By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
In New York City, activists worked outside of high schools including Washington Irving in Manhattan and Boys and Girls High School in Brooklyn. They offered forms explaining how students can opt-out of the recruiting lists compiled from enrollment data that schools are now required to turn over under the Leave No Child Behind Act. And they circulated petitions in support of the Student Privacy Act, which could bar the military from getting names and contact information for students from schools without parental consent.
For Friday, the Iraq Pledge of Resistance has put out a call for "non-violent resistance" outside recruiting stations. So far demos have been announced in 15 cities, including New York, where the War Resisters League is holding a funeral march from Washington Square Park to the U.S. Navy Recruiting station at 207 West 24th St Street at 7th Avenue.
While the New York event is intended as a solemn procession with mock coffins, in Eugene, Oregon, and Madison, Wisconsin, and Lakewood, Colorado, there are plans for sit-ins and blockades outside recruiting centers. In Pittsburgh, anarchists and other anti-war activists plan a noisy picket outside the same recruiting station where police responded with tasers, pepper spray and police dogs at a protest-turned-melee in August.
Dubbed "National Stand Down Day," Friday's protest takes its name from the "stand down" day called by Army brass in May. That's when recruiters were ordered to halt their outreach and review legal and ethical guidelines after a rash of reports of overly aggressive and abusive recruiting practices. Among the troubling incidents, recruiters in Golden, Colorado, were caught advising a 17-year-old to lie about his high school diploma and fake a drug test in order to enlist.
As public support for the war withers (63 percent of Americans now disapprove of the situation in Iraq, according to the latest CNN/ Gallup/ USA Today poll) the Pentagon is upping the ante with boosted sign-up bonuses, video games, and slick ads to woo parents. Recruiters are also aggressively going after poor rural and minority youth.
Counter-recruiters say the government is closing off choices for underprivileged kids. "People see the money that would be going to education and CUNY schools for funding and scholarships so they could go to college is just going to the war," says Gloria Quinones, a mom who helped organize the demo in East Harlem. "It's like they're being backed up against the wall so they have no other options."
The House of Representatives just voted to slash student loans by more than $14 billion; if the language stays in the final budget bill, that would be the biggest cut in the history of the federal loan program. Yet the Pentagon is spending $7 billion a month to maintain the Iraq occupation.
And still recruiters are scrambling to meet their quotas. The increased pressure on young people is only provoking more resistance, anti-war activists say. These days its pretty hard to find anyone who supports what the military is doing, says David Tykulsker of Brooklyn Parents for Peace, which has been hosting tables outside Brooklyn high schools to inform students of their right to opt out of the Pentagons recruitment lists.
Under the Leave No Child Behind Act, schools are required to turn over the names, phone numbers, and addresses of all students--though students can remove their names if they request that.
Tykulsker claims that a member of the citys Panel for Educational Policy recently told him as many as half of New York City students have chosen to remove their names from the lists--a number that if true would top the 19 percent opt-out rate recently reported in Boston.
A spokesperson with New York's Department of Education said no overall figures exist because the city is not required to keep such data.
Yet even as some students opt out of the lists that schools are mandated to provide, the Pentagon has hired a direct marketing firm to amass data on young people aged 16 to 25--including birth dates, Social Security numbers, e-mail addresses, ethnicity, religious affiliation, grade-point averages, school interests, and other info pulled from motor vehicle records, commercial data vendors, Armed Services aptitude tests, and scholarship survey forms--possibly even medical lists.
Unlike the student lists compiled by schools, there is no opt-out form for the Pentagon's Joint Advertising and Market Research Studies (JAMRS) Recruiting Database. Last month a coalition of parents, anti-war, and privacy groups wrote to the Department of Defense demanding that the $343 million program be dismantled.
Initially I think people were shocked at the privacy issues involved with turning over student records. Now I think people are more shocked at what the military is actually doing, Tykulsker says. This is a military that's engaged in serious illegal acts, ranging from torture and illegal detentions to the use of chemical warfare, he adds, referring to reports that the Army used white phosphorus in the siege of Falluja. The idea that we would be subjecting our children to this is ludicrous.
The recruiters whose job is to enlist new troops hear the dissent--and argue theyre part of protecting it. "We're so quick to voice our opinions, but why do you have the right to do that? Because of the men and women in uniform who protect our freedom, says the African American Army sergeant working the desk in Flatbush. You might not support the reason for the war, but all of us are Americans. I've been in the Army for 18 years--for me, this is a livelihood. This is my career."