By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
By Albert Samaha
By Anna Merlan
By Jon Campbell
By Jon Campbell
By Albert Samaha
When this column first covered counter-recruitment in January, the movement was a scattered, grassroots phenomenon, led by old-guard lefty organizations like the Central Committee for Conscientious Objectors and Veterans for Peace. Since then, public opinion has turned decisively against the war in Iraq, and the active-duty army fell 8.5 percent short of its recruiting goals in the period that ended September 30, its worst year since 1979; the National Guard and army reserves did even worse. Counter-recruitment is growing into a truly broad, multigenerational, national movement that serves as a model for how diverse constituencies on the left can and should work together.
On November 17, the National Youth and Student Peace Coalition, another group formed after 9-11, will hold a National "Not Your Soldier" Youth and Student Day of Action. Another group called Not Your Soldier plans six regional weekend counter-recruitment workshops this year for teenagers. And on the weekend of October 22 and 23, the movement saw its first major national conference in Berkeley, California, co-sponsored by CAN and Military Out of Our Schools (MOOS), a Bay Area coalition.
An estimated 600 attendees from the Bay Area, the Northeast, and the Midwest, and even Katrina-affected students from the South, heard speakers and participated in workshops on how to spread the message that the military's promises can be misleading, and that kids do have other options to get jobs and pay for college. "I've been organizing in one capacity or another for over 25 years and I've never noticed something pick up and take off so quickly," says Susan Quinlan, a conference coordinator with MOOS. "The vast majority who are involved right now never did it before this past year. It's really just exploded into a lot of different communities."
A key concern drawing new people to the cause is the 2002 No Child Left Behind Act, which requires high schools to provide student contact information to military recruiters unless families opt out. Three prominent progressive organizationsMainstreet Moms, Working Assets, and the community organizers ACORNhave banded together to create Leave My Child Alone (leavemychildalone.org), an online campaign aimed at parents. At the Berkeley conference, "Main Street" moms, teachers, and principals rubbed elbows with high school and college students, young Iraq war veterans, and members of military families, as well as longtime peace activists. "We'd like to be an example to the rest of the left in terms of how to organize broadly even when there are differences," says Snehal Shingavi, a UC Berkeley grad student who helped organize the conference. Their ultimate goal, of course, is to give youth in the most affected communitiesread: minority and working-classthe information they need to resist recruiters. For Shingavi's school group, that means staffing outreach tables at Vista Community College and Laney College, near Berkeley, as well as on their own campus.
Josh Karpoff, an engineering student at the Rochester Institute of Technology and a national organizer for the Campus Antiwar Network, felt the new energy on September 24, when he joined in the Iraq war protest in Washington, D.C. "Our College Not Combat contingent had 3,000 people marching in it, from chapters all over the East Coast. This was one of the biggest things that the Campus Antiwar Network had ever organized." Karpoff adds that anti-war sentiment is burgeoning even on his relatively conservative campus, where defense contractor Lockheed Martin is a major presence. When the marines recently showed up to tout an officer candidate program, student activists swarmed their table with counter-recruitment literature. The recruiters packed up and left within 45 minutes.
Small victories like those are fueling this movement. But activists also have their eyes on the prize: a recruiting drought so bad that it forces the administration to close the door on the war. "Why are the recruitment numbers so bad this year, as opposed to 20022003?" asked Shingavi. "It's a combination of the fact that the war is unpopular and that you have a real movement giving people information about other opportunities available."