By Paula Hoffman-Villanueva
A truly monumental victory against militarism in our schools has been achieved! And for this victory to come from the city of San Diego makes it even more amazing. The Education Not Arms Coalition, after a 1½-year campaign, has succeeded in moving the San Diego Board of Education to ban rifle training on 11 high school campuses. At the board meeting on February 10, after 90 minutes of testimony and discussion, the vote was 3-2 in favor of banning JROTC weapons training. More than 200 students and local activists filled the auditorium with their now-familiar, bright orange “No Weapons Training” signs.
In the summer of 2007, the San Diego-based Project on Youth and Non-Military Opportunities (Project YANO) was supporting students and others in a struggle to stop the opening of a Marine JROTC program at Mission Bay High School. At the same time, people were learning that a rifle range was to be part of the newly built Lincoln High School campus. When it was discovered that more high schools in San Diego had shooting ranges as part of JROTC, teachers, community activists, parents and students formed the Education Not Arms Coalition (ENAC). Community organizations that supported the coalition included Project YANO, UJIMA Institute for Civic Responsibility, Association of Raza Educators, MEChA and AFSC, among others.
The Education Not Arms Coalition chose three initial goals:
- Stop the placing of students in military science (JROTC) classes without their informed consent.
- Stop schools from telling parents and students that the class will help them qualify for college, when it won’t.
- Ban weapons training and JROTC gun ranges in San Diego schools.
The campaign achieved the first two goals when they were incorporated into a directive issued to schools by the district superintendent in the fall of 2008. The third goal was achieved by the school board’s action on February 10, 2009.
The shooting range victory on February 10 was made possible by the election of two new board members, Dr. John Lee Evans and Richard Barrera, who had promised during their campaigns that they would vote to remove shooting ranges. They, along with John de Beck (who had already supported the ENAC demands), constituted the three necessary votes.
An hour prior to the February 10 board meeting, a student-led rally was held outside the board meeting auditorium. Over the past 1½ years, the most exciting aspect of the struggle has been the transformation of a group of energized and inspiring young student activists. In their speeches to the board that evening, after patiently waiting through hours of other agenda items, several students calmly took to the podium (this was their fourth or fifth board meeting). They made incredibly powerful statements; for example:
Anay Barajas, Mission Bay High: “You don’t realize the consequences that gun ranges bring to our communities. We are not here as teenagers looking for trouble. We are here as students looking for the education we deserve. We are looking for action from you, the people who are supposed to care about our education!”
Jonathan Flores, Lincoln High: “A school that teaches students to shoot weapons seems clearly ironic. Our books are the ultimate weapon to succeed, not guns. I also expect the board to uphold the idea that no guns in school means no guns in school!”
After listening, the school board was generous in its praise of a truly amazing show of student activism:
Board Member John de Beck: “This is one of the best experiences I’ve had. I’m really proud of the leadership you guys have shown and your ability to keep coming back and coming back. It’s been a movement that has grown and it’s very peaceful and you’re very clear in what you’re saying.”
Board Member John Lee Evans: “I am extremely impressed by this fine group of young people. I have an immense amount of respect . . . a group of young people who are committed to education, committed to non-violence and who are also committed to the democratic process in terms of organizing themselves in the community and speaking out.”
Board Member Richard Barrera: “I feel honored as well. I think this was the best political science class I ever sat in. Knowing the students here from the Education Not Arms Coalition are standing up for something bigger than just individual programs. You’re standing up and saying ‘enough.’ You are teaching us. You are giving us hope that despite everything we do up here, we’re going to have a great country going forward because of what I see here tonight.”
In the days leading up to the February 10 vote, and for many days after, hate mail poured in from National Rifle Association members and from military/JROTC supporters. School board members, Project YANO and ENAC all received hate mail. Visits to the Project YANO Web site went from an average of 175 a day to over 1,000 a day. This only made the victory sweeter, having stood up to powerful pro-military and pro-gun forces, like the NRA, and won!
On February 24, under pressure from the JROTC program, the board of education again discussed the shooting ranges. Two board members, Shelia Jackson and Katherine Nakamura, succeeded in convincing John Lee Evans to vote to postpone the closing of the ranges until June, 2009, based on the argument that students need to complete competition commitments the rest of this school year. Once again, for this discussion, ENAC rallied. Speakers came forward with their usual enthusiasm, eloquence and conviction. And although the closure of the ranges was postponed until June, the ban will happen. Of course, the coalition will remain vigilant and monitor the situation, in case there are attempts to reverse the ban.
The ultimate success of the entire Education Not Arms campaign came only after incredible work by all involved -- petitions, community meetings, speeches, rallies, marches, press reports, interviews, letter-writing and many planning meetings. To enjoy the photos, read up on the history of the coalition, hear the speeches, and share in the feeling of pride, please go to www.projectyano.org/educationnotarms/
The above article is excerpted from the April-June 2009 issue of Draft NOtices, published by the Committee Opposed to Militarism & the Draft, http://www.comdsd.org/