CHICAGO — “Schools are for learning, not for recruiting,” read a large banner in the basement of St. Pius Church here Feb. 17. On the speaker’s platform were Cindy Sheehan and Juan Torres, both members of Gold Star Families for Peace and parents who have lost sons in President Bush’s “war on terrorism.”
With the message “The war damages our community,” a local antiwar group called the Committee Against the Militarization of Youth hosted Sheehan and Torres during their visit to Pilsen, a predominantly Mexican American community.
About 300 parents, students, church members and community activists packed the room. The event began with a spiritual ceremony dedicated to peace and healing, followed by remarks by young activists opposed to military recruiters in their high schools.
Juan Torres lost his son Juan on July 12, 2004, while the 25-year-old was serving in Afghanistan. He died under mysterious circumstances at the Bagram Air Base, and the family is demanding a full investigation.
“The whole world may need soldiers,” Torres said. “But the fact that they are teaching children to learn how to kill one another, that’s just wrong.” He continued, “We need the help from everybody and, if we don’t do something, then the militarization of our youth will continue. Please unite so we can fight against this unjust war.”
On April 4, 2004, Sheehan lost her son Casey, 30, five days after his arrival in Iraq. “We have to understand that recruiters lie and so does the government,” she said. “There is a draft and it’s called the poverty draft.”
Sheehan described how aggressive the military is when it comes to recruiting minority youth, saying that youth of color are especially targeted to “fight the white man’s war.” She said that if young people could afford to go to college they would. She mentioned how after Hurricane Katrina, recruiters went straight to the Houston Astrodome to enlist homeless youth.
Sheehan told her son’s story and spoke of what people can do “to prevent one more person from dying” in the Iraq war. “We have to educate our young people that they will be abused and exploited by our government who will kill them,” she said.
Sheehan congratulated the young people in the crowd who were working for peace. She announced they can apply for a new college scholarship called the Casey Sheehan Peace Award.
Peace on earth, she said, will only be possible when Bush is impeached and he and his administration are permanently removed from office and tried for crimes against humanity.
“Put them in jail for the rest of their lives,” she concluded. “Do not let your children and grandchildren sign up to be exploited by these terrible people.”
Sheehan and Torres participated in several other Chicago-area meetings and demonstrations against the Iraq war and the Pentagon’s high school recruitment programs in the course of the weekend.