WASHINGTON — Megan Matson, leader of Mainstream Moms, is so angry at military recruiters for invading schools to sign up unwary youth for combat in Iraq that she and her group launched an online movement, “LeaveMyChildAlone.org.”

“They offer these trinkets to lure our children to enlist,” Matson said in a phone interview from her home in Bolinas, Calif. “This is very aggressive, demographic targeting to have conversations with our kids that should not be happening.”

All branches of the military are falling short of recruiting goals as parents say, in effect, “Hell no! My kids won’t go!” Matson blasted the aggressive recruiting drive as a backdoor draft conducted by the Pentagon because the American people reject a return to military conscription. “I’ve heard it called an economic draft,” she said. “They know where to find kids who don’t think they have a lot of options. They are playing on our children’s lack of hope about college and their future.”

Support for the war has plummeted so quickly that President George W. Bush was forced to deliver a “light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel” speech at Fort Bragg, N.C., June 28, pleading for patience and claiming that victory is just around the corner. He relied heavily on the discredited ploy of tying the war to 9/11.

But the news from Iraq contradicted Bush’s rosy predictions. At least six U.S. Marines were killed and a dozen more badly wounded when a car packed with explosives rammed into a convoy in Fallujah June 23. The killed and maimed were women soldiers, bringing to 36 the number of U.S. women who have died in combat, the highest toll of any war in U.S. history.

MoveOn.org ran a full-page ad in The New York Times June 28 under a headline, “It’s time to come home.” It quotes Republican Sen. Chuck Hagel (Neb.): “Things aren’t getting better; they’re getting worse. The White House is completely disconnected from reality.”

Meanwhile, in Istanbul, Turkey, a “Jury of Conscience” from 10 nations heard testimony on the war from Iraqi witnesses and from 53 other nations. Author Arundhati Roy told a news conference at the conclusion that Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair “embarked upon one of the most unjust, immoral and cowardly wars in history,” blatantly ignoring humankind’s overwhelming opposition. The results have been a total and predictable human disaster, the jury charged.

Matson shares these views. “I do utterly oppose our occupation of Iraq,” she said. “We are spending $4 billion every month on this war. People are seeing the cost not only in dead and wounded but also in their own communities. Libraries forced to close. No National Guard to fight forest fires. They can’t find $8.5 billion of the funds we sent to Iraq. And they want to squeeze it out of Medicaid funding for senior citizens. It’s just outrageous!”

Speaking of LeaveMyChildAlone.org, she said, “This project gives people a mainstream way to take action. This is a ‘common ground’ action. Nothing brings people together more than standing up to defend their children.”

Matson’s children are too young to be recruited right now. “But Defense Secretary Rumsfeld says we will be in Iraq for another 12 years,” she said. “That would put my children right in the middle of harm’s way. I want to stop this war now, not when my children are in middle school. Instead of spending $3 billion for recruiting, why not use that money to provide financial assistance to students so they can go to college?”

The Pentagon recently acknowledged that it has set up a database with vital information on 40 million military-age people and has honed its message to appeal to potential recruits based on this personal data.

“We view this as a family privacy project,” Matson said. The LeaveMyChildAlone.org web site opens with a headline, “Did you know that the infernal No Child Left Behind Act has a sneaky-Pete section requiring high schools to turn over students’ information to military recruiters?”

The group urges parents to “opt out of the Pentagon’s illegal database right away” by sending a letter to the Defense Department demanding that their child be entered on the “suppression file.” The address is provided. Parents are also urged to ask their children’s schools to remove them from the list. It urges parents to organize a “School Board outing” to demand that administrators implement “opt out” policies on recruiting on school property.

Joining the effort are a dozen peace and justice groups including the Ella Baker Center, ACORN, Code Pink, Peace Action, American Friends Service Committee, Latinos for Peace and Veterans for Peace.

“The phones are ringing off the hooks and the e-mails are pouring in,” Matson said. “Parents all across the country are up in arms. They are outraged by these tactics. They are really happy someone is taking this on.”