Almost 200 activists came together during June 27-29 for the
first national counter-recruitment conference, titled "Stopping
War Where It Begins: Organizing Against Militarism in Our Schools."
With the tremendous amount of information that was exchanged,
the high concentration of organizing experience that was present
and the powerful energy that was generated, it may prove to be
a significant watershed event for not only those organizations
that focus on youth and militarism issues, but for the overall
peace and social justice movement, as well.
Held at the Friends Center in downtown Philadelphia, the conference
was sponsored by 11 local, regional and national organizations:
the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) National Youth and
Militarism Program, AFSC Washington D.C., AFSC San Francisco,
Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors (CCCO), Center on
Conscience and War, the D.C. group CHOICES, the San Diego groups
Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (COMD) and Project
on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (Project YANO), ROOTS/War
Resisters League, the college-based STARC Alliance, and the Teen
Peace Project of Port Townsend, Washington. A longer list of local
and national organizations endorsed the conference; AFSC and CCCO
were the local Philadelphia hosts.
Adding to the value of the conference was the fact that almost
half of the participants were students or youth activists, and
a total of 50 organizations were represented. A significant number
of the participants, presenters and organizers of the conference
were from Latino, Asian and African American communities where
the military focuses a disproportionate amount of its recruiting
energy. Geographical representation came from 27 states, plus
Puerto Rico and D.C. -- some activists came from as far away as
As the conference's mission statement explains, "Every
war begins with the brainwashing of a nation's citizens and the
recruitment of troops. The Pentagon realizes that it is never
too early to start the process of instilling militaristic values
in the minds of young people -- values that these young people
will carry with them into adulthood." This theme was
implicit in the title of the conference and underlies its challenge
to the wider peace movement to develop a deeper understanding
of what must be done to work with true effectiveness against war.
Countering military recruiting and the militarization of young
people is part of a strategy for addressing aspects of war that
relate to economics, race, class and foreign policy, while, at
the same time, actually interfering in a material way with government's
ability to wage its wars.
The workshops and plenary presentations were all designed to
inform people about these important issue linkages and provide
concrete skills and resources for organizing in a variety of communities
and contexts. The topics included the poverty draft, women in
the military, the rights of students and others to counter recruiting
inside schools, the roles of white anti-racist allies in the struggle
against militarism, the No Child Left Behind Act and JROTC. Before
the end of the conference, activists from dozens of cities and
towns were excitedly talking about what they were going to do
when they returned home.
There also were some very touching moments during the conference.
One of the most heart-rending came during a plenary presentation
on the military's recruitment apparatus, when Fernando Suarez
del Solar gave an account of how his immigrant son, Jesús,
was lured into the Marine Corps. Jesús was sent to Iraq,
where he was killed by an unexploded U.S. cluster bomb in March.
The military refused to cover all of the burial costs because
the family insisted that Jesús be given a civilian burial
instead of a military one. Now, Señor Suarez reaches out
to other immigrant families and tells them why it is better for
their sons and daughters stay away from recruiters and stay in
Several proposals were made for follow-up activities after the
conference, including some relating to literature and youth networking.
The structure for an overall national network of counter-recruitment
organizations is now being discussed and should soon be developed.
There will also be a national week to demilitarize our schools
in early October, preceded by several weeks of leafleting and
other activities to encourage high school students to tell their
schools that they may not release their names, addresses and phone
numbers to military recruiters. The week of action in October
will include different types of protests, ranging from legal leafleting
and demonstrations to possible blockades at recruiting stations.
The potential is great for this work to spread and have a powerful,
long-term effect. Organizations like Project YANO, AFSC and CCCO
that have been doing it consistently for years are now being joined
on the issue by groups like the Student Environmental Action Network,
National Conference of Black Lawyers and Nuclear Age Peace Foundation.
And United for Peace and Justice, the large national coalition
that sprang up when the invasion of Iraq was being threatened,
decided at its recent planning conference to encourage its many
member groups to take up the campaign to remove recruiters from
If this momentum continues to grow, if we begin to take back
civilian control over our schools and make education instead of
indoctrination their primary purpose again, it will enable us
to evolve into the broader, more proactive movement that we must
become in order to work effectively for peace and social justice
in the U.S.
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (www.comdsd.org)