The 'Leave My Child Alone' Movement
It looked like any average parent meeting with a sprinkling of twenty-somethings and senior citizens, complete with pizza, fries and speakers. But for these people coming out to a pizza parlor on a weeknight, the main attraction was not the food but an earnest discussion of the presence of military recruiters on high school campuses and a little known document called the "opt-out" form.
The almost 100 people who turned out in the San Diego region, a heavily militarized area home to a Marine base and Navy Seals, were part of a nation-wide call to meet on the first day of June, put out by MMOB, The Main Street Moms Operation Blue. MMOB, a relatively new grassroots group, is taking a page out of the Howard Dean playbook and rallying people though a well-orchestrated internet campaign.
According to Charlie Imes, chair of the local chapter of Democracy for America (DFA), the MMOB contacted him and asked him to put the Military Recruiter discussion at the top of the night's agenda. "They asked and I said great," said Imes, who was enthusiastic about the night's turnout.
Twenty miles north in Carlsbad, dozens of people turned out to hear speakers and to fill out opt out forms, according to Jeeni Criscenzo, a member of the North County Peace and Justice Coalition who coordinated the event with MMOD.
The opt out form is provided for in section 9528, A, 1. of the No Child Left Behind Act, in part, because school receiving federal funding are required to provide the following:
"1) ACCESS TO STUDENT RECRUITING INFORMATION- Notwithstanding section 444(a)(5)(B) of the General Education Provisions Act and except as provided in paragraph (2), each local educational agency receiving assistance under this Act shall provide, on a request made by military recruiters or an institution of higher education, access to secondary school students names, addresses, and telephone listings..." in addition to granting recruiters physical access to the campus or lose much needed federal funds. (http://www.ed.gov/policy/elsec/leg/esea02/pg112.html)
The opt out form makes the child's information unavailable to military recruiters and puts the child on a do not call list. Federal law requires school districts to inform parents about the opt out form. While some school districts list the form on either the school district website or the high school website, the San Diego school district does not.
A brief glance at MMOB's website showed at least 20 such meetings planned for June 1, from Bakersfield to Boston. More are listed throughout the month of June.
In addition to falling recruitment numbers and the rising casualty list in Iraq, it appears that military recruiters are now facing a new, aggressive force on the home front: Mom and Dad. Moms like Jane Doe, 55, who asked that her real name not be used because she works for a government firm. She strenuously objects to the presence of military recruiters on high school campuses. "Every parents needs to know what's in the No Child Left Behind Act," she says, referring to section 9528. "They [minors] can't vote, can't make a legal decision and yet the government has access to them before the age of consent!" She shakes her head, incredulous. "This is private information; no one should be releasing this."
Gabe Sandoval, 33, and his mother Lynn, are more blunt about their dislike of recruiter access. "It's a backdoor way of getting recruits," says the younger Sandoval, "An alternate to the draft."
"I am really against this," adds his mother. "They [recruiters] mislead young people and don't fulfill their promises."
"Especially towards minorities," her son adds.
Recent news stories have reported that military recruiters are targeting young minorities, especially Latinos and African-Americans. In some cases, recruiters have been accused of sexual misconduct, including sexual harassment and rape.
Mernie Aste of the local Ya No Project, which counsels young people on the military and educates them on their options, feels meetings like this are especially important. "It's not about just my child, it's about everybody's child," she says. "There's a real need to counteract the recruiter's presence," she adds. Aste plans to attend additional public events as well as parents meetings and tell others about the opt out option.
That's exactly what Imes wants to hear. "This administration has been increasingly stepping on the Constitution," he says. "It's really important to use our voices and our willingness to be heard." He looks at the people still inside at the meeting. "We're already having some impact and it will pick up steam over time," Imes predicts.