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Counter-recruitment movement grows: activists combat military's access to students and schools.

They lack the marketing resources or the big budget of the Defense Department, but counter-recruitment groups are cropping up everywhere, their popularity fueled by continuing casualties in Iraq and public disaffection with the aggressive tactics of military recruiters.

In addition to established peace organizations such as the American Friends Service Committee and the Central Committee for Conscientious Objection, the counter-recruitment roster includes a new batch of activists, parents, educators and youth who have created a significant number of grass-roots initiatives in the past two years to restrict the military's access to youth. Some interpret their efforts as a fight for family privacy. Others have the larger goal of demilitarizing their high schools. All are observing a certain degree of success.

On Nov. 13, The Boston Globe reported that 5,000 high school students in Massachusetts' five largest school districts removed their names from military recruitment lists, a trend the newspaper attributed to the Iraq war and "a well-organized peace movement."

Many counter-recruitment initiatives have sprung up in response to a provision within an education bill. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2002 requires schools to provide military recruiters with the names, phone numbers and addresses of all juniors and seniors or risk losing federal funds. Recruiters have used the school lists to call students at home, angering some parents and school districts.

Although the legislation states school systems must inform parents and students of their right to withhold names from recruiters or other groups, many schools have done a poor job advertising the "opt-out" provision. National and local counter-recruitment organizations are pressing high schools to improve the notification process.

Bill Sweet, a counter-recruitment volunteer with the American Friends Service Committee in Cambridge, Mass., said he is working to get Boston's public schools to inform parents of the opt-out provision through a letter or by adding a sentence to the card listing a student's emergency phone numbers. Boston's current notification method is an announcement on Page 34 of a 64-page handbook.

Activists in Santa Cruz, Calif., recently convinced two of their school districts to notify families through student emergency cards. Josh Sonnenfeld, a student at the University of California Santa Cruz and a counter-recruiter, said the number of students withdrawing their names from recruiters' lists increased dramatically, jumping from 90 to 900 in one school, after the emergency card method was implemented.

"If families know about their right to opt out they will take it," he said. Sonnenfeld reports that California assemblywoman Sally Leiber plans to introduce a bill to the state assembly that would require every school district to inform parents of the opt-out provision via student emergency cards.

On the national level, activists are lobbying for the passage of the Student Privacy Protection Act (HR 551). Sponsored by Rep. Mike Honda, D-Calif., and endorsed by the National Education Association, the legislation reverses the current provision in No Child Left Behind and prohibits military recruiters from contacting students unless they and their parents "opt-in" for such contacts.

Typically, efforts to curtail recruiter access to youth are parent-driven, but some educators have instituted their own initiatives. In January 2003, administrators, teachers and parents at Roosevelt High School in East Los Angeles passed a resolution restricting the military's presence on campus to that of other visiting organizations like college recruiters. Located in a neighborhood of working poor who are predominantly Latino, "Roosevelt had the reputation for being the No. 1 school for Marine recruitment in the country," said Arlene Inouye, one of the school's speech and language teachers.

"Now the military can only set up tables. They can't go walking around the hallways. They are not allowed to drive students home," she said.

In 2003, Inouye started the Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools, a project born out of her anguish over the invasion of Iraq. The coalition works with the city's public school system, Inouye said. Through its adopt-a-school project, it has placed a representative or "a point person" in 30 of the 53 high schools in Los Angeles. A representative's tasks vary depending on the needs of the school but often include monitoring military recruitment and ensuring that non-military jobs are well represented at career fairs.

Because military access differs widely from school to school, the coalition is urging the Los Angeles Board of Education to promote a district-wide policy.

In response to the increased efforts of military recruiters in New York City public schools, the New York Collective of Radical Educators, NYCoRE, a teachers' group established in October 2002, created a six-day curriculum on counter-recruitment titled "Military Myths: Combating Military Recruitment in the Classroom." The lessons are taught in conjunction with the documentary "Military Myths, "produced by Paper Tiger Television.

The curriculum is listed as a classroom resource on the Web site for the Catholic Peace Fellowship. The newly revived Catholic peace group, whose mission is to "educate young people about church teaching on war and peace" offers a list of resources for high school teachers including films, counter-recruitment literature and lesson plans.

Mike Griffen, a member of the Catholic Peace Fellowship and editor of its quarterly Sign of Peace, said he thinks it is particularly important to inform Catholic high school students about the contradictions between church teachings and military practice.

This year, the group created a counter-recruitment poster, designed specifically for Catholic high schools, that asks students to think about the moral consequences of war.

Fernando Suarez launched his own one-man counter-recruitment initiative after his son Jesus Suarez del Solar, a 20-year-old Marine, was killed in Iraq March 27, 2003. A Mexican with U.S. citizenship, Suarez said the Marines began aggressively pursuing Jesus, his only son, after a recruiter met the then-15-year-old boy at a mall in San Diego. The family lived in Mexico at the time and frequently traveled to California for shopping trips. Suarez said recruiters telephoned his son in Mexico and kept track of him when he moved to the United States. According to his father, Jesus, the rest Mexican casualty in Iraq, regretted his decision to enlist immediately after completing boot camp.

Two months after his son's death, Suarez started the Guerrero Azteca Project. The organization's mission, as described on its bilingual Web site, is to encourage "youth to obtain a higher education without risking their life in war." On Nov. 15, Suarez completed a five-school speaking tour of Chicago, a city with one of the most militarized school systems in the country. Like many involved in counter-recruitment, he said he believes the military does not accurately describe the risks of its occupation and he wants to tell the other side.

"The response in Chicago was very nice," he said. "I see the kids' faces. After hearing Jesus' story many of them say to me, 'Wow, the recruiter never told me nothing about this.'"

Related Web sites

American Friends Service Committee

Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors

Coalition Against Militarism in Our Schools

New York Collective of Radical Educators

Catholic Peace Fellowship

Guerrero Azteca Project

Resources for Youth Activists:

National Youth and Student Peace Coalition

Provides materials for student activists and has workshops, teach-ins and educational events to advance "the Books Not Bombs agenda."

Not Your Soldier A coalition of national peace organizations and student activists

The National Network Opposing Militarization of Youth A directory of counter-recruitment organizations, listed by state

Resources for Parents:

Leave My Child Alone Web site provides opt-out forms.

Code Pink A woman's antiwar group that provides numerous resources on counter-recruitment [Claire Schaeffer-Duffy, a freelance writer living in Worcester, Mass., is a frequent contributor to NCR.]
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Author:Schaeffer-Duffy, Claire
Publication:National Catholic Reporter
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 25, 2005
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