In second run for public advocate, civil liberties vet Siegel parses the Pentagon’s pitch
It was hot and getting on toward dinner time Thursday night on Fulton Street and Atlantic Ave., but some of the passersby took the flyers that were handed to them, and a few even stopped to chat or sign a petition. Others, however, treated the protesters as if they were radioactive. A few police cars arrived. Three Marines came outside their office to watch and shake hands with civilians offended by the demonstrators—one, asked by a reporter what he thought, actually pretended that the protesters did not exist. Undaunted, the demonstrators formed a small line to march and chant.
Like that, at rush hour on a weeknight, a little patch of Brooklyn had become host to a clash of ideas. Norman Siegel was in his element.
“As public advocate, I’d be here to make sure they had the right to protest,” Siegel said; he’d be there even if he didn’t agree with them. But Siegel did agree. The issue, Siegel said, is simple truth in advertising. The advertiser in this case is the United States military.
When the U.S. Congress set out in 2001 to “leave no child behind,” military recruiters weren’t left out either. Sec. 9528 of the No Child Left Behind Act states: “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.”
What’s more, the law commands that, “Each local educational agency receiving assistance under this Act shall provide military recruiters the same access to secondary school students as is provided generally to post secondary educational institutions or to prospective employers of those students.”
Those contact numbers for students and that access to their schools will come in handy as the military tries to bolster its ranks against the drain of the American commitment in Iraq. But given the American toll in that country (as of 10 a.m. on Friday, there were 1,761 dead and 13,438 wounded)—as well as evidence that some recruiters lie about the military’s benefits—some folks think that maybe a military career isn’t the most promising future for New York’s youth.
A coalition of groups (including Educators for Peace, Code Pink and the Progressive Students Association) is pressing to curtail the military’s involvement with city students. Ideally, they want the military to stop recruiting in schools. At a minimum, they want more parents to know that they can opt out of the feds’ demand that New York City hand their kids’ contact info to the Pentagon. The DOE website includes letters to parents explaining their right to opt out, available in 9 languages.
For his part, Siegel also wants to check the military’s claims of—as a sign outside the recruiting station put it—up to $70,000 for college and a $20,000 bonus for signing up. What’s that got to do with the job Siegel—head of the New York Civil Liberties Union from 1985 to 2001—is seeking for a second time? (He made it to the runoff in 2001 but was soundly beaten by Betsy Gotbaum, who is seeking reelection.)
“The public advocate has jurisdiction over city agencies and the Department of Education is a city agency and when the DOE lets military recruiters come in to talk to our students we have a responsibility to make sure the information they provide is factually correct,” Siegel says. “Ultimately it’s a matter of life and death.”