Aren’t shooting ranges on high school campuses in complete contradiction to the “zero weapons tolerance” rules? Is JROTC, in reality, a well-planned, back-door recruitment tool that targets vulnerable young people? Do parents and students have a clear understanding of what JROTC is all about? Are students being offered fair and equal educational support by school counselors, administrators and teachers? These are the issues being tackled by a coalition of parents, students, teachers and community organizations in San Diego, California.
The new Marine Corps JROTC program at Mission Bay High School opened in September. During the summer, Principal Cheryl Seelos and strongly pro-military board members pushed for its initiation. MBHS was one of the few schools in San Diego never to have had JROTC. Now, as hundreds of low-income Latino students are bused in daily, the military sees fresh opportunities to brainwash and recruit. Despite passionate speeches by many opponents of JROTC at two summer school board meetings, the final vote was four to one in favor of JROTC, with board member John de Beck casting the only nay vote. Subsequently, picketing and leafleting outside the school during class registration in August was the beginning of outreach efforts to inform students and parents of what was happening.
At the same time, the doors of the beautiful rebuilt Lincoln High School campus were about to open — and so were the doors of its JROTC program. Within the first few weeks of school, it was observed by UJIMA Institute for Civic Responsibility founder Mshinda Nyofu that Lincoln High was quickly building a new shooting range to go with its JROTC program. The absurdity was obvious. Why are we teaching students to shoot and carry arms on campus, even as we attempt to deal with the painful on-campus and off-campus violence affecting communities everywhere? UJIMA began raising questions about the issue in the community around Lincoln High.
In late September, the San Diego County-based Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (Project YANO) held its annual community advisory meeting. Since it had recently been involved in organizing opposition to the new JROTC unit at MBHS, a discussion was begun at the Project YANO meeting about how to address the concerns shared by people affiliated with both Lincoln and Mission Bay High. In October and November, the hard work started. Parent outreach and education began with dozens of long phone calls. Then there were meetings, e-mails, more meetings, more e-mails, community forums, more e-mails. During September, October and November, meetings were held in Barrio Logan’s Mercado Apartments Community Room, at a Pacific Beach taco shop, at Chicana Perk Coffee House, at Memorial Academy (middle school), at Lincoln High, at Tubman-Chavez Community Center, at Jacobs Center. Several of these locations hosted multiple meetings.
At these often three-hour meetings, parents and students came to understand the realities of JROTC, shooting ranges and recruitment. They became outraged each time new testimony by parents and students was heard. There were cases of misrepresentation and lies by JROTC instructors, manipulation and pressure by counselors to encourage enrollment in JROTC, changes in student behavior noted by parents of JROTC students, cases of moving students from college prep programs such as AVID and Advanced Placement into JROTC, and limitation of alternatives to JROTC through the reduction of college prep/A-G classes (A-G classes are necessary for acceptance to California state universities).
The coalition that has formed has agreed to focus on three issues: 1) the shooting ranges, 2) violations of California Education Code 51750 (prohibiting involuntary enrollment in military science), and 3) the inadequate offering of college prep classes and academic electives that students could take instead of JROTC. Many outreach strategies have already been tried, some successful and others not. The high school leafleting project of San Diego Coalition for Peace & Justice has been to both schools with information on JROTC. An attempt was made by students at MBHS to use a survey to document how many students were placed into JROTC without requesting it, but there were problems circulating the survey. Students hoping to organize on-campus clubs around the JROTC issues have found it to be a difficult, energy-consuming task. A parent/principal meeting was held at MBHS and a letter of protest was presented. The principal, after informing parents that a shooting range is indeed being built at MBHS, flippantly dismissed their concerns regarding the issues. A well-written letter addressing the Lincoln shooting range was written by the UJIMA Institute and signed by several well-respected community members. It was delivered to the principal in September. Coalition members are still waiting for a meeting to be scheduled with the principal. The press has been contacted on several occasions, resulting in an article in El Diario, a Channel 10 TV news report about shooting ranges (edited in favor of marksmanship training), and a parent interview on Televisa Channel 17. Currently, a petition is being drafted that will be circulated and taken to a future school board meeting. Parent outreach continues to be crucial and challenging, and new ideas are being explored.
In December, the determination and stamina of this new coalition was put to the test. A group of approximately ten people waited from 2:00 p.m. until 10:30 p.m. to get their chance to address the San Diego Board of Education regarding the JROTC/shooting range issue. One student, two parents and one community activist spoke. Board reaction was generally dismissive, although there was some attentiveness when the board heard a mother talk about the negative psychological effects of JROTC on her son. The goal of the coalition is to have its concerns placed on the formal school board agenda instead of having to address the issue during brief public comment periods. Preliminary meetings with board members are currently being organized to that end.
There are positive signs indicating that organizing around this issue could mushroom to a level that the school board will not be able to ignore. Attendance at some of the community gatherings has grown rapidly and reached 50 people at one meeting. There is a remarkable amount of energy among parents and others who are committed to pursuing the issue, and parents of students at schools beyond the original two are beginning to show interest. It’s also significant that most of the parents, students and others who have become involved are from African American and Latino communities, where the impact of recruiting and militarization is especially acute.
One factor contributing to the organizing progress made to date has been the involvement of groups like the UJIMA Institute, which has strong connections to anti-violence work in the African American community. Teachers have also been an important conduit for alerting parents and supporting student involvement.
Another major factor helping the development of this campaign is the general groundwork done on the issue over the past 20 years by the locally based counter-recruitment organization Project YANO. YANO's research on JROTC and its previous experience with the school board has helped the current campaign get a head start, and its resources are helping to stimulate awareness of the broader problem of militarism in schools.
Stay tuned for updates on this work.
For more information: Education Not Arms Coalition, http://www.projectyano.org/Coalition_leaflet_JROTC.htm
This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter
of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org)