PHILADELPHIA -- Carrying banners and chanting "Shut it down!" and "War is not a game!" close to 300 demonstrators marched into the Franklin Mills Mall here to protest the continued operation of the Army Experience Center. Most of the demonstrators had gathered outside the mall and marched in past a line up of mall security guards and Philadelphia police.
Inside, their chants echoed from the walls as the crowd filled the space adjacent to the AEC. Speaker Patrick Elder of the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (NNOMY) told them the facility is a symbol of widespread militarism in schools across the country. He said 3,000 schools have Junior ROTC programs and urged them to call their local schools and approach the issue at that level. Demonstrators came from Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and New Hampshire as well as from the Philadelphia area. They included members of veterans' organizations, peace groups and trade unions.
At the rally's end, seven demonstrators who sat down and refused to leave were arrested.
Several demonstrators noted that they had, in fact, succeeded in shutting the facility down for the day. It is advertised as a place where the public can wander in seven days a week, but this reporter had attempted to enter the AEC before the demonstrators arrived. He found his way blocked by two men who identified themselves as members of a Gathering of Eagles, a veterans organization which was holding a restricted 9/11 memorial at the time.
The AEC, the first in the US when it opened in August of 2008, is a high tech facility housing 80 video gaming stations and battle simulations. The Army touts it as an effort to educate the public about military life in the 21st century. Opponents charge that it represents an attempt to sugar coat the reality of war and to entice economically hard pressed young people to join the military. According the AP, the AEC costs $4 million
a year to operate and has, in fact, not fulfilled hopes in terms of boosting recruitment. Its expense, its failure to meet recruiting expectations, and the prominent presence of protesters all place the AEC's future in doubt.