterfly Hill didn't know who they were, but reacted with interest when I shared what they did. As with Hill, Bridges, and Helen Keller, some students at first didn't recognize their names, but knew of them as I described their accomplishments. Those who landed on Cesar Chavez knew he worked with farm workers or migrant workers, more than the more general responses we often hear. Several students stopped by to ask what we are about, and most said they are glad we come to their school. With 11th graders who were not in a hurry, I asked about their plans after graduation. Most wanted to go to college or other technical training, and I offered information on Americorps as one way to help with costs in advance or after degrees to be applied to loans. I described our "peace table" as offering alternative information to that of the military recruiters. I pointed out those brochures and introduced them to Ben, a Marine veteran who had served in Afghanistan and could discuss any questions they had about military realities. A number of students, some who had plans to enlist, stayed to speak with him and were open to what he shared.
I was going through my Statesman clippings this summer and decided to make another “Do You Know…” SOY display using copies of some of the headlines having to do with PTSD and other effects of war on soldiers and civilians. When you compile all these articles, there is actually quite a bit in just our local paper that makes the same points as our literature.
We have a new, updated “The Military is not just a job, it’s 8 years of your life” brochure that was vetted for accuracy over the summer by several people in the National Network Opposed to the Militarization of Youth (NNOMY). The last version was done in 2009, so it is good to now have this 2013 update. It’s one of our staple brochures. And, as Tami said, thanks to one of our generous donors, we ordered a box of “Addicted to War” comic-style books, which the kids gravitate to.
At least two students said they still had the stenciled folders they made last time we were at the school. Several kids chose to make the “Peace is green” panda design, and I asked them if they had seen the Panda Cam from the National Zoo, where the tiny, new cub is being watched from all over the world. I was surprised that none of the kids knew about it. I find it rather fascinating!
Thanks again to Ben for bringing his thoughtful and experienced presence to our table!