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Education, Not Ammunition

Summer is typically the most active military enlistment season, but the growing student counter-recruitment movement is working hard to keep youth in schools.
Organizers of the military counter-recruitment campaign estimate that over 150 students walked out of classes and marched on recruiting offices at three different locations around Seattle on May 23rd. Three recruiting centers – one near the University of Washington, another in the Central District and one at the Northgate Mall -- were forced to temporarily close their doors, as students blockaded the facilities and picketed outside.

Three students were forcibly removed from the Army Recruiting Center at Northgate Mall by Sergeant First Class, Jessica Hicks.

Army spokesperson Bill Pierce maintains that Sergeant Hicks was protecting the recruiters and military property. "People can come into the station to talk about the Army," he said, "but they can't break into the station with the intent to do damage."

The students who entered the Army Recruiting Center at Northgate Mall deny that they had any intention of damaging property. They claim they were loudly criticizing the U.S. military's recruitment practices on school campuses when they were physically forced out of the facility. After the students were ejected, the station closed its doors and Seattle Central Community College student Marlo Winter declared a victory. "Nobody can be recruited while we are here," she charged.

During the demonstrations the students chanted, "Education, not war! Kick recruiters out the door!" They held signs saying, "Money For Education, Not Ammunition" and "I Want To Learn To Read, Not To Kill."

Two other recruiting centers were the focus of protests -- one near the University of Washington and another near Garfield High School in the Central District. Garfield graduate Duwan Tyson traveled from Olympia with other students from the Evergreen State College. "It was awesome," he told Seattle P-I reporter Jake Ellison. "They closed the doors on us and retreated."

The Marine Recruiting Center near the University of Washington locked its doors when the protesters arrived. Military personnel dropped the shades and hid inside the building despite repeated requests from the students to talk with a recruiter. The Army Recruiting Station there also reportedly closed their doors. Twenty-three-year-old Army Sergeant Melissa Porter told Ted Warren of the Associated Press that demonstrators, "pounded on some of the windows and doors."

On May 9th, the Garfield High School Parent Teachers Student Association (P.T.S.A.) passed a resolution banning military recruiters from their campus. This campaign has been led by Amy Hagopian, president and co-chair of the Garfield P.T.S.A.

According to Hagopian, "Our P.T.S.A. has a mission to promote the welfare of children and youth and to support and speak out on their behalf. That's the mission of P.T.S.A.'s everywhere in America. And we would encourage other P.T.S.A.'s to act on behalf of their mission and also look seriously at the recruitment happening in their schools and the nature of that recruitment, the frequency, the intensity, and the hard pressure tactics."

On Democracy Now!, Amy Goodman asked, “What would happen if the government decides to withdraw funding in response to the P.T.S.A.'s stand on military recruitment?”

Hagopian responded, "We can’t physically stop them, and we can’t legally stop them, but we can stand at the doors and explain that they're not welcome, as can every high school in the country. Somebody obviously needs to challenge this legally, but that's a hard task to ask of public schools that are strapped for money."

Parents and students protested when recruiters returned to Garfield High School. In another incident earlier this year, angry students chased two military recruiters off the campus at the Seattle Central Community College.

On May 20th, the Army suspended recruiting efforts across the nation for one day in response to allegations of improper recruitment practices. In one case, a recruiter allegedly offered to help a potential enlistee cheat on a drug test and get a phony diploma. A recruiter in Houston was caught recently threatening a student with arrest if he did not meet with the Army to discuss enlistment.

Major General Michael Rochelle, head of Army recruiting, stated that the moratorium was called so that commanders could focus the recruiters on issues of ethical conduct.

The U.S. Army has missed its recruiting targets over the last three months, falling short by 42 percent in April.

General Rochelle also admitted at a press conference that military recruitment is an obstacle to completing the "mission" in Iraq. "Well, let me tell you that right now, through April, we are 6,600 below the glide that would place us right on par with achieving the mission."

There are approximately 7,500 recruiters active in the U.S. It's not clear what kind of reprimand recruiters are subjected to when quotas are not met.

An Army recruiter told a reporter from KPLU Radio in Seattle that the students' demonstrations had only succeeded in bringing the draft closer to reality. She claimed that protests at recruitment centers would result in fewer enlistments, making a national draft necessary and thereby forcing the same young people who blocked their doors to enter the military.

Despite this, the youth protesters in Seattle are very serious about their objective to stop recruitment on school campuses. They decry the amount of money spent on military programs at a time when funding for public education is being cut across the board.

Mount Ranier High School student Ob Flores, 17, was quoted in the Seattle P-I: "I don't want to go to war. I want to learn; I don't want to die."

Emily Reilly is a youth activist who has been organizing protests since the famous anti-WTO demonstrations in 1999. She is very clear about the students' goal of stopping the recruitment of young people.

In a report for Free Speech Radio she stated, "We came out to draw attention to the fact that there is decreasing money for education and human needs but we are pouring billions of dollars into an immoral war."

"We are going into this summer with a lot of energy because that's one of the biggest times for recruiters to go out and recruit students into the military,” Reilly continued. “And we're going to be out there every step of the way making sure that Seattle is a recruiter-free zone. We want to make their job impossible. We do not want anyone else to go over to Iraq from our city."

U.S. recruiters have been accused of lying to students about education and job opportunities in the military. The infamous “bait and switch" tactics used by car salesmen and petty swindlers have long been a part of the bag of tricks utilized to convince unsuspecting 18-year-olds that a life of hardship and low pay is actually an exciting, adventurous opportunity. The need to fit in and be recognized, the call to duty, and the yearning to be accepted as an adult in society -- all play into the dynamic, which attracts young people into the military.

The poor are the most vulnerable. Seldom are military recruiters seen actively pursuing young enlistees at private schools or in wealthy neighborhoods. Anyone who sees a chance to succeed financially in any other way will choose an easier path. Economic desperation makes for good recruiting opportunities.

A student at the Evergreen State College, Frederico Martinez, put it this way, "Our message was that young people need to rise up and young people are rising up … those of us who are expected to go to war to fight and die -- are standing up and saying 'no.' We have a voice and we need to be empowered and we need to be able to speak out and we, too, are standing up against this."

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Mark Taylor-Canfield is an artist, activist and independent journalist in Seattle. He is a member of the board of directors for the non-profit media literacy group "Weapons of Mass Distraction". For the latest updates from the military counter-recruitment movement, visit The Indypendent blog.