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Militarization of our Schools

The Pentagon is taking over our poorer public schools.
This is the new reality for our disadvantaged youth.

 

 

What we can do

Corporate/conservative alliances threaten Democracy  .
Progressives have an important role to play.

 

Why does NNOMY matter?

Most are blind or indifferent to the problem.
A few strive to protect our democracy.

  

Before You Enlist (2018)

Straight talk from soldiers, veterans  and their family members tells what is missing  from the sales pitches presented by recruiters  and the military's marketing efforts.

 

Youth Activists Demand Military-Free Schools

Jorge Mariscal -

On the weekend of July 17, over 250 activists from across the country converged on Roosevelt University in Chicago for the largest meeting ever of counter-recruitment and anti-militarism organizers.  Retirees from Florida and California, concerned parents from Ohio and Massachusetts, veterans from New Mexico and Oregon, grandmothers from Texas and North Carolina joined with youth organizations such as New York’s Ya-Yas (Youth Activists-Youth Allies) and San Diego’s Education Not Arms to consolidate a movement intent on resisting the increased militarization of U.S. public schools.

The building overlooking Lake Michigan vibrated with the positive energy of the diverse participants—people from different generations, regions, and ethnicities mixing together and exchanging stories about their struggle to demilitarize local schools.  For many senior citizens from the East Coast this was the first time they had met much less learned from Chicana high school students who live in border communities near San Diego.  For those relatively new to the counter-recruitment movement, the experience taught them more about the on-going process in which young people are increasingly subjected to military values and aggressive recruiting techniques.

Organized by the National Network Opposing the Militarization of Youth (NNOMY), an alliance of over 180 organizations, the conference included workshops and caucuses on a variety of subjects ranging from the role of class and culture in counter-recruiting, women in the military, and legislative approaches to challenging militarization.

The growth of the counter-recruitment movement benefited greatly from the Bush administration’s slide into totalitarianism.  While established organizations like Project YANO of San Diego and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) Youth and Militarism program had been working for decades to demilitarize youth, the passage of the No Child Left Behind Act in 2001 for the first time alerted many to the insidious nature of military recruiting in schools.  Many newcomers to the movement began with “opt-out” campaigns to protect students’ privacy and then moved on to the issue of military aptitude tests (ASVAB) that are often administered covertly in school districts nationwide.

Although some activists during the Bush years saw counter-recruitment solely as an antiwar tactic, the participants at the NNOMY conference understood that militarism is an issue that must be confronted with long-term strategies.  As many of them told me, it is less an issue of stopping current wars (although that is important) than it is of inhibiting the power of the military-corporate-educational complex with the goal of slowly transforming an interventionist and imperial foreign policy.

The symbolism of the conference location was especially important given that the Chicago public school district is the most heavily militarized district in the nation.  The current Secretary of Education Arne Duncan was superintendent of the city’s schools and oversaw the expansion of JROTC and military academies.  Today, Chicago has more academies and more JROTC cadets than any other city in the country.  Under Duncan’s leadership, it will more than likely become a model for the rest of the country.

As Sam Diener reported at the NNOMY conference, the National Defense Authorization Act of 2009 mandates that the military work to increase the number of schools with JROTC from the current total of about 3400 schools to 3700 schools by the year 2020 (a list of schools targeted for new units will be posted shortly on the Peacework Magazine website).

The larger context is alarming.  The decades long defunding of public education, the resultant decline of K-12 systems across the country, and the growth of the charter school movement has produced a situation in which the Pentagon is free to wade into the wreckage with an offer many parents cannot refuse.  In a classic shock doctrine maneuver, the military exerts increasing influence in public schools offering desperate parents programs that will teach their sons and daughters discipline and “leadership skills.”  As Gina Perez explained at the NNOMY meeting, working class youth with limited options, many of whom are active in their community churches, believe they can “make a difference” by joining JROTC.

Despite the Pentagon’s denials, there is no question that militarized school programs operate as covert recruiting programs. Recent studies show that about 40% of all JROTC cadets end up enlisting in the military. Activists working in Georgia recently obtained school district documents that refer to the goal of creating “African American and Hispanic children soldiers.”  What the Pentagon hopes to produce, however, is not cannon fodder as an earlier Vietnam War-era analysis might suggest but rather an educated workforce able to complete the complex tasks of a well-oiled, increasingly high tech, military.

Given the difficulty recruiters have had finding enough high school graduates to fill their quotas, especially in those Latino communities that will provide the largest group of military-age youth for the foreseeable future, it makes sense that the military would attempt to create its own pipeline.  If the public schools cannot turn out enough qualified potential recruits, the Pentagon will do it.  Neoliberalism in the United States may not mean generals in the Oval Office.  But it may mean children in military uniforms marching in formation at a school near you.

The model for this aspect of the militarist agenda is the Chicago public school system where for several years minority neighborhoods have seen the increasing encroachment of the military.  Science teacher Brian Roa, who has written about the Chicago experience, described in a recent truthout article how Mayor Daley and Superintendent Duncan oversaw the expansion of military academies.  “One day the Navy occupied one floor of our school,” Roa said at the NNOMY conference, “and before we knew it they had taken over the second and then the third floor.”

At San Diego’s Mission Bay High School, funding for college preparatory courses was decreased while the principal implemented plans for a Marine Corps JROTC complete with firing range for air rifle practice.  Latino students created the Education Not Arms coalition and successfully convinced a majority on the San Diego Board of Education to ban rifle training at eleven high schools.  Similar success stories were recounted last weekend all of which suggest that not only is militarism a high priority issue for the new century but also that youth activism is alive and well.

The fact that President Obama’s daughters attend Quaker schools while his Secretary of Education oversees the expansion of military programs for working class children is one more glaring contradiction in Obamaland.  The young people who attended the NNOMY conference are aware of the contradiction and left Chicago vowing that they will not passively stand by as their schools become centers for military indoctrination.

More information on the counter-recruitment movement is available at the NNOMY website: http://www.nnomy.org/

JORGE MARISCAL is a Vietnam veteran and a member of Project YANO (San Diego). Visit his blog at: jorgemariscal.blogspot.com/

Still Waiting, Still DREAMing

Jorge Mariscal with Mónica Jaúregui -

For the thousands of young people brought to the United States as children of undocumented immigrant families, a pathway to legalization deferred one more day is a pathway deferred far too long. As we have reported in previous issues of DraftNOtices for almost a decade multiple attempts to pass federal legislation that would legalize these youth have failed. The so-called DREAM Act, or Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act, still lingers in the halls of Congress. But Democratic Party concerns about the 2010 elections, especially in the wake of the health care reform fiasco, may delay further progress on any immigration reform. In the meantime, supporters of the DREAM Act continue to hope. For many, their desperation increases day by day.

The DREAM Act’s most recent incarnation is found in two bills sponsored by Senator Dick Durbin of Illinois and Representative Howard Berman of California. Both Senate bill 729 and H.R. 1751 propose to “permit States to determine State residency for higher education purposes and to authorize the cancellation of removal and adjustment of status of certain alien students who are long-term United States residents and who entered the United States as children, and for other purposes.” Last March, the Senate bill had only 32 co-sponsors and is now stalled at the Committee on the Judiciary; last May, the House bill with 106 co-sponsors was referred to the Subcommittee on Higher Education.

Perhaps a more important development related to the eventual legalization of undocumented youth is the comprehensive legislation recently introduced by Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois. Although Gutierrez has not been an outspoken supporter of the DREAM Act, his new Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America's Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 (CIR ASAP) includes the following language:

Special Rule for Persons Brought to the United States Before the Age of 16: In order to simplify processing of applicants under CIR ASAP, those persons ordinarily covered under the DREAM Act will apply for status through the same program outlined above, with the following special features:

No fines for persons who were brought to the United States before the age of 16, have resided in the U.S. for at least five years, and were 35 years of age or less.

Such persons will be eligible for accelerated Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status upon graduation from high school, and completion of two years of college, military service, or employment. Persons granted LPR status under this provision would be eligible for naturalization three years after the date LPR status is granted.

Graduation from a U.S. high school or receipt of an equivalency degree will meet the English proficiency requirement.

Individual states permitted to determine residency requirements for in-state tuition purposes.

The problem that has consistently plagued DREAM Act language reappears in Gutierrez’s bill — there is no such thing as a two-year military enlistment contract. The implication that two years of military service can lead to permanent residency is misleading, and DREAM Act supporters have been remiss in ignoring this important detail. When poorly understood by undocumented youth, this fine print could track those youth directly into the armed forces with no understanding of what they have signed up for.

Moreover, some Latino activists have pointed to the fact that the CIR ASAP legislation calls for increased militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border. Operation Gatekeeper and earlier attempts to seal the border have led to increased death tolls for undocumented workers. By burying the DREAM provisions in a bill that progressive Latinos might otherwise oppose, the Gutierrez proposal adds yet another layer of militarized solutions to the issue of how undocumented youth, most of whom would enlist seeking an affordable education, might earn the legal status they deserve.

Who are the DREAMers?

Many DREAM advocates have supported the provisions under the new proposed CIR ASAP even though they see that many of its provisions are unlikely to pass. Although they would prefer to have a DREAM Act proposal as stand-alone legislation, they agree that it is important that the Obama administration support comprehensive reform and the passage of CIR ASAP.

Chief among the supporters are young immigrants and U.S.-born children of undocumented immigrants. "I am doing this to help my mom and my sister and my family and other undocumented students who are suffering," said one 20-year-old Oakland college student who did not want to give his name because he fears deportation. “Two million undocumented immigrants are Asian, and I'm one of them. . . . It's really crucial to me for this bill to be passed. This is the only thing I'm relying on, depending on."

Dr. Roberto Rodríguez of the University of Arizona tells the story of another anonymous student — Leticia X. According to Rodríguez, Leticia X is the very definition of a DREAM high school student. She is at the top of her class, is very involved, has worked hard to get into college, and even studies when sick. Unfortunately, like other undocumented students, she will be unable to attend college. This is not for lack of preparedness and/or readiness, not because her grades and involvement are lacking, and not because of laziness and apathy but rather because of a lack of opportunity — because the government offers no financial assistance to students like her. Due to rising tuition rates and ridiculously high out-of-state tuition rates, students like Leticia X lack the means to pay for a college education. If the law does not change soon, Leticia X, like many other unauthorized students, will not be able to attend college.

Undocumented youth cannot get a driver's license, cannot receive financial aid, and technically cannot hold a job. The level of desperation is extremely (and justifiably) high in the undocumented community. A pathway to legalization no matter what the risks is what they literally are dreaming of.

At the same time, many youth from recently arrived immigrant families operate out of a naive patriotism that grows out of a sense of "gratitude." Their living conditions here are usually so far superior to what they were in their country of origin that they believe they have to "give back" or "make a difference." Military recruiters prey on these very real emotions.

This explains why undocumented youth and the organizations that are fighting for passage of DREAM do not and often cannot see at least two important facts: 1) the DREAM was to a large degree developed and written by the Pentagon. One need only read Senator Durbin's testimony. It was not about education. It was strictly about making a pool of young, bilingual, U.S.-educated, high-achieving students available to the recruiters; and 2) the college option for legalization must be understood in the new climate for higher education. In California, rising costs and capped enrollments will make it virtually impossible for many undocumented youth to complete the two-year requirement, even at a community college. Recent studies show that a large percentage of Latino students who do attend community college drop out after five years with no degree due to financial pressures on the extended family.

For many, the situation is critical. Toward the end of 2009, media outlets reported on a series of undocumented students across the nation who committed minor infractions such as traffic violations and now faced deportation. Rescued by massive public outcry and the intervention of elected officials, these young people were classic “DREAMers” — outstanding students raised and educated in the United States. In Chicago, Rigoberto Padilla, whose family is from Mexico, had his hearing delayed for one year. In Detroit, Albanian-born Herta Llusho also was granted a delay as was Peruvian Alonso Chehade who recently graduated with a degree in business from the University of Washington. Should these young people be deported, they will be adrift in a country and a culture known to their parents but not to them.

Lessons for Counter-Recruiters

Lt. Col. Margaret Stock, one of the key consultants who helped draft DREAM Act legislation, recently wrote: “Because attending college is a very expensive proposition, the third option — joining the armed forces — is a likely choice for many of the young people who would be affected by the bill, hundreds of whom have already demonstrated an interest in joining the military.” Senator Durbin has emphasized repeatedly his hope that DREAMers will be a windfall for military recruiters.

The current crisis in higher education will lead not only to higher fees and tuition, but also to capped enrollments and reduced academic support services, thereby making it more difficult for working-class students to persist and graduate (see “The Education Crisis and Militarization” in this Draft NOtices). Military staffing needs will remain high as the Afghanistan campaign drags on, and even though rising unemployment is making the recruiter’s job easier, DREAMers still make up a highly desirable pool of not just warm bodies but bilingual, well educated, and highly motivated bodies.

Clearly, the seduction of young people into military service with the “promise” of legalization is a disturbing development. But counter-recruitment organizations should tread softly on the issue of whether or not they reject all of the DREAM Act provisions within CIR ASAP or just some of them. On the one hand, undocumented young people deserve a pathway to legalization, especially on the educational track. On the other hand, immigrant communities must be made aware of the reality of the relationship between militarization, military enlistment and immigration status. Here are some of the most important facts:

  • All military enlistment contracts are for eight years, not two.
  • Those who choose the military option but receive a less than honorable discharge may be subject to immediate deportation.
  • Students who receive conditional permanent residency under the proposed law would not be eligible for federal college financial aid such as Pell grants.
  • Conditional permanent residency does not equal Lawful Permanent Residency (LPR). Conditional residency lasts only six years.
  • Citizenship can only be gained through the normal naturalization process; LPR status does not guarantee citizenship.
  • Those who do not fulfill education or military requirements by the end of the six-year probation period may be subject to immediate deportation.

Counter-recruitment organizers should continue to question the harsh choice between college and the military. In 2006, Jeanne Batalova and Michael Fix of the Migration Policy Institute urged the authors of the DREAM Act to expand the options for earning LPR to include “vocationally oriented programs such as Job Corps, Department of Labor-certified apprenticeships, and selected non-degree programs,” pointing out the low college-attending rate for Latinos and the economy’s future need for skilled workers who are not college educated.

Similarly, the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) has called for the “inclusion of a community and volunteerism service component to the DREAM Act,” stating “AFSC supports the provisions in the DREAM Act that provide a path to permanent residency to undocumented immigrant students and lifts penalties on states that provide undocumented immigrant students with in-state tuition. But we cannot support policy or legislation inviting immigrant students — or any student — to join the armed forces.  AFSC vehemently rejects a military service component which serves as a de facto military draft for undocumented youth.”

The expansion of possible pathways toward legalization would capture hundreds of talented undocumented students who cannot afford college and do not choose to enlist.

Organizers also should familiarize themselves with the numerous cases of U.S. military veterans who face deportation proceedings upon leaving the military. The “Banished Veterans” website (http://www.banishedveterans.info/) contains numerous stories of veterans who fought overseas only to be detained in immigration centers and returned to their family’s country of origin. It cannot be emphasized enough that military service does not guarantee citizenship.

Many college students who support DREAM provisions say they will "make sure" their cousins and siblings do not enlist. But they ignore the harsh realities of the economy and the collapse of public higher education. When these supporters minimize the militarized aspects of DREAM legislation, they betray a kind of class blindness wrapped in a bootstraps mythology of "We did it, so can they." Let's hope they're right. But in case they’re wrong, counter-recruiters must continue to explain the realities behind the DREAM.

On a related issue: On November 9, 2009, Sen. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) introduced the Military Families Act, S. 2757. This legislation would grant lawful permanent residency (not citizenship) to an undocumented spouse, parent, or child of a living or deceased member of the armed forces assuming the family member currently is in the United States, meets all other requirements, and the service member receives an honorable discharge. The bill currently has only seven co-sponsors and was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary. Until this legislation passes, undocumented family members of U.S. military personnel still run the risk of being deported.

Information sources: Emily Bazar, “Groups try to delay deportations of illegal immigrant students,” USA Today (12/15/09); AFSC, “Education is a Human Right” (June 2009); Lt. Col. Margaret D. Stock, “Essential to the Fight: Immigrants in the Military Eight Years after 9/11” (Immigration Policy Center, 2009); Batalova and Fix, “New Estimates of Unauthorized Youth Eligible for Legal Status under the DREAM Act,” (Migration Policy Institute, 2006); Roberto Rodríguez, “Leticia X: ‘I consider myself a U.S. citizen. It’s the only country I’ve ever known,’” politicalarticles.net (10/26/09).

This article is from Draft NOtices, the newsletter of the Committee Opposed to Militarism and the Draft (http://www.comdsd.org/)

 

Fighting the Poverty Draft

Jorge Mariscal -

When Boston College student Joe Previtera decided to protest the war in Iraq, he headed to the one place that keeps the war machine well stocked with fuel-his local recruiting office. In a clever display of street theater, Previtera put on a black hood and cape, stood on a cardboard box, and attached stereo wires to his hands. The message was clear enough. The recruiters say money for college but the reality of war says Abu Ghraib.

No one signed up that day but Previtera was arrested by Boston police and subsequently charged with two felonies having to do with "making false bomb threats" (charges were later dropped). In his act of grass roots pedagogy, Previtera joined a growing number of activists across the country that are focusing their attention on military recruiting as one of the most important fronts in the struggle against militarism and war. While many people continue to generate fearful predictions about an impending draft, others have realized that the so-called volunteer army is already a form of conscription for those young people with limited economic and educational opportunities.

At the University of Wisconsin in Madison, a group of over fifty people staged an act of civil disobedience outside a recruiting office near campus. Four students and a university employee entered the office and delivered their press release, refusing to leave until the recruiting station was turned into a financial aid office. The four protestors were arrested and charged with trespassing.

In their press release, the Madison group called recruitment "a predatory practice" and argued: "The war in Iraq has seen hundreds of thousands of soldiers sent to fight in a needless conflict. A large proportion of these soldiers were recruited from the most disempowered segments of American society-the poor, people of color, high school students. Recruitment often takes the place of financial aid or a decent job, and it is grossly unfair."

For a two week period following the protest in late November, 2004, a local Madison television station conducted a survey on its website. To the question "Are Military Recruiting Methods Unfair or ‘Predatory,’" over nine hundred respondents voted 58% NO, 32% YES, and 10% DON’T KNOW. Evidently counter-recruitment activists still have much work to do. Organizers of the original protest promised they would revisit the recruiting station in the near future.

In Vermont, activists converged on a local National Guard recruitment office. Among the fifty states, Vermont has one of the highest percentages of its population in the Guard and many have been deployed to Iraq and Kuwait. Organizer Leo Schiff called military recruiting "deceitful and deadly." In a local newspaper in Montpelier, one letter writer made the interesting observation that the U.S. Constitution may actually prohibit the use of Guard troops in foreign conflicts since Article I, Section 8 grants Congress the power "to provide for calling forth the Militia to execute the Laws of the Union, suppress Insurrections and repel Invasions" but not the power to deploy the Guard overseas.

One of the more dramatic protests targeting a recruitment station took place in late November of 2004 in Philadelphia. Increasingly frustrated by the lack of response from the Office of Housing and Urban Development to the needs of local homeless families, members of the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (KWRU) moved out of the Bushville Tent City they had established and staged a sit-in at the city’s main Army recruiting station. Carrying signs that read, "Bring the Money Home" and "Billions for War, Still Nothing for the Poor," they briefly took over the office and issued a list of demands including affordable housing and domestic violence shelters. Several homeless families stated that they had relatives fighting in Iraq. The sit-in ended peacefully when fire and police officials arrived, and the homeless families returned to their encampment. "Operation Bring the Money Home" will continue into the new year (more information available at http://www.kwru.org/updates/2004/11-30-04.htm).

On January 20, 2005, the day of the presidential inauguration, hundreds of students walked out of local Seattle schools to protest the war in Iraq. At Seattle Central Community College, an ethnically diverse group of working class students surrounded an Army recruiters’ table and began to tear up enlistment literature, eventually forcing the recruiters to leave campus (see photo at http://www.antiwar.com/blog/index.php?id=P1677). Counter-recruitment actions at community colleges may be the wave of the future given the Pentagon’s increased interest in recruiting there. According to a study done by the Rand Corporation: "The greatest enlistment potential exists among two-year [college] students and two-year dropouts" ("The Enlistment Potential of College Students" in Asch and Kilburn, Recruiting Youth in the College Market, 2003).

In related actions, students and faculty at the University of Puerto Rico (Mayagüez and Río Piedras campuses) have sustained a three yearlong struggle to demilitarize their institutions of higher learning. Born out of the successful struggle by the community of Vieques to remove the U.S. Navy bombing range, the Frente Universitario por la Desmilitarización y la Educación (FUDE) or the University Front for Demilitarization and Education has led the fight to oust ROTC programs. They have used sit-ins and hunger strikes to block the construction of an Air Force ROTC building and temporarily took over an Army ROTC office where they painted murals with counter-recruitment themes on several walls.

One of the faculty leaders is mathematics professor Hector Rosario who, as an untenured faculty member, risked his career by participating in a fast at the end of last summer. Because of his activism he was suspended from teaching and will not receive any salary until university officials consider his case this March.

With at least 23 Puerto Ricans from the island killed in Iraq so far and thousands more in the armed forces, the issues of recruitment and war are controversial. But Rosario and his students will not be deterred. As he wrote in a press release last February: "Students claim these buildings that were meant for education of a country not for the military training of its citizens that will eventually participate in the massacre of childrenNot in our name. Not with our resources. Not anymore."

JORGE MARISCAL teaches Chicano Studies at the University of California, San Diego. Visit his blog at: http://jorgemariscal.blogspot.com/ He can be reached at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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