Growing Movement to Ban the Military from Schools
By Carole Seligman
As the devastation of Iraq continues, the antiwar movement is sinking roots in localities all around the United States from demonstrations and vigils, teach-ins, ballot measures, and town meetings (such as the recent series of town meetings all over the state of Vermont that voted to end Vermont National Guard Troops from being sent to Iraq.) Now, added to this broad antiwar movement, there is a mushrooming campaign to deny the U.S. military—all branches—the ability to recruit on high school and college campuses through direct recruitment programs and the paralilitary organization, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps (JROTC).
This campaign is taking place at a crucial juncture: The U.S. Army and the Marines have announced that they have failed to meet their current recruitment goals and there is discussion in the mainstream media about the meaning of this development. Recruitment of Black soldiers is reported to be down 41% since 2000. This reflects a strong anti-war consciousness among African-Americans.
The movement to stop military recruitment in schools is taking many forms including direct action taken by students against military recruitment; demonstrations at recruitment events and military propaganda tables, counter-recruitment trainings and activities where students learn techniques for answering the lies of military recruiters and try instead to recruit students to the antiwar movement, or to college and careers instead of the military, recruiting students to consider becoming conscientious objectors, and more. A new group of college students called “College Not Combat” has formed in the S.F. Bay Area to fight military recruitment on college campuses.
A campaign against military recruitment in the high schools was recently launched in San Francisco on the heels of passage of a ballot measure—Proposition N—that was on the City ballot last November, calling for the complete and immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq. The measure passed by 63 percent, so it became obvious to the antiwar movement in San Francisco that the military had no business using public schools to do what the people of the City were opposed to—recruit for the war.
Bay Area United Against War (BAUAW) is the organization who spearheaded the giant Feb. 16, 2003 demonstration of 250,000 that was part of “The World Says No to War” antiwar protest on Feb. 15, before the U.S. invaded Iraq. The group discussed and wrote a resolution against military recruitmnent in the schools and presented it to the S.F. Board of Education. [See box]
Antiwar groups, parents, students, veterans have come to speak (for one minute each) to two Board of Education meetings on February 22 and March 8 and have pressured the Board of Education to schedule a special meeting to discuss military recruitment in the schools. At both meetings a broad coalition of antiwar groups participated together in speaking out against recruitment, working well together.
The Board members seem to be antiwar (they have passed resolutions in support of antiwar activities and events including a traveling exhibit of soldier’s boots dramatizing the human costs of war (Eyes Wide Open) sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee), but they are up against the federal No Child Left Behind Act, which ordered all schools receiving federal monies to cooperate with military recruiters by providing the names, addresses, and phone numbers of high school seniors to the military. So far, over 15,000 families of high school students in S.F. have “opted out” of this requirement, denying information about their sons and daughters to the government! The Board members, parents, and students are also up against a school administration which has long standing and highly suspicious ties with the military. JROTC has been at S.F. schools since 1916!
Recent court rulings have allowed colleges who have denied military recruiters access to their campuses based on the open discrimination policies of the military to continue receiving federal funds. These colleges have their own anti-discrimination policies based on race, ethnicity, religion, national origin, gender and sex. These cases should apply to public high schools with anti-discrimination policies as well.
JROTC is a controversial subject in San Francisco schools. The schools have performed so poorly and are still so segregated that JROTC leaders actually made a presentation at the last, March 8 Board of Education meeting where they claim to be helping educate students and claim to do no military recruitment! They made a slide show presentation where they claimed that JROTC was all about character building, conflict resolution, self-esteem, multiculturalism, and the other buzz-words of the education establishment, and nothing to do with war. However, as one parent in the antiwar women’s group, Code Pink, was able to find out from the school district’s web site, “Military Science,” the “course” name for what the JROTC does at S.F. high schools, gets 15 full time “teachers” who are paid half by the military and half by the school district! In other words, the public is subsidizing the military through the JROTC program with over one million dollars, while the military claims to be funding Physical Education programs (or substitutes for real P.E. programs) at the high schools! And to state the obvious: the program is meant to give the military a respectable educational veneer in order to help recruit cannon fodder for U.S. imperialist wars.
As the fight to end all military recruitment in schools heats up, the experience of the S.F. antiwar movement will be useful for the antiwar movement in the country as a whole. This is an antiwar city. The people who live in S.F. are strongly against the war. But, even here, the military is deeply entrenched in the public institutions. It aims its recruitment efforts at the poor students in the most working class schools. It pretends to care about the students and their future and their attaining the status of “good citizens,” and even here in liberal San Francisco, it has full access to the children.
The fight against military recruitment is the fight to save the lives of young people in the U.S. and Iraq. Our children are not cannon fodder. We are not cannon fodder. Bring all the troops home now.