Growing movement wants military out of schools

PHILADELPHIA — When schools opened last month, “Opt Out Campaign” activists were outside high schools in cities and small towns around the nation. They were there to let the students know they can stop their schools from giving their personal information to military recruiters.

The campaigners distributed “opt out” letters, which students or their parents could sign and give to school officials, to keep their information from being handed over to the recruiters.

Few students, parents or teachers know that the No Child Left Behind law requires all high schools and colleges to give the personal information of their students — names, addresses, phone numbers, Social Security numbers, test scores and area of study — to the military. The Pentagon now has a database of over 30 million 16-25 year olds. But the No Child Left Behind law also says that students and their parents have the right to request in writing that this information be withheld from the military.

As they headed back to school, students were surprised to learn that their schools had become military hunting grounds. Many students and parents expressed appreciation for the information handed out by “opt out” activists.

The Army missed its 2005 goal of 80,000 recruits by 7,000, the largest shortfall margin since 1979. The growing grassroots counter-recruitment movement hopes to increase this margin by keeping recruiters out of schools.

In Philadelphia, a counter-recruitment coalition was organized by Global Women Strike and the Green Party during the summer. Margaret Prescod, a member of Global Women Strike/Women of Color, traveled to African American communities in California, Ohio and other states to educate and organize for the Opt Out Campaign. Prescod said, “I’m completely against recruitment on school grounds. African American youth are already limited in educational and job training opportunities. It is unfair for them to be targeted by military recruiters. Why is the U.S. spending millions of dollars a day on the Iraq war, when there is no money for quality education and social services for communities?”

In Berkeley, Calif., on Oct. 22-23, the Campus Antiwar Network and Military Out of Our Schools–Bay Area will sponsor a conference titled “On the Frontlines: Options for Youth in Times of War.” Participating in the event on the University of California-Berkeley campus will be military resisters, veterans, counter-recruitment and other antiwar activists, including high school and college youth.

“Not Your Soldier” and the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition have announced a Student Day of Action on Nov. 17, International Student Day, to demand a positive alternative to war and the military. The focus will be on funding for education and job training. “Books not bombs” is their agenda.

A June counter-recruitment conference organized by the American Friends Service Committee drew more than 100 youth from throughout the country as well as many adults. The theme was “Stop the War Where It Begins.” AFSC’s Youth and Militarism Program cautions students with “10 things you need to know before talking to a recruiter.” It warns that recruiters promise scholarships and career opportunities that never materialize. New York Veterans for Peace is sponsoring a contest, offering a $500 prize for turning these warnings into a rap in the hip-hop tradition.

Longtime peace groups such as Peace Action and the War Resisters League now have youth caucuses that are focusing on counter-recruitment and counter-militarism programs for youth. On Oct. 7, the anniversary of the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan in 2001, Peace Action’s Student Peace Action Network sponsored teach-ins on the effects of the “war on terrorism” and the Iraq war.

Youth activists are attending two- to four-day “Not Your Soldier” training camps to learn creative, nonviolent tactics to kick the military out of their schools. Camps are planned for Connecticut, California’s Bay Area and North Carolina in October and November, and others are set for Los Angeles and the Midwest in the spring. The Lakota Nation will hold a camp for Native American youth.