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Youth say no to war, no to military: The movement to ‘opt out’

by Pepe Lozano/People's Weekly World Saturday, Nov. 05, 2005 at 4:47 PM

CHICAGO — Youth and students here and across the country are refusing in ever greater numbers to believe the promises of U.S. military recruiters, promises like, “You can get any job you want,” and “You can try the military out for a few months and if you don’t like it you can quit.” Other favorites include, “You are guaranteed to get ,000 for college,” and “You will never see a day of combat.”

Such promises are less and less effective in the wake of rising U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as word spreads on the street that such pledges aren’t what they are cracked up to be. Further, opinion polls show that increasing numbers of young people are rejecting the idea that the image of the U.S. is best defined by its military might.

Military recruiters are falling short of their goals. The Army reported that it will miss its 2005 goal of 80,000 recruits by about 6,800, or about 8.5 percent. And last week’s grim report of the 2,000th GI killed in Iraq, nearly a third of them between the ages of 20 and 22, certainly hasn’t helped the Pentagon’s enlistment drives.

National and local coalitions are being formed throughout the country to actively counter the military option for youth in high schools, colleges and communities. A not-so-well-known provision of the No Child Left Behind Act, allowing high school students and their parents to “opt out” of giving military recruiters students’ addresses and phone numbers, has become an important tool of this movement.

Opting out in Chicago

“Youth For Peace” was recently founded here as a result of direct action against military recruitment at Benito Juarez High School, a public high school located in the heart of the Mexican American Pilsen community.

A group of youth activists, including members of the Young Communist League, organized a series of “hits” at Juarez, where they waited outside after school, clipboards in hand, awaiting the final bell. When the students came out, they were greeted and informed about their rights to opt out.

Eric Casas, 17, a junior at Benito Juarez, told the PWW, “We’re immigrants! It’s not right that they can’t help us get our papers, but they can send us to war.”

One participant, Rudy Lozano Leadership Academy student Dulce Sanchez, 18, said, “I wish somebody would have opted me out. We should be informed. The military is taking advantage of youth and is targeting low-income communities.”

Speaking about the war in Iraq, she said, “We are there for the wrong reasons and more money should be used for education. Our schools are really bad.”

Mayra Ruiz, 18, another student at the academy, told the PWW after getting a stack of opt-out forms filled out by students, “It’s a good feeling.”

“I want to make a change in my community and it’s good to start with the kids that I know and grew up with,” Ruiz said. When asked what she thought about the war, she said, “It’s an unjust war with no meaning and no point. They should bring the troops home where they are truly needed.”

War budget robs schools

The invasion and occupation of Iraq has cost over 0 billion, a number that is steadily rising. At the same time the Bush administration continues to cut funding for education and is preparing the U.S. Department of Education for significant further reductions for fiscal year 2006.

When it comes to priorities, the Bush administration shows its true colors by increasing funds for military expansion and imperialist hegemony abroad. The defense budget request for FY2005 was 1.7 billion. However, after adding all other U.S. defense activities, including supplements for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, that figure climbed to a massive 2.3 billion.

Public education, on the other hand, is under attack, suffering major setbacks due to budget cuts and mass privatization initiatives implemented by the Bush administration. The No Child Left Behind Act continues to fail millions of children in K-12, and the program remains underfunded by .4 billion.

College tuition is increasing rapidly even while Pell Grant and other government assistance programs for low-income students are being cut, thanks to a .7 billion shortfall in federal education resources.

These skewed priorities are also fueling the opt-out movement. Youth and students say they want schools, not war.

How to opt out

Youth continue to oppose military recruitment by spreading the word about the legal right to opt out. Local committees, sometimes linked to national groups, are circulating personal letters and opt-out forms at schools all over the country, urging students to safeguard their personal privacy.

One such form is headlined, “Act to protect your privacy from military recruiters,” advising students to notify their schools immediately so that their names, addresses and phone numbers will not be released to military recruiters. Some school districts provide their own opt-out forms. Once a form is submitted, each school must honor the request. Failure to do so amounts to a serious violation of federal law.

Militarization of schools

Another aspect of the militarization of youth is the well-funded Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps. JROTC began in 1916 as a military readiness program geared toward recruiting youth into the military. Today JROTC is growing in inner city and rural school districts. It targets low-income, working-class communities beset by unemployment, poverty and racism.

More often than not, schools with JROTC programs are largely populated by youth of color. In Chicago, youth are being trained to chant marching cadences such as, “I used to date a high school queen, now I lug an M-16.”

The U.S. military is also making sure that “No Child Is Left Untested,” with the widespread use of the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery Test (ASVAB). The Army is known to encourage high school career counselors to administer these tests as a “career exploration program,” yet in many cases this becomes a pretext for “mandatory testing” for all juniors and seniors.

Many parents and students have no clue what ASVAB stands for. The test is “specifically designed to provide recruiters with a source of pre-qualified leads identifying the best potential prospects for recruitment allowing military personnel to work smarter.”

Military recruiters also have extensive access to college campuses, where their presence has been protected under the Solomon Amendment of 1966. The amendment ties federal funding to schools’ willingness to permit recruiters on campus. Community colleges, where working-class students have more limited career opportunities, are particularly targeted by Pentagon recruiters.

In addition to these efforts, the Pentagon spent almost billion in 2003 alone targeting low-income communities with commercials, video games, personal visits, enlistment bonuses and slick brochures.

Toll heavier among Blacks, Latinos

As a consequence of widespread unemployment and limited opportunities, African Americans and Latinos are disproportionately represented in the armed forces, particularly in the lower ranks.

While African Americans constitute only 13 percent of the general U.S. population, they make up about 29 percent of the enlisted personnel of the Army, 21 percent of the Navy, 16 percent of the Marines and 18.5 percent of the Air Force. Only 8 percent are in the officer corps.

Latinos, who make up 13.5 percent of the population, are 9 percent of the Army, 10.5 percent of the Navy, 14 percent of the Marines, and 5.6 percent of the Air Force, with only 4 percent being officers. About 17.5 percent of Latinos in the armed forces are in critical combat-related positions. Of the first five soldiers who died in Iraq, three were Latino.

Military academies and ‘cadets’

Next to Florida and Texas, Illinois — and specifically Chicago — is a primary target for military recruiters. Extensive funding is given to military-run programs managing 10,000 teen “cadets” in elementary, middle and high schools. Chicago now has two military academies and a separate naval academy for high school students.

A brand new, 600-student, Senn High School Naval Academy just opened in Chicago that is jointly run by the U.S. Navy and the city. Despite vocal opposition by parents and community members, the school board gave the go-ahead for the project. Democratic Mayor Richard Daley praised such militarization, saying, “I don’t know why people are so upset about this idea of discipline and the idea of military service. I believe in military academies all over the city.”

‘Equal time’ for opting out

There have been some victories in the movement for “equal access” for a counter-recruitment platform in the schools. In the 1980s for example, peace activists won a legal victory in San Diego, Calif. (San Diego CARD v. Grossmont Union High School District), granting them the right to place ads in a school newspaper urging students to consider alternatives to military service. The court ruled that the subject of military service is “controversial and political in nature,” and that airing another viewpoint is a legitimate right.

In the 1989 case of Searcey v. Harris, an Atlanta peace group won the right to have access to career days, school bulletin boards and counselors’ offices. The court stated that the “school district could not deny school access to peace groups based on their disapproval of another group’s views.”

An ‘insurgency’ among youth

Ray Parish, a counselor with Vietnam Veterans Against the War based in Chicago, writes in the group’s newspaper, The Veteran, that “U.S. military presence is provoking insurgencies not only overseas, but also in U.S. schools,” referring to military recruitment.

Parish is active with Chicago groups opposed to the militarization of youth. Their purpose, he says, is to “counter the tactics of military recruiters in schools, to end the militarization of youth, to assist military personnel seeking conscientious-objector status, and to assist young people facing the draft.”

Oskar Castro, national coordinator of the American Friends Service Committee National Youth and Militarism Program, told the PWW that counter-recruitment activities are centered on “peace building and the prevention of war, opposing military values.” He went on to say that what is needed are “alternatives to violence through peace and justice work.”

Students and parents need to “face the truth that the military does not protect democracy,” Castro said. “Youth need to make educated and healthy decisions if joining the military, with eyes wide open, and no illusions.”

Nov. 17 actions

On Nov. 17, International Students Day, youth across the country will hold a “Not Your Soldier” day of action countering military recruitment and opposing the war in Iraq. The National Youth and Student Peace Coalition (NYSPC) and other groups are leading this day of action. The goal is to “build strategic, long term opposition to war,” setting the tone in the fight for “social and economic justice, as the key to the struggle for peace, committed to engaging youth of color as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender youth.”

Adam Tenney, 24, a Young Communist League activist in New York, told the World, “The YCL is working in the NYSPC, which is leading the Nov. 17 day of action. The overarching idea is to make the connection of war and the military and do local work relating the issues.” What schools need are “better options, job and college fairs,” not military recruiters, he said.

‘Not Your Soldier’ day of action, Nov. 17

Are military recruiters invading your schools and using promises of scholarships and career opportunities to convince your friends to join the military? You are not alone! On Nov. 17, International Students Day, join youth and students from around the country in the first nationally coordinated day of action for and about young people! Not your soldier!

* Hold a demonstration or rally at your school or local recruiting station

* Organize an “alternative” recruitment fair inviting college recruiters, local unions and job recruiters

* Demand a meeting with your school administration to demand action

* Organize a concert, open mike, poetry, theater or art against military recruitment

* Hold a forum, set up a table, do sidewalk chalking or a banner drop

For more information, visit,,

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