Southeast Seattle forum explores militarism trends prevalent on local campuses

What is the military doing in our schools? Last month Southeast Seattle residents gathered at the Rainier Beach High School Performance Center for two hours to explore this question.

The free Oct. 23 forum was designed for students, parents, teachers and community members concerned with the activities of armed forces recruiters on our public school campuses. More than 120 people from around Seattle attended the event.

As community members arrived, they were greeted by The Peacemobile, a van bedecked with posters illustrating the costs of war, such as children missing limbs and other atrocities. In the lobby of the performance center, participants filed past an assortment of information tables with pamphlets and handouts from American Friends Service Committee, Youth Against War and Racism, the Center on Conscience and War, Campus Antiwar Network, The Palestine Solidarity Committee, the International Socialist Organization, and others.

The forum began with remarks by Amy Hagopian, President of the Garfield High School Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA). The keynote speaker was the Reverend Robert Jeffrey of New Hope Baptist Church. Other guest speakers included Jelani Jackson, a student and member of Rise One, and Nina Laboy of the American Friends Service Committee. Afterward, audience members were invited to attend one of four free workshop sessions: counter-recruitment organizing, curriculum development, alternatives to military service and becoming a conscientious objector, and life in the military and the impact of war on families.

Recruiters in schools

As President of Garfield's PTSA, Hagopian spoke about her organization's move to ban military recruiters from campus and the new rules that apply to them.

" When the No Child Left Behind Act was passed, it included two little known provisions," said Hagopian, a mother of three whose youngest attends Garfield. "One, that all schools which received federal funding had to provide military recruiters with the names, addresses, and phone numbers of all high school students, unless the parents had signed a form requesting this information be withheld. Two, that schools must be open to all recruiters whether they were the military or a college. For example, if a high school allowed college representatives on campus, then it had to allow military recruiters."

According to Hagopian, a PTSA committee worked on a resolution banning military recruiters for over a year before passing it in May. A reporter from The Christian Science Monitor was present at the meeting, and he broke the story to an international audience. With all of the resulting positive and negative feedback, the Garfield PTSA crafted a statement outlining what military recruiters were permitted to do in Seattle schools.

As a result, the school board decided military recruiters must announce their visits in advance to allow for counter-recruitment groups to be present. The board asserted that recruiters were no longer allowed to see students and talk to them during class time or when students were wandering the halls. Additionally, if the recruiters were found to be harassing students or telling them things that were untrue, the recruiter could then be banned from the school.

Hagopian said for the PTSA the rules means her group has changed into a military recruiter watchdog.

" The South End schools get visited by recruiters a great deal because the kids are seen as the best targets," Hagopian stressed. "Military recruiters can now go online and read up on the best ways to be effective and meet recruitment goals. They can learn how to own the school by being at the school frequently, buying the faculty donuts, and other tactics."

Hagopian argued that while a sanctified draft doesn't exist, the United States does have a poverty draft.

" The economy makes it difficult to get a decent job and so for young people who may not know of any other options like apprenticeship programs and college, the military is seen as the way to get a job and skills, " Hagopian said. "Today is different than the Vietnam War 40 years ago. Back then, because we had the draft, we as a society were deeply affected. It seemed everyone knew someone who had gone into the war or was drafted. Today that is not the case. Not everyone is affected by the war and not everyone knows someone who is in Iraq. So, with the military in the schools, [their presence] becomes a handle for the antiwar movement."

Of race and force

The Rev. Jeffrey backed this notion and stated that poverty is to blame for the military recruitment in South End schools. He mentioned that 37 million Americans are living in poverty.

"If poverty ends, then militarism ends as well," said Jeffrey, who added that a bad education is also partly to blame. "The dropout rate of African Americans is much higher than other groups, and there are more African Americans in prison today than there are in higher education."

Jeffrey argued that African Americans need to create their own destinies, defined by their own communities, not by some other community group such as the military or corporations. After Jeffrey spoke, Jelani Jackson, a Middle College high school student and tutor at Asa Mercer Middle School gave his remarks.

"Often the folks the police are after look a lot like me," Jackson said. "We need to organize across lines. One in four African Americans are involved in the criminal justice system. We need to get real with ourselves and get organized. We all have a vote and we need to use it, and we will fail by not using our vote. "

A different path

One alternative to serving in the military is to register as a conscientious objector, or CO. According to the Center on Conscience and War, conscientious objection is "a sincere conviction, motivated by conscience, that forbids someone from taking part in organized killing. This objection may apply to particular aspects of war."

The military recognizes two types of objectors. The first is people with religious, ethical, or moral beliefs who are conscientiously opposed to participation in war of any form. They are exempt from military service. In the event of a draft, they may be called up, but may perform alternative service as civilians.

The second is a noncombatant conscientious objector. These are people who oppose killing in war for reasons of conscientious, but they "do not object to performing noncombatant duties such as being a medic in the armed forces or who, in the event of a draft, do not object to being trained without weapons."

Another alternative mentioned at the forum is education in the form of apprenticeships, such as those offered by area community colleges and the Duwamish Training Center Apprenticeship Program. The key to educational alternatives is getting funding and meeting with advisers at area community colleges to explore career options.

Community colleges offer a wealth of financial aid incentives, usually in the form of grants which don't require repayment, work- study programs which provide valuable job skills, and in-house scholarships usually targeting students most in need and showing promise among others.

The Southeast Seattle community colleges include South Seattle Community College in West Seattle and Seattle Central Community College on Capital Hill. Many students believe they have to have superior grades to attend college and are often pleasantly surprised at the generous open admissions policies of these schools.

"We need to build socially independent people, not drones," Jeffrey asserted.

Mary Sanford may be reached through editor@sdistrictjournal.com.[[In-content Ad]]